Pressure mounts on Welsh-built Ajax tank programme
The ill-fated Ajax armoured vehicle programme continues to come under fire amid health fears and doubts that major design flaws can be rectified.
Excessive vibration and noise could be harming Soldiers involved Ajax trials who have experienced tinnitus, nausea, and swollen joints, some requiring steroid treatment to reverse the damage.
The vehicle is assembled by General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDLSUK) in Merthyr Tydfil, which employs a staff of 700 and is coming under increasing pressure to find a solution for the problems.
Earlier this week, Minister for Defence (MoD) Procurement Jeremy Quin confirmed that 310 personnel would be offered assessments for hearing loss and joint problems.
He said: “The health of our service personnel is our top priority. The Army continues to identify and monitor the hearing of all personnel exposed to noise on Ajax, with additional testing put in place where required. The Army is also in the process of identifying any health effects in those potentially exposed to vibration.”
However, he admits concerns over the vibration and noise are not new, and that an Army Safety Notice introduced restrictions on use back in December 2018 and identified that a design upgrade was needed in the long term.
According to GDLSUK and the MoD, the fully digital vehicles were intended to be “the British Army’s most sophisticated armoured vehicle,” and would “transform the way we operate and fight.” Instead, it has been beset by problems.
Due to the problems with excessive vibration and the resulting high levels of noise, the army placed an operation limit inside the tank of one hour 30 minutes and restricted its speed to 20 miles per hour, less than half its top speed.
The vehicles are unable to reverse over obstacles more than 20 cm high, and mechanical issues with the turret and guns are ongoing.
Defence experts state that the armour protection added to the hull has more than doubled the weight to over 40 tonnes, further reducing the vehicle’s manoeuvrability.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a contract for 589 of the Ajax armoured vehicles in 2014 and has already spent nearly £3.5bn but so far only 14 vehicles have been delivered.
In March, the programme was the subject of a damning report by the Defence Select Committee which stated there was little to show for the billions already spent.
The report stated: “The Ajax programme, which is now also seriously delayed, is yet another example of chronic mismanagement by the Ministry of Defence and its shaky procurement apparatus.
“This is particularly worrying, as Ajax is fundamental to the establishment and deployment of the Army’s new Strike Brigades, which are intended to be a key part of its future order of battle.
“Some commentators have raised doubts about the suitability of the Ajax vehicle in a reconnaissance role, specifically regarding its weight and size and ability to deploy rapidly as they were ‘anything but stealthy and agile’.”
Responding to Mr Quin’s statement to MPs that he could give no deadline for the issues to be sorted out, Labour shadow defence minister, John Healey MP said:
“Ministers admitted that their own plans to reorganise the British Army to counter emerging threats, cannot be implemented without first delivering Ajax. Yet Ajax is on end-of-life watch.”