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A former military commander has said the Army’s project to build next-generation armoured vehicles has been a “shambles” and “a complete and utter disaster” in a scathing assessment. Meanwhile a defence minister has been forced to admit delivery of the Ajax has been a “rocky road”.
The Government was tackled over the progress of the problematic £5.5 billion programme in a stormy session in the House of Lords.
The Ajax project, aimed at delivering a state-of-the-art fighting vehicle for the Army, has been running for 12 years and has so far cost £3.2 billion – but has failed to deliver a single deployable vehicle.
Originally intended to enter service in 2017, it has been repeatedly delayed, with problems including noise and vibration issues which injured soldiers testing the vehicles.
The Ministry of Defence – led by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace – agreed a fixed-price contract with General Dynamics for 589 Ajax armoured vehicles, but a mere 26 have been provided so far, and these can only be used for training.
Speaking in Parliament, former head of the Royal Navy Lord West of Spithead said: “Ajax programme, no matter how much one dresses it up, has been a complete and utter disaster. It has been a real shambles.”
Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker, highlighting the many difficulties which have dogged the programme, earlier asked: “Can the minister tell the House when all these vehicles will be delivered to the front line and at what cost?
“Do the Government still have full confidence in the programme or are they examining alternatives?”
Responding, defence minister Baroness Goldie said: “This has been a rocky road.
“To be honest, I think that where we have got to now represents a seismic leap forward – that is the successful conclusion of user-validation trials.”
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She continued: “We are very clear that, while this is an important addition and an important vehicle for the Army, we will not accept anything that is not fit for purpose.
“We remain in close contact with General Dynamics and I think we can now see a way forward.”
Independent crossbencher Lord Craig of Radley, the former chief of defence staff and independent crossbencher pressed the minister over the welfare of the up to 300 personnel who may have been hurt during vehicle testing.
Lady Goldie said: “When the problem emerged during trials, immediate action was taken, support was given, medical help was provided and monitoring continues.
“Recently, it was made clear during the user-validation trials that no one was to feel under obligation to continue if they had concerns about health and safety and they were free to speak up. As far as I am aware, the trials were able to proceed without interruption.”
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Speaking to the Daily Express in June, Sam Cranny-Evans, a Research Analyst with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said the design of an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) was extremely complex, and as a result teething problems had been inevitable.
He added: “The problems with the Ajax family are difficult to pin down. The main concern is high levels of vibration, which have created problems with stabilising the main armament of the Ajax variant, damage to electronics and automotive components. It has also caused vibration injuries to the crews using them.
“The noise issue is less severe, and understood to be a result of integrating the British Army’s Bowman headset into the vehicle. The headset is picking up the noise from the engine and amplifying it, this can be solved by procuring and integrating new headsets, but there is a lack of clarity over who would be responsible for this.”
He added: “The onus really is on General Dynamics to get the vehicles fixed and the tax payer is not bearing any of the costs until they are fixed.
“What is clear, however, is that the capability is absolutely critical for the British Army. If the programme is scrapped, an alternative must be found very quickly.”
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