Land vehicles

Ajax: Testing personnel 'receiving ongoing medical attention'

Defence minister Jeremy Quin admitted to the House of Commons that there have been "serious issues" during the Ajax trials phase.

A defence minister has confirmed some crew members involved in the trials of the Ajax vehicles are continuing to receive medical attention.

Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin was answering a written parliamentary question, before facing the House of Commons, where he admitted there are "serious issues" with the programme.

He asked in a written question by Labour MP Kevan Jones whether personnel involved in the trials have been injured as a result of "vibration" and "noise".

Mr Quin stated: "During the ongoing demonstration and manufacture phase of AJAX, certain personnel raised concerns over noise and vibration levels.

"All personnel who were at risk of exposure have had their hearing tested, and a small number of personnel are receiving ongoing medical attention.

"Additional mitigations have been put in place whilst investigations continue."

Answering an urgent question on the Ajax programme, Mr Quin then told the Commons: "We were very concerned by reports of noise issues in the vehicle, all personnel who may have been exposed to excessive noise have been tested and training was paused. It now continues with mitigations in place as we pursue resolution."

He also said the Government has "commissioned independent vibration trials from world-class specialists" which should conclude "next month".

He told MPs that "we will not accept a vehicle that falls short of our requirements".

Watch: Is the Ajax programme 'doomed'?

Mr Quin added that the two primary concerns around the Ajax programme remain the noise and vibration issues, adding that the possibility of headsets is being looked into and could be approved within the coming weeks.

The defence minister also stated the need to establish the root cause the problems, and said he accepts there are "serious issues".

Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey accused the Government of "failing British forces and failing British taxpayers" with the Ajax programme.

Having asked his urgent question on the progress of the Ajax tanks programme, Mr Healey told the Commons: "£3.5 billion paid out, four years late and just 14 vehicles delivered, light tanks that can't fire while moving and vehicle crews made so sick that the testing has been paused."

The Shadow Defence Secretary added that Ajax "requires independent scrutiny", and asked if the National Audit Office (NAO) would be doing "an urgent special audit" and urged the Government to "halt the plans to cut Army numbers and focus instead on fixing this failing procurement system".

Mr Quin responded, stating: "We are absolutely on top of and getting to grips with our equipment programme and what will stem from it.

"We are concerned about vibration," the defence minister later said.

"I have to say that over many thousands of miles of testing [General Dynamics] has not had the same experience of vibration, but I absolutely trust the reports that have come to me from our service personnel. We are determined to get to the bottom of this."

Mr Quin also told the Commons that measures in place for the noise issue means a speed limit on the vehicles, with temporary restrictions limiting what Ajax is certified to do including firing on the move.

He added that the vehicle is also able to reverse over objects of 75cm tall.

SNP defence spokesman Dave Doogan, told the Commons: "There is in the UK no shortage of MOD procurement debacles to draw on... but this multibillion pounds Ajax failure sets a new low."

The British Army confirmed last week it is carrying out a joint investigation with the manufacturer of the Ajax vehicles after trials were "paused as a precautionary measure" between November 2020 and March 2021.

A defence source then said: "It was no secret the programme, that was originally contracted in 2010 and 2014, has had problems which is why the MOD has intensified scrutiny and work to rectify the issues.

"The Army, General Dynamics and the MOD is now engaged in an intensive round of assessments and rectification work to resolve any outstanding issues."

Ben Wallace and Rishi Sunak smiling on an Ajax vehicle 170720 CREDIT MOD
The Government says it is "looking forward" to Ajax coming into service (Picture: MOD).

A defence expert told Forces News the Ajax programme is "doomed to fail", if the MOD ignores the findings of a leaked document he has seen.

Francis Tusa said he had "never seen a report as damning" after seeing the Government document.

Written by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Mr Tusa said it states that vibration has caused hearing loss for some personnel testing the vehicle, while others suffered swollen joints and nausea after taking part in trials.

According to Mr Tusa, the report showed the project is facing "major issues" which limit the time crew can spend in the vehicle.

The new vehicles, formerly known as the Scout SV (Specialist Vehicle), are being developed as part of a £4.5bn deal with General Dynamics.

However, the Ministry of Defence's "expected cost to completion at approval" for the programme in 2019 was just under £5.5bn.

Jeremy Quin told the House of Commons this afternoon that £5.5bn is the maximum that will be paid on the project, revealing just under £3.2bn has been spent so far.

The MOD said it is still committed to the Ajax programme, with plans for Initial Operating Capability still scheduled for this summer.

There are 589 vehicles on order but, to date, manufacturer General Dynamics has only delivered 14 of the Ares variant, with delays having taken place with the programme.

Six variants of the vehicle had been due to enter service in 2020.

Cover image: AJAX vehicle (Picture: MOD).