Land vehicles

Will Ajax Fill In For The Army's Challenger 2 Fleet?

We have looked at one of the internet's most searched questions about the Ajax programme.

"Will the new Ajax vehicle be able to properly fill in for the third of the Challenger fleet being scrapped by the British Army?"

It's one of the most-searched questions on the internet about the Ajax vehicles programme.

The short answer is 'no' – as the Ajax (an armoured vehicle) and its variants are designed to carry out different roles than the Challenger (a main battle tank).

The two vehicles are, however, both intended to be part of the Army's Heavy Brigade Combat Teams, while the Ajax has variants that could carry out support roles for tanks. 

Read more on the differences between armoured vehicles and tanks here.

The future of the British Army's vehicles was outlined earlier this year, with the Ajax project ongoing, amid "serious issues" and noise and vibration issues with the programme being confirmed.

It is true that some Challenger 2s are being retired, but the majority of the fleet is being upgraded to Challenger 3s this decade.

Revealed: Click here to find out how many Ajax vehicles have been produced so far.

The purpose of Ajax

Both vehicles are designed for different roles, with Ajax intended to cover reconnaissance, support and battlefield control.

The Ajax could operate in the vanguard of the British Army's future Heavy Brigade and Deep Recce Strike Combat Teams, providing force protection for a more dispersed force and being responsible for long-range persistent surveillance.

The vehicles are designed to possess ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and recognition) capabilities, as well as allowing the capture, processing and storage of data from multiple Ajax platforms (which can be shared via a real-time communication system).

The hope is this will allow a close-up picture of the battlefield for remote headquarters.

All trials involving the Ajax vehicles were suspended again last month due to renewed concerns over noise, after programme tests were "paused as a precautionary measure" between November 2020 and March 2021.

It was confirmed in June that some crew members involved in the trials were receiving medical attention, following issues over "noise and vibration levels".

Watch: Ajax – Procurement of armoured vehicles a 'fiasco', defence expert says.

Ajax is designed to have a stabilised system, providing on-the-move target engagement and surveillance capability.

The vehicle contains 360° Situational Awareness Systems and thermal imagers and cameras which enable day/night/long range/infrared/laser search and detection.

The decision to use the 40mm cannon on the vehicles has been questioned, but the Government has defended its use and stated that Ajax is "capable of firing on the move".

The purpose of the Challenger

In comparison, the Challenger is designed for tank combat, boasting both weaponry and battlefield capability.

The Challenger 2 has completed more than two decades of service, having been deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.  

As well as being able to engage enemy targets, the Challenger 2 has a full 360° rotating turret and its own nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection system, boasting the ability to withstand a nuclear blast.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said the future iteration of the Challenger tanks will be "one of the most protected and most lethal in Europe", with plans for the remaining fleet being retired.

The British Army will get 148 of its 227 Challenger 2s upgraded to Challenger 3, which are expected to be fully operational by 2030.

Read the timetable for the Challenger 3 here.

The remaining vehicles in the Challenger 2 fleet will be retired.

The Challenger 3 tank will also feature a new automatic target detection and tracking system, thermal long-range cameras and an upgraded engine with a new cooling system and suspension.

Cover image: Ajax armoured fighting vehicle (Picture: MOD).