Land vehicles

Ajax: 'Serious failings' found in beleaguered vehicle programme

A review has found "serious failings" in the Ajax programme to build armoured vehicles for the British Army.

Minister of State for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said fellow ministers were "deeply concerned about progress on this troubled project which has been running for over 11 years", with a report being published into the health and safety concerns.

General Dynamics has been working to a contract worth up to £5.5bn to provide the UK military with the vehicles, with noise and vibrations having been raised by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) as concerns with the project.

Some soldiers involved in the Ajax armoured vehicle programme have been medically discharged or downgraded as a result of noise.

Mr Quin said as of 9 December, 17 individuals remain "under specialist outpatient care for their hearing, some of whom are again expected to return to duty with no health impact".

He said 11 individuals have had "long-term restrictions on noise exposure recommended, potentially requiring a limitation to their military duties", adding that four of these did not have pre-existing hearing issues prior to working on Ajax.

The defence minister continued: "This health and safety report has highlighted shortcomings that need to be addressed, not just in health and safety but more broadly.

    Watch: There were calls to scrap the programme entirely following the news earlier this year that personnel had been medically discharged.

    "The review finds serious failings in the processes followed. The result was that personnel worked on a vehicle that had potential to cause harm."

    He continued: "The review finds that the failure was complex and systemic. It finds that a culture exists of not treating safety as equally important as cost and time in the acquisition process.

    "From a cultural perspective, the Army did not believe it was potentially causing harm to people, especially from vibration, as it was tacitly expected that soldiers can and should endure such issues."

    Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey described the Ajax programme as the "biggest defence procurement failure of the past decade", adding: "It is failing British taxpayers and failing British troops."

    Mr Quin said the Defence Secretary is "truly shocked by what this report reveals – so am I".

    Mr Quin confirmed a further review undertaken by a "senior legal figure" will be commissioned into Ajax.

    "We will leave no stone unturned to learn these lessons," he said.

    "If the review uncovers evidence of gross misconduct those concerned will be held to account. The primary purpose, though, is to ensure that we address significant cultural failures.

    Watch: Ajax - Timeline of the troubled programme so far.

    "While we should not forget that General Dynamics UK is responsible for delivering a safe and effective vehicle, it is clear from the report that the customs and practices of the Army, DE&S, Defence Digital, and wider MOD resulted in a culture that prevented issues being addressed at an earlier point.

    "We are committed to ensuring that measures are put in place to deliver what are very complex programmes, in a way that minimises the risk to our people, while delivering the capability needed by the Armed Forces."

    Mr Healey said: "It is deeply unsatisfactory that the action following this review is to launch another review and deeply unsatisfactory that Ajax is still in limbo, behest by suspicions that it’s simply too big to be allowed to fail."

    Both noise and vibrations have been previously highlighted as "two primary concerns" for the MOD regarding the vehicle, issues which manufacturer General Dynamics has previously said have been "a feature of the design since 2010".

    The Government has previously stated "anecdotal reports of vibration" were made after soldiers took part in pre-trials training on prototype variants of the Ajax vehicles in 2019.