Land vehicles

'Troubled' Ajax armoured vehicle could still be another 18 months from service

Watch: 'Trouble' Ajax vehicles could still be 18 months from service.

Britain's new armoured vehicle Ajax might not enter service for another 18 months, after years of delays over technical difficulties.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) project to build 589 of the state-of-the-art vehicles has prompted severe criticism after running for nearly 13 years without yet providing a single deployable vehicle.

Originally intended to enter service in 2017, Ajax has been repeatedly delayed, with problems including noise and vibration issues which included soldiers being medically discharged from service because of hearing loss during trials.

The ill-fated vehicle is now going through Growth Reliability Trials at Bovington in Dorset.

Better seat cushions and ear defenders are among improvements being hailed by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace as "turning the corner" for the £5.5bn programme.

Speaking to Forces News in Bovington, he said: "I inherited a troubled programme, I was determined 'I'm going to put this right'.

"Myself and my procurement ministers have been literally looking at it every week. I get a weekly report.

An Ajax armoured vehicle going through Growth Reliability Trials in Dorset.
An Ajax armoured vehicle going through Growth Reliability Trials in Dorset.

"It went through its first user trials before Christmas. As you can see today, we think the remedies are in place."

The MOD agreed a fixed-price contract with General Dynamics for 589 Ajax armoured vehicles, with 37 taking part in the current trials and another 143 having already been built for earlier trials.

A total of 414 hulls have been built with 116 turrets ready to be fitted once the trials are completed.

Mr Wallace added: "There's 20-odd, if not more, being used right now, by our crews and people training to use it. Obviously, all of these things take time to instruct, get instructors, train instructors, train how to use it.

"But they're starting to roll them out. We have already assembled, over 100 already assembled, so it won't be long. If we can get through these trials, I think you'll find, pretty quickly, we'll find them into the units at a larger scale and we'll be back on track."

But there is still no exact date for when the Ajax will be ready for deployment.

It is understood that despite the production being described by Mr Wallace as "troubled", the MOD considers some of the early problems to be development issues that have now been overcome in updated versions.

The issues of travelling at speed and the capability to fire while on the move were only to be tested in later models.

Watch: Minister says Army's Ajax vehicle programme has 'turned a corner'.

However, a redesign of contact points for the soldiers using the tanks has been carried out to overcome issues of vibration and noise.

These improvements include new ear defenders with incorporated hearing piece for better communication, remounted seating with better cushioning and improved joysticks and controls.

The testing so far has covered 120,000km of journeys, with 9,000 rounds of ammunition fired and 50 tonnes of armour shot at to test the correct level of protection for the vehicles.

The Ajax, which will be supplied to the 3rd (UK) Division, the main war-fighting division of the British Army, come in six different variants including the 'workhorse' Ares people carrier.

The Ajax itself is the turreted version fitted with a 40mm cannon with other variants designed as command, repair and recovery vehicles.

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