The British Army’s troubled Ajax armored vehicle is back on track

The British Army’s troubled Ajax armored vehicle program has “turned a corner” after more than two years of trying to fix noise and vibration problems, the defense secretary said.

“We believe the remedies are in place, we are now going through the usual trials. . . It’s showing great signs and we’re going to continue it,” Ben Wallace said during a visit to Camp Bovington in Dorset, where he viewed some of the vehicles undergoing trials earlier this week. “I am confident that we have turned this problematic program around.”

The comments are the strongest sign yet that the government is sticking to a long-delayed program to deliver a family of high-tech armored vehicles to replace those still in service with the army, designed in the 1960s.

Wallace added that the first Ajax vehicles could be put into service soon after the completion of the testing program, in about 18 months.

The Ministry of Defense signed a £5.5 billion fixed-price contract with US defense contractor General Dynamics to buy 589 vehicles in 2014, with deliveries to begin three years later. However, the vehicles were plagued by noise and vibration problems that caused hearing damage to some test crews.

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Commissioned by the government health and safety study Research by Ajax, published in December 2021, found “serious shortcomings” in the UK’s defense procurement culture. A wider independent inquiry commissioned by HM HM Clive Sheldon KC into the cause of the failure is due to report this spring.

Wallace stopped payments to General Dynamics two years ago after the department had already handed over £3.2 billion. The Financial Times previously reported that the entrepreneur had told investors that payments were expected to resume at the end of March.

David Williams, the Home Office permanent secretary, told defense select committee MPs this month that the government would only restart payments once it had agreed a new date for the vehicles to be handed over to soldiers. General Dynamics UK declined to comment.

Improvements to the vehicles to address noise and vibration issues include new earmuffs that include headphones for better communication and retrofitted seats with better cushioning.

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“These are not engineering solutions, they are mitigations,” said Francis Tusa, editor of Defense Analysis, adding that “none of these have solved the problems.” He noted that the department appears to be resuming payments to General Dynamics “without a single deployable vehicle being delivered.”