The Ajax Scandal

I have written before about the awful, slow-motion car crash that is the UK Ministry of Defence’s equipment procurement processes and practices[1]. However I am prompted to return to the topic in the light of the recent publication by the UK’s House of Commons Defence Committee’s response to the Governments Integrated Defence and Security review which has a whole annex on the Ajax armoured cavalry vehicle debacle[2]. It does not make for pretty reading.

Briefly, after a number of false starts, the MoD awarded a £5.5 billion contract to General Dynamics Land Systems UK to provide some 589 variants of the Ajax vehicle to replace the UK’s obsolete reconnaissance armoured and support vehicles. This was awarded over ten years ago, and despite the expenditure of – so far – £3.2 billion of the agreed sum the British army has not taken delivery of any which can be operated safely.

Although Ajax is a development of the Austro-Spanish ASCOD tracked vehicle already in service with various armies since the early 2000s, the British development has been beset by major problems. Many of these appear to have been the result of changing requirements by the MoD and the very British habit of seeking to “gold-plate” existing successful designs to incorporate new, immature technological developments.

There is currently no prospect of Ajax being accepted into service until problems with vibration and noise which are seriously affecting the health of trial crews are resolved. Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee has now lost patience with the project and has set a deadline of December 2022 for a decision one way or another on the vehicle’s viability. My personal view is that we should avoid getting sucked into the sink costs fallacy, pull the plug on Ajax, and seek something else by buying an existing, successful vehicle like BAE System’s CV 90 off the shelf.

[1] Why is the British Army’s equipment procurement so shambolic? (ukdefencejournal.org.uk)

[2] The Integrated Review: Defence in a Competitive Age and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (parliament.uk)

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