How the British Army’s new armored vehicle trade went awry

Britain’s new Ajax armored vehicle was intended to arm the army during the high-tech war era. They were fast (maximum speed 70km / h) and deadly with a powerful 40mm machine gun. They are equipped with the latest digital sensors and are stealth enough to avoid detection by enemies.

Still more than 10 years later Ministry of Defense The Minister of Procurement has signed a contract with US defense industry contractor General Dynamics for a family of 589 vehicles, worth a total of £ 5.5 billion. This program acknowledges that it can be suspicious.

Delivery of vehicles to the Army should have started Four years ago And of the 26 currently delivered, none have started service. Instead, the vehicle was tested twice because of concerns that noise and excessive vibration were causing hearing loss to the crew. There are reports that vehicles cannot fire cannons while on the move — claims that General Dynamics denies.

The company adds that all six variations are fully produced and 116 vehicles are in the process of being manufactured, delivered or delivered.

Ajax series tanks

On Wednesday, Defense Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin told Congressman Defense Commission members that “a lot of work from ourselves and our industry partners” is needed to get back on track. “I can’t be 100% sure that I can achieve it,” he added.

Earlier this month, Mark Francois, a Conservative member of the Defense Commission, said Dull assessment of Ajax flaws..

“It’s heavier than the Sherman tank. It’s too small, and it’s as stealth as a Ford Transit full of spanners,” he said.

A leaked report by the Infrastructure Projects Bureau to the Cabinet Office warned that “it seems unattainable to deliver the program well in terms of time, cost and quality.” Quinn said Wednesday that the health and safety investigation, which is due to be reported at the end of July, has already returned with some concerns.

Maj. Gen. Tim Hodget, the chief surgeon, said eight of the 307 employees involved in the Ajax test reported injuries due to temporary vibrations such as “back and joint pain” and tingling in the limbs. I told the meeting. Of the 110 troops that have been checked for deafness so far, 23 require steroid treatment.

According to Carew Wilks, a former director of land equipment at MoD, who became Vice President of Land Systems at General Dynamics UK, the company is “very concerned about recent noise and vibration issues,” and “very close. We are cooperating with. ” With the army to identify the cause.

Determining who is responsible for delays and design issues is not easy. Britain’s recent history of military procurement is littered with similar examples of projects that are late and significantly over budget. Some defense experts have compared Ajax and Nimrod. This is a maritime patrol aircraft that was abandoned in 2010 at a cost of £ 4 billion without one aircraft in operation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Defense Minister Ben Wallace in an Ajax armored vehicle © UK MOD © Crowncopyright 2021

Ajax’s roots are in the Army’s quest to replace and modernize its fleet of armored fighting vehicles that began in the 1990s. The search fueled long-term concerns that MoD lacked a consistent armored vehicle strategy, undergoing several changes before Ajax was finally commissioned.

The first contract was awarded in March 2010, when General Dynamics was selected to build seven pilot vehicles. Then, in September 2014, a production contract to manufacture 589 vehicles was awarded to a US contractor, bringing the total program to £ 5.5 billion. This is the UK’s largest armored vehicle trade in 30 years.

British management at the time of General Dynamics promised to “protect or create” more than 10,000 jobs in the UK. According to the company, its initial pledge is significantly lacking. Ajax currently supports direct employment of 4,100 people.

There was a problem from the beginning. According to people familiar with the program, the initial challenge was MoD’s claim that the vehicle would use a separately designed 40mm gun, resulting in delays.

People said case reports of hull complications, such as noise and vibration, began to surface as early as 2019. Defense experts said additional armor protection was added to the original hull, resulting in a significant increase in weight.

Throughout, defense experts say the program has been compromised by repeated modifications required by the military.

Quinn revealed in June to discuss with General Dynamics “Redo the contract” It was held between December 2018 and May 2019. Defense officials have said military specifications have been stable since then.

Army crew members reported health problems due to excessive noise and vibration last year after testing began in Millbrook, Bedfordshire.

Despite growing concerns within the team testing Ajax, their concerns seem to have been subdued.Army personnel were under special pressure ahead of government breakthroughs Defense review, Published earlier this year. Advanced players believe that planned upgrades to warrior armored fighting vehicles are likely to retire to save money, and Ajax could also be reduced if the flaws are announced. I was worried.

As a result, no information about the vehicle’s weaknesses was shared with the minister, according to two people with knowledge of the program.

“It’s a combination of secrets and incompetence,” said Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defense Commission. “for [personnel] Do not report vehicle breakdowns to survive culling. .. .. That is certainly very worrisome. “

MoD declined to comment on the allegations that concerns about the program were suppressed.

The crisis also raised concerns that the “revolving door” culture between the MoD and the defense industry contributed to poor decision-making regarding the Ajax program. MoD regulations stipulate that former employees cannot work in the industry for two years after leaving the government. However, given that some procurement projects last up to 10 years, some argue that longer cooling-off periods are needed to avoid conflicts of interest.

Critics of Ajax pointed out that General Peter Wall, who was Chief of Staff from 2010 to 2014, was appointed to the board of directors of General Dynamics in the United States just two years after leaving the army. Wilkes, who has been with GD since 2018, was responsible for the Department of Defense’s land facilities from 2011 to 2013.

“MoD has normalized the idea of ​​having prominent contractors hire senior staff. [from MoD headquarters]”Scottish National Party member of the Defense Commission, Martin Docherty-Hughes, said.

General Dynamics declined to comment on this issue. Defense officials said all departure personnel were treated on a case-by-case basis and had to comply with customs protocols.

Some estimates suggest that inside MoD, the military, and General Dynamics, the focus is on program bailouts, which can cost more than £ 500 million. MoD is working hard to resolve the issue, stating that employee safety is “always a top priority.”

According to Elwood, Ajax was disappointed with a series of errors and cost overruns that could never be grasped because no one was in full control of the entire project.

However, the crisis has rekindled debate about the systematic challenges in procuring British defense equipment. A Recent reviews of 20 military programs According to the National Audit Office, 13 including Ajax showed a cumulative net delay of 254 months to achieve entry into the service since it was signed.

Defense analysis editor Francis Tsusa said Ajax has become a “poster child” about what’s wrong with Britain’s defense procurement.

“The evidence generated by the IPA report is that things are getting worse and moving at a very fast pace,” he said. “It’s not a good place to be there.”

How the British Army’s new armored vehicle trade went awry

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