UK MoD Appoints top Defence Official to Head Troubled Ajax Programme

A letter released by the United Kingdom’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority has named 30-year Ministry of Defence (MoD) veteran David Marsh to be personally responsible for the Armoured Cavalry Programme, otherwise known as Ajax.

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Effective from the 1st of October, Marsh was appointed the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) of the Armoured Cavalry Programme, now directly responsible to the Accounting Officer for Ministry of Defence.

The letter states that Marsh will “have personal responsibility for the delivery of the Armoured Cavalry Programme and are to develop a robust plan to recover and reset it, then ensure its ongoing viability and delivery.” Furthermore, he is “responsible for ensuring the ongoing viability of the programme and recommending its pause or termination if appropriate.”

“The policy intent supported by the Armoured Cavalry Programme is to deliver a versatile, agile and integrated multi-role capability to operate at the heart of the Deep Reconnaissance Strike and Armoured Combat Brigade teams that are able to succeed on current and future operations in the most complex and demanding operational environments. The programme is based around delivering into service the Ajax family of vehicles and their training, support, infrastructure and information system solutions, integrated with other Defence Lines Of Development.”

The programme is the cornerstone for the Army 2020 Refine plan, a name given to the restructuring programme of the British Army. The Ajax, along with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall’s Boxer is to be the primary infantry fighting vehicle of the “Strike Brigades” that are to be formed out of the existing armoured Infantry and infantry brigades. But while the Boxer project is largely on track and on time, the General Dynamic UK’s Ajax has been struggling.

General Dynamics UK was selected as the winner of the Future Rapid Effect System contract with the ASCOD Common Base Platform, beating BAE Systems’ CV90. Initially called the Specialist Vehicle (SV) 589 of the vehicles were to be acquired by the British Army: 198 in a Reconnaissance and Strike variant, 23 for a variant for Joint Fire Control and 24 for Ground-based surveillance, all of which feature a turret. Non-turreted variants include 93 Ares Armoured Personnel Carrier, 24 Formation Reconnaissance Overwatch vehicles, 51 Engineer Reconnaissance Argus, 112 Command and Control Athenas, 38 Atlas Recovery vehicles and 50 Apollo Repair vehicles. The overall contract totalled £3.5 billion.

Rheinmetall was contracted to manufacture the turrets in 2015, with the first successful firing tests the next year. In the following year, 2017 deliveries were supposed to begin, with the last deliveries scheduled for around 2026.

The Ajax is a development of the ASCOD ("Austrian Spanish Cooperation Development") armoured fighting vehicle family. It is also known as Ulan in Austrian service, which operates 112 vehicles and Pizarro in Spain, which operate 261. The British Ajax variant features a turret with a 40mm auto-cannon and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, while the Ares fields a remote-controlled weapons station (RCWS). The vehicle weighs, depending on the variant, between 38 to 42 tons. The Ares can transport 7, the Ajax variant 6 soldiers. General Dynamics also developed the Griffin II and Griffin III based on the Ajax, which was offered to the US Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower programme to replace the Bradley Infantry fighting vehicle.

But the entire programme has been plagued with recurring issues: Speculation regarding the selection process ascertains that the MoD decided against BAE Systems’ proposal for fear of monopolisation of defence procurements. In 2014, it became clear, that the first 100 vehicles would be wholly manufactured in Spain. Quality control among the first batch of vehicles is said to be poor, with issues caused by poor welding and inconsistent hulls causing excessive noise and vibrations for those inside the vehicle. Based on a leaked document, a British newspaper reported in June this year, that this excessive vibration had required the Army to impose speed restrictions on the vehicle and limits on the time crews could operate them. Compounding this is the fact, that the delivery of vehicles is far behind schedule, with the MoD only having received 25 vehicles by 2021. In June this year, an independent investigation examined before the British Parliament came to the conclusion that: "successful delivery of the programme to time, cost and quality appears to be unachievable." 

By Kevin Klemann