LONDON — General Dynamics’ land systems operation in Spain has already built half of the hulls for the British Army’s Ajax armored cavalry program, even as the future of the vehicle is threatened by noise and vibration problems.
Responding to questions from Defense News, General Dynamics Land Systems UK has given a breakdown of its progress in producing Ajax at its factories in Wales and Spain as part of a firm-priced deal with the British signed in 2014 to produce 589 vehicles at a cost of up to £5.5 billion (€6.5 billion or U.S. $7.6 billion).
“As of 1 September 2021, 20 percent of the Ajax fleet are built and have been delivered, or are pending delivery, to the British Army; a further 30 vehicles are undergoing assembly, integration and test (AIT) in Merthyr Tydfil [Wales] and 50 per cent of the 589 hulls are built,” said General Dynamics Land Systems UK.
Twenty-five vehicles were delivered to the British Army by June 2021, but have yet to be accepted into service due to a number of issues related to noise and vibration.
Ajax production is continuing, according to the company.
All hulls for the Ajax are being fabricated and painted at the General Dynamics European Land Systems site at Trubia in Spain.
Other elements of the Ajax build and test program have been initially centered on Spain for the first 100 vehicles but gradually switch to Merthyr Tydfil, where General Dynamics currently employs 350 people.
“General Dynamics Land Systems UK will undertake the assembly, integration and testing (AIT) of 489 Ajax platforms at Merthyr Tydfil. A further 100 platforms would undergo AIT at General Dynamics European Land Systems’ facility in Seville, Spain. ... AIT takes place concurrently across both facilities,” said the company.
The Lockheed Martin UK-built turret for the Ajax reconnaissance variant, including the CTAI 40mm cannon and other systems, are delivered to either Merthyr Tydfil or Seville for installation, whichever is relevant at the time.
Based on the General Dynamics European Land Systems ASCOD infantry fighting vehicle, developed for the Spanish and Austrian militaries, the Ajax family includes a turreted reconnaissance vehicle, the ARES armored personnel carrier, and various support platforms.
The problems with noise and vibration have pitched Ajax at the centre of a controversy here, with some issue experts comparing the procurement with the decision to cancel the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft in 2010.
An uncertain future
Procurement minister Jeremy Quin has made two statements to Parliament regarding the problems with the Ajax family in a little over two months.
Ajax vehicles should have been in service by now, but Quin told Parliament recently that until a long-term solution was found it was “not possible to determine a realistic timescale for declaration of initial operating capability or the later introduction of Ajax vehicles into operational service with the Army.”
In June MoD officials reported the program had swallowed up £3.2 billion of the £5.5 billion set aside for Ajax.
At least one Parliamentary Defence Committee member has called for the program’s cancellation.
At one point the MoD halted trials work, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace questioned whether the program had a future unless a solution could be found to the problems.
One defense source, who asked not to be named, said that while Wallace was continuing to work with the contractor to fix the problems, safety issues for soldiers had remained a top priority.
“The defence secretary has continued to put pressure on General Dynamics to fix the problems. While our focus remains on working with General Dynamics for its delivery, the welfare of our personnel comes first,” said the source.
Several hundred personnel have had to undergo possible hearing and vibration injury tests related to the Ajax trials.
Scrambling for fixes
After having been halted, some trials have resumed using General Dynamics UK personnel rather than British Army crews. The MoD, along with General Dynamics, are now ramping up efforts to find a fix for the issues with the addition of another vehicle to the trials program crewed by the contractor.
Following the authorization of an MoD safety panel, a second ARES armored personnel carrier variant of the Ajax is being added to the small fleet of vehicles now gathering data in an effort to resolve the problems.
The addition of the vehicle to the trials fleet was announced to Parliament on. Oct 18 by Quin as part of an update on the troubled program.
At that point, though, the MoD was still awaiting the safety panel’s green light.
The addition of a second ARES to the trials program is aimed at providing additional baseline data to cross-check across multiple platforms, including the turreted Ajax version, increasing the efficacy of the baseline data.
The current trials only relate to the noise and vibration issues, and broader testing of the vehicle remains on hold.
Some moves are already being made in addressing the current shortcomings.
For one, trials are being planned jointly by the MoD and General Dynamics to validate and verify the efficacy of proposed measures to reduce vibration.
In addition, Quin said in his Oct. 18 statement that noise reduction efforts also continue with the design of an in-line attenuator.
“We are now validating its effectiveness to address the noise transmitted through the communications headsets,” said the procurement minister.