LONDON – A top Ministry of Defence official has been given charge of resetting or recommending termination of the troubled Ajax armored reconnaissance vehicle program destined for the British Army.
David Marsh, the MoD’s director of project delivery, was named as the senior official responsible for one of Britain’s most high-profile military programs in a letter released by the department and the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
The 30-year veteran of the MoD has held previous appointments in a range of major project, program and operational delivery leadership roles and is the departments head of profession for portfolio, program and project management.
The letter to Marsh, dated Oct. 1, said his role heading the armored cavalry program is to “develop a robust plan to recover and reset it, then ensure its ongoing viability and delivery.”
The MoD and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority – the body which reports to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury on progress in major programs in defense and other Government sectors like IT – also gave Marsh the power to recommend cancelation of Ajax if necessary.
“You are also responsible for ensuring the ongoing viability of the program and recommending its pause or termination if appropriate,” said the letter.
In what some will see as unprecedented language in an appointment letter Marsh was also told he had to ensure the “honest and timely reporting on the position of the program to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.”
That’s a possible reference to concerns that some issues relating to the program had previously not been aired quickly enough.
The General Dynamics UK-developed Ajax vehicle is a cornerstone of British Army restructuring plans involving the creation of deep reconnaissance strike and armored brigade combat teams.
But the program, awarded to General Dynamics in 2014 to deliver 589 Ajax family vehicles, has been dogged with noise and vibration problems, leading to Army trials and testing being halted on a number of occasions.
Several hundred soldiers have been assessed for possible vibration and noise injuries in the last few months.
Trials have recommenced in the last few weeks but the work is being conducted by General Dynamics, rather than Army, personnel.
Around two dozen vehicles have been delivered by General Dynamics but defense leaders have made it clear that initial operating capability will not be declared until the problems are resolved.
Initial operating capability was set for June 2020 but was recast to June of this year. Now nobody is willing to make a guess on a new date on a firm-priced program which could cost as much as £5.5 billion, or $7.5 billion.
As of June, the British had paid out £3.2 billion, defense procurement minister Jeremy Quin told Parliament this summer.
An MoD spokesperson said that the possible causes of the vibration had been narrowed down to a handful of problem areas but that work was ongoing in the search to identify the source of the issues.
Marsh’s appointment is as a full-time senior responsible owner, a title denoting full authority for a given government program. Most SRO’s, who are ultimately accountable for programs or projects meeting their objectives, also have other roles.
Quin told the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee earlier this year: “I have described Ajax as a troubled program, I wish it wasn’t, but it is.
“It requires a lot of work from ourselves and our industry partners to get ourselves back on track. We can’t be 100 percent certain that that can be achieved,” he said.
At least one Defence Committee member has called for the program to be axed altogether.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authority has been critical of the program in the past and said at one point the successful delivery of the program to time, cost and quality appeared to be “unachievable.”
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.