Ajax vibration issues reported in 2019
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Ajax vibration issues reported in 2019

By Harry Lye 16 Jun 2021 (Last Updated June 17th, 2021 10:51)

Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said the UK Ministry of Defence first became aware of ‘anecdotal’ reports of vibration in late 2019 in a response to a parliamentary question.

Ajax vibration issues reported in 2019
Ajax recce scout vehicle. Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

In his response, Quin wrote: “As preparation activity for the Capability Drop 1 vehicles at the end of 2019, some soldiers were invited to do pre-trials training on prototype variants. Whilst the on-board sensors did not register any issues subsequently there were anecdotal reports of vibration.”

Following the anecdotal reports, soldiers participating in the vehicle’s Entry Qualification Trials reported ‘noise and vibration characteristics’ in July last year, and in September medical staff reported a raised possibility of noise injuries from operating the vehicle.

Despite this, defence reporters are said to have been aware of vibration issues as early as 2017.

Following these reports, the MOD commissioned ‘in-ear assessments’ which later led to the suspension of training on the vehicle in November last year.

Responding to a different question, Quin wrote: “The MOD commissioned testing by the Institute of Naval Medicine (INM) in May 2020. These were conducted in August 2020 and investigated both noise and vibration.

“In addition, the Army’s Environmental Health Team, supported by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, conducted “in-ear” assessments of military crews of AJAX platforms between 31 October and 5 November 2020.

The MOD expects to see the results of independent trials by Millbrook Proving Ground into noise and vibration issues with its new Ajax armoured vehicles by late July.

The MOD commissioned the trials following reports of severe vibration and noise issues with the General Dynamics-made Ajax family of vehicles that have caused long term health effects for some personnel, including swollen joints and tinnitus.

Issues with the vehicle came to light in recent weeks with the leak of excerpts from a report by the UK’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) that warned handing vehicles to the Field Army in their current state could undermine confidence in the platform.

Quin said the MOD currently has ‘no plans’ to publish the report that results from the Millbrook Ajax vibration trial.

Current restrictions on the vehicle mean that it is restricted from reversing over objects over 20cm high, and personnel are limited to no more than 90 minutes in the vehicle. Crews are also limited to driving at 20mph.

The IPA reported added that successful delivery of the programme to ‘time, cost and quality’ appears to be unachievable, with the Authority marking delivery confidence as ‘Red’ – the lowest possible result.

The MOD has already spent around £3bn on the programme, with £688m spent on its demonstration phase and £2.29bn on manufacturing. The programme is running on a combined demonstration and manufacture phase, with five different capability drop standards.

Drop 0 included six Ares Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) variants of the Ajax family of vehicles and Drop one commended in 2020. Drop four is slated to be completed in 2024. Drop four vehicles will be of the final build standard, and all earlier produced vehicles are set to be retrofitted to this standard.

Currently, the MOD is reviewing the Ajax delivery schedule with General Dynamics.

As of the end of May this year, General Dynamics had completed the production of 263 hulls, 58 turrets under a sub-contract with Lockheed Martin and a total of 107 finished vehicles.

If the noise and vibration issues need remedial work to correct, analysts have said this could significantly increase the programme’s cost.

The British Army is set to receive 589 Ajax vehicles across six variants including, 245 turreted Ajax reconnaissance vehicles, 93 Ares APCs, 50 Apollo repair platforms, 38 Atlas recovery vehicles, 112 Athena Command and Control variants, and 51 Argus engineering vehicles.

At the current schedule, the MOD is not due to complete moving versus moving firing demonstrations until late 2022.

Following reports of problems with the vehicle, General Dynamics Land Systems UK said: “We continue to work closely with the British Army and Ministry of Defence to complete the remaining demonstration phase activities.

“Recent trials have confirmed many of the required capabilities across the AJAX Family of Vehicles, including operations across the full range of speed and reverse step obstacle climb.

“A small number of remaining issues are being reviewed and closed out in partnership with the British Army and Ministry of Defence ahead of Initial Operating Capability (IOC).”