More than one quarter of the 589 Ajax family of armoured vehicles intended for use in the British Army have been manufactured, although no deliveries have taken place since at least June 2023, as crews continue familiarisation programmes with the platform.

The programme will deliver the platforms across six variants, incorporating the Ajax infantry fighting vehicle, Apollo armoured recovery vehicle, Ares armoured personnel carrier, Argus reconnaissance vehicle, Athena command post vehicle, and Atlas engineering vehicle, into British Army service.

In a UK parliamentary written response on 17 January 2024, it was revealed that 152 Ajax vehicles had been built, representing just over 25% of the planned total fleet number. In addition, it was stated the latest standard of the vehicle, known as Capability Drop 3, had “now been accepted” by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), with deliveries “on track” to achieve initial operating capability (IOC).

It is understood that IOC is achieved once 50 units of the 589 total have been delivered, which will see 27 used by a deployable squadron, with the remaining 23 utilised by the British Army for crew and maintainer training. As of 17 January 2024, 44 units had been delivered, a situation that has not changed for more than six months.

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By GlobalData

In total the programme is intended to deliver the platforms across six variants, incorporating the Ajax infantry fighting vehicle, Apollo armoured recovery vehicle, Ares armoured personnel carrier, Argus reconnaissance vehicle, Athena command post vehicle, and Atlas engineering vehicle into British Army service.

An Ares troop carrier variant of the Ajax programme (foreground) undertakes trails in the UK in 2023. Credit: UK MoD/Crown copyright

A further written response published on 19 January 2024, revealed that since manufacturing began, 461 hulls have been delivered to General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDUK).

According to a UK Parliament report published in March 2023, the UK MoD has a firm price contract of £5.5bn ($6.9bn) with GDUK to deliver 589 vehicles, though the MoD’s Equipment Plan 2022-32 gave an estimated forecast cost to completion of £5.4bn.

As of 9 January 2024, around £4bn has been paid against the General Dynamics Ajax contract, according to the MoD.

Overseas cold weather firing trials for 2024

Detailing the current progress of the Ajax family of vehicles through their development timeline in December last year, the UK Government said in December 2023 that the programme had “turned a corner” as it works to deliver the platforms to the British Army.

The Ajax, Apollo, Atlas, and Ares variants have driven more than 20,000km through different terrains, as part of Reliability Growth Trials, the MoD stated, adding that Capability Drop 3 vehicle production continued at the GDUK site “with all production lines operating and all six variants in progress”, with delivery to the British Army starting in 2024.

The early stages of 2024 will see Ajax undertake Live Crew Clearance Cold Climate Trails in Sweden, the first time the vehicle will be firing with British Army personnel outside of the UK.

The Ajax programme had been halted in 2021 due to excessive vibration and noise leaving crews in need of medical attention, entering Reliability Growth Trails at the start of 2023.

According to official UK data it was revealed that personnel operating Ajax in Reliability Growth Trials were using “dual layer” headsets, comprising of the in-service Crewguard Mk2 headset and the Communications Ear Piece inner headset.

The User Validation Trials were bespoke trials undertaken to test the effectiveness of the proposed modifications to the Ajax platform, with costs for this process covered by the contractor. The UK MoD bore approximately £650,000 in costs for the preparation, execution and analysis of the independent monitoring and instrumentation necessary for the joint trials.

Ajax’s elongated timeline

At the end of 2022 a series of parliamentary written responses updates for the programme’s timeline, revealing that Reliability Growth Trials and subsequent analysis, due to begin in January 2023, could run until Q1 2025.

This future capability is a key element to the restructure of the British Army, initially into the so-called Strike Brigades and more recently into Brigade Combat Teams, a term apparently lifted straight from the US Army’s owned force structures. 

The formation of the Ajax programme dates back to 2010 under the Scout SV endeavour, when GDUK was selected as preferred bidder against the BAE Systems CV90 armoured vehicle, with the UK MoD later that year awarding a £500m contract to GDUK for prototype development, based on the Spanish ASCOD armoured vehicle. The first prototype Ajax vehicle was unveiled in 2015.