As with the Universe’s faster-than-light expansion, the horizon for the UK’s Ajax armoured vehicle programme service entry remains always over the next hill, forever chasing stages moving inexorably to the right.
In the final few days of 2022, a timeline update for the troubled programme, intended to deliver 589 platforms into service with the British Army, revealed that Reliability Growth Trials and analysis, due to begin in January 2023, could run until Q1 2025.
The data was published in a UK parliamentary written answer on 21 December, one of a series that UK Government ministers had to field on the programme before the end of the year. According to the UK’s recent Defence Equipment Plan 2022-2032 there was no “realistic timescale” for when Ajax and its variants could enter service.
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 seemingly lifted from the US Army vocabulary. The first prototype Ajax vehicle was unveiled in 2015, more than seven years ago.
Statements by UK officials in October failed to provide any clarity as to when Ajax could enter service, with its use “remaining limited under safety notices” while work was carried out to resolve noise and vibration issues that have plagued the development of the platform. Further, it was stated that it was “not possible to say” when Ajax could enter service.
By mid-October this year a pause in testing had been lifted, enabling some limited User Validation Trials to take place, with the successful completion of this stage allowing the programme to move towards the Reliability Growth Trials.
In a programme analysis in the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) Defence Equipment Plan released in December this year, it was reiterated that “technical issues with noise and vibration” had resulted in delays to the Armoured Cavalry Programme, under which Ajax is to be delivered. The resumption of trials in October was carried out in part to assess the effectiveness of the modifications proposed by programme prime, US defence OEM General Dynamics.
Further, it was expected that Ajax would be taken forward for formal approval to reset the programme, following what the MoD described as “the effective resolution of the noise and vibration concerns”.
The UK MoD placed a £3.5bn ($5.56bn) order for 589 Ajax vehicles in six variants in September 2014, although the programme, earlier described as a military-off-the-shelf vehicle, has its origins from the late-2000s in the Scout SV programme. In March 2010 General Dynamics UK was selected as preferred bidder against the BAE Systems CV90, and later that same year MoD awarded a £500m ($780m) contract to GDUK for prototype development, based on the Spanish ASCOD armoured vehicle.