Better seat cushions and ear muffs are some of the improvements Defense Secretary Ben Wallace hails as “turning the corner” for the “troubled” £5.5bn program to build the Army’s new Ajax fighting vehicle.
The Ministry of Defense project to build 589 of the next-generation vehicles has drawn severe criticism after running for almost 13 years without yet providing a single deployable vehicle.
Originally intended to enter service in 2017, it has been repeatedly delayed, with problems including noise and vibration issues that injured soldiers testing the vehicles.
Early test versions also faced criticism for not being able to travel faster than 20 mph or fire its cannon while moving.
Speaking in Parliament in December, former Royal Navy chief Lord West of Spithead said: “The Ajax programme, no matter how much it is disguised, has been a complete and utter disaster. It’s been a real disaster.”
The Ministry of Defense agreed a fixed price contract with General Dynamics for 589 Ajax armored vehicles, of which 37 are taking part in current tests and another 143 have already been built for previous tests.
A total of 414 hulls have been built with 116 turrets ready to be installed upon completion of testing.
The Ajax variants have now completed user validation testing, which is understood to mean that they have overcome the issues that have dogged the vehicle and are now undergoing reliability growth testing to prepare them for the battlefield, though not yet. a completion date has been confirmed.
During a visit earlier this week to Bovington Camp in Dorset, Mr Wallace was shown Ajax being put to the test at the training ground, including the armored car driving over a knife-edge ramp intended to push vehicles to their limits.
Mr Wallace said: “I’ve been clear, this was a problematic program, it started in March 2010, I inherited a problematic program, I was determined to fix it, I get a weekly update.
“We think the remedies are in place, now we are going through the normal tests, can he go after the hill fast enough, does he do these things? It’s showing great signs and we’re going to keep it up.
“I’m sure we’ve turned the corner on this troublesome program.”
Wallace said the goal is to have the Ajax vehicles active in military units soon after the test program is complete in about 16 months.
He said: “They’re already training with it now, all these things take time to train how to use it, we have over 100 assemblies so when we pass these tests we’ll put them in the units and we’ll be up and running again.”
It is understood that despite Wallace describing production as “problematic”, some of the early issues are considered by the MoD to be development issues that have now been overcome in updated versions.
The issues of traveling at high speed and the ability to shoot while on the move would only be tested on later models.
But a redesign of the contact points for soldiers using the tanks has been carried out to overcome vibration and noise issues.
These enhancements include new hearing protectors with built-in ear pieces for better communication, raised seats with better cushioning, and improved joysticks and controls.
So far, the tests have covered 120,000 km of travel, with 9,000 rounds of ammunition fired and 50 tons of armor fired to test the correct level of protection for the vehicles.
Supplied to the 3rd (UK) Division, the main fighting division of the British Army, the Ajax comes in six different variants, including the Ares minivan.
The Ajax itself is the turreted version fitted with a 40mm gun with other variants designed as command, repair and recovery vehicles.