Foss Unglossed on the future of the Ajax
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This special DSEI Opinion Newsletter is presented in partnership with Otokar
Foss Unglossed:
What future for Ajax and UK armoured vehicle industry?
By Chris F Foss
I recently had a conversation with a leading UK figure in the British defence industry I have known for decades.

He commented on the complete demise of the UK armoured vehicle manufacturing sector, which in the past produced a wide range of tracked and wheeled vehicles for the home and export markets and was a crucial part of Britain’s industrial base.

While France and Germany have carefully gone about the business of restructuring their industrial base and retaining the capability to design, develop and manufacture AFVs - and filled order books as a consequence - the UK has now lost this industry. I find it difficult to see how it could ever be re-established.

Such famous names as Alvis, Daimler, GKN Defence, Glover Webb, Penman, Royal Ordnance Factories, Shorts, Vickers Defence Systems and Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering have all disappeared as vehicle manufacturers, as have many key sub-system suppliers.

The origins of the demise of the British AFV industry is due to many reasons, including the UK MoD’s woeful AFV Sector Strategy. This stated: "In meeting our operational sovereignty needs, we will first look at the open market, and only if that market is not appropriate will we secure AFV-related capability within the UK and, if necessary, within government itself."

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Foreign-owned contractors won the two largest UK AFV competitions. General Dynamics Land Systems won the contract for the Ajax family of vehicles, while Lockheed Martin secured the contract for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme.

Neither of these two contractors had any previous experience in the UK in designing, developing, and producing tracked AFVs. Both have had significant problems in delivering much-needed AFVs to the British Army. In fact, such was the struggle for Lockheed Martin that WCSP was recently cancelled.

Compare these current woes to past achievements, and it’s soon clear that we have lost our way. The Alvis Scorpion Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) family was developed to meet the British Army’s specific requirements and was built in large numbers for the demanding export market. This more than paid for the original development costs.

The Scimitar member of the CVR (T) should by now have been replaced by the Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (TRACER), a joint development with the US. Prototypes of two competing designs were built, but the whole programme was cancelled when the US pulled the rug.

Not so long ago, I was in Malaysia standing alongside one of the Malaysian Army 90mm Scorpions in conversation with a Malaysian one star. He asked what would replace Scorpion in the British Army. I said Ajax, but when I mentioned the size and weight, he was astounded.

So what of Ajax? GDLS won the Ajax development contract as far back as 2012, followed by the production contract for 589 vehicles for delivery from 2017 through 2024.

But so far, few production standard Ajax have been delivered to operational units.
Several problems have been encountered, which should have been sorted out during contractor testing, or more recently, at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit at Bovington.

The standard procedure is to have separate contracts for design/development and, if trials are successful, then move to the production stage. You will notice this is not the case for Ajax.

What should happen is that the demanding Reliability Growth Trials are carried out on prototype vehicles, which are almost hand-built, and again on production vehicles, and any problems identified and rectified.

I won’t bore you with the details of the current problems facing the programme as they have been well reported by the British press – although the nature of the coverage itself is enough to demonstrate how much trouble the programme is in.

Ajax is the key reconnaissance version of the design fitted with a two-person turret armed with a 40 mm CTAS provided by, you guessed it, Lockheed Martin, who also designed the turret for WCSP.

The UK has already taken delivery of 515 of these 40mm CTAS weapons that are now in store as they are provided as government equipment with BAE Systems providing ammunition.

The first 100 Ajax AFV hulls will come from the General Dynamics European Land Systems – Santa Barbara Sistemas facility in Spain, followed by production in the UK.

Ajax is a highly sophisticated reconnaissance platform with an advanced array of sensors and a high level of survivability, making it a much larger platform than the diminutive Scorpion, which weighed around 8 tonnes when first deployed.

That Ajax is larger, and much heavier, limits its deployment by aircraft and crossing bridges as it has a typical weight of around 38 tonnes with a potential stretch potential to 42 tonnes.
Ajax is a vital part of the British Army ISTAR capability and, following the cancellation of WCSP, will be the only direct fire capability between the 120mm armed Challenger 2 MBT and the Boxer armed with a 12.7mm machine gun, which is now slated to replace the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.

IF Ajax is cancelled, what are the alternatives in the marketplace?

The short answer is that there are no direct replacements for Ajax as it is a complete family of vehicles, and at this late stage, it’s unlikely the UK could restart its AFV industry. So once again, the UK would need to cobble together something from what’s internationally available.
Potential tracked replacements are a version of the best-selling BAE Systems Hagglunds CV90 or the German Rheinmetall Lynx, which has already secured its first export order - Hungary.

If the UK was looking for a smaller wheeled vehicle, then the French Jaguar (6x6) could have potential as it is now entering production for the French Army as the replacement for the 105 mm armed AMX-10RCR (6x6) and 90mm armed Sagaie (6x6) armoured cars.

While it does not have the advanced sensor package of the Ajax, Jaguar is armed with a 40mm CTAS plus a pod of two MBDA MMP anti-tank guided weapons with a line of sight and beyond line of sight capability.

Those would all be difficult choices, but so is continuing with the Ajax programme in its current state. Would things be different if we had retained domestic capability? Possibly not, but at least there would have been an alternative way to go about things.

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