Only 5 of 27 ‘critical issues’ preventing the Ajax armoured vehicle from entering service have been resolved.
The MoD has a £5.522 billion contract with General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDLS-UK) for the design, manufacture and initial in-service support of 589 Ajax armoured vehicles.
John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, asked:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to page 1 of the NAO’s report entitled The Ajax Programme, how many of the 27 limitations of use on Ajax vehicles in December 2021 have now been resolved.”
Jeremy Quin, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, responded:
“As of 27 March 2022, five of the 27 limitations of use have been resolved, all of which are critical to achieving initial operating capability. Work continues to resolve the remaining limitations as the programme matures.”
Ajax is supposed to be an armoured fighting vehicle that should provide the Army with its first fully digitised platform. It will be based on new technologically advanced sensors and communication systems that would transform the Army’s surveillance and reconnaissance capability.
Delivering the Ajax programme will be a “significant challenge for the Ministry of Defence because of failures that have led to delays and unresolved safety issues”, according to the National Audit Office.
“At December 2021, the Department had paid GDLS-UK £3.167 billion. At this point, GDLS-UK had designed the vehicles, built 324 hulls, and assembled and completed factory acceptance testing of 143 vehicles. The Department had received 26 Ajax vehicles, as well as associated training systems and support. The Ajax programme has encountered significant problems and the MoD does not know when it will be delivered. The Department’s initial planning assumption was that the vehicles would be in service in 2017. It subsequently set an initial operating capability (IOC) date of July 2020, which it then pushed back to June 2021, but missed. Concerns about excessive noise and vibration levels remain unresolved, and the MoD has not yet set a new IOC target date. It has no confidence that the April 2025 target for full operating capability (FOC) is achievable.
The delays will have important operational impacts for the Army. The Army’s plans rely on delivering a network of digital capabilities by 2030, centred around Ajax, Boxer and Challenger 3 armoured fighting vehicles. However, the delays to the Ajax programme mean it is not clear how the Army will achieve its planned restructuring by 2025. The MoD transferred financial risks to GDLS-UK by agreeing a firm-priced contract to deliver the Ajax vehicles, but this may not protect it from further expenditure. Ajax will be delivered late, leaving the Army to operate with ageing armoured vehicles, which are expensive to maintain.”
The report goes on to say that the MoD’s original requirements for Ajax were highly specified, and its management of design changes has led to disputes and delays. Around 1,200 capability requirements were set, making Ajax more complex than other armoured vehicles.
“The MoD and GDLS-UK did not fully understand some of the requirements, which led to many changes to the design specification. This caused disputes, and the time taken to agree design changes contributed to programme delays. The MoD and GDLS-UK did not understand the scale of work or technical challenge, which meant that sufficient contingency was not built into the programme schedule.
Milestones were missed because it took longer than GDLS-UK expected to undertake design work, complete testing, resolve defects and manage supply chain disputes. GDLS-UK told the NAO that this was because the MoD’s standards were not fully defined and subject to change. However, the Department repeatedly found GDLS-UK’s safety documentation insufficient.”
The report concludes that the MoD has not managed the programme effectively.
- It did not establish effective governance arrangements or the necessary resources to manage the programme.
- There were multiple lines of reporting and complex assurance arrangements; insufficient senior management time; a high turnover of senior staff; an under-resourced programme management team; and an ineffective programme board.
- The MoD and GDLS-UK reset the contract in 2018, but this did not resolve the programme’s underlying problems.
- The MoD knew of noise and vibration issues before soldiers reported injuries but was not aware of the severity of potential problems.
- Reporting of issues identified in trials was limited and slow, meaning that safety concerns were not shared or escalated by the Army or Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S).
- The Army’s trials team began reporting injuries from July 2020, but one month later the Army and DE&S signed off safety documentation that said, with some limitations on use, the vehicles were safe to commence training.
- The MoD is taking steps to resolve the noise and vibration issues, but they continue to represent a significant risk to the programme.
- It is not yet clear whether the programme’s issues are resolvable. It is a year behind the revised 2021 schedule, trials involving Army crews have been stopped, and safety issues remain unresolved.
“The Ministry of Defence expects Ajax to improve its armoured vehicle capability significantly. So far, it has insisted that GDLS-UK will deliver 589 Ajax vehicles for the agreed contract price of £5.522 billion. But the in-service date has already increased by four years and the Ministry of Defence does not know when it will be able to start using the vehicles. The programme continues to face significant problems and there is not yet agreement on the causes of critical safety issues or how these will be resolved. There are other technical issues which still need to be addressed and wider problems in developing the enabling capabilities that will allow Ajax to achieve full capability. These problems mean that the Department has not demonstrated value for money on the £3.167 billion it has spent so far through this contract.The Ministry of Defence’s and GDLS-UK’s approach was flawed from the start as they did not fully understand the scale or complexity of the programme.
“A series of programme management failures have since led to missed programme milestones and unresolved safety and technical issues. The two parties remain in dispute over unresolved contractual, safety and technical issues. The Department faces a significant challenge and difficult decisions if it is to deliver the programme, with a risk that the problems might prove insurmountable. To deliver value for money from the programme, the Department must introduce the capability that it set out to achieve, without costs escalating or further delays in introducing the capabilities. We have seen similar problems on other defence programmes, and the Department must ensure that it learns lessons to prevent a reoccurrence of failings across its £238 billion equipment programme.”
You can read the full thing here.