In the latest ongoing saga regarding the British Army’s plagued Ajax armoured vehicle draws yet more parliamentary scrutiny, it appears as though further delays will likely lead to the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) to be used to cover these capability gaps.
As Warrior is both an ageing platform in its current guise (due to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) scrapping the Capability Sustainment Programme this year) and an infantry fighting vehicle, not a purposefully designed reconnaissance vehicle, this will in fact leave a significant capability gap for the British Army’s armoured reconnaissance regiments.
This article is the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines.
Robert Clark is a Defence Policy Associate at the Henry Jackson Society. He is the author of ‘The British Army’s Ajax: Fit for Purpose?’. Prior to this he served in the British military for 13 years.
Andrew Kileen was a Research Assistant at the Henry Jackson Society. Prior to this he studied War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton.
Initially chosen over the BAE CV90 in 2010 for the contract to replace the ageing CVR(T), Ajax was to be an unparalleled 4th generation ISTAR asset that could track its enemy’s digital and electronic footprints – in effect, a computer on wheels. Ajax’s development, however, has been fraught with issues. Stemming from a simultaneous design and manufacture process the project is now four years behind schedule, and is set to run over its £5.5 billion budget. In turn the delays leave current frontline units dangerously ill-protected in their 1970s CVR(T)s, or now as it appears, the replacement to Warrior – a vehicle designed to rapidly transport infantry into the heart of battle.
Since June, the Ajax programme has remained paused, as the trials conducted by the Royal Armoured Corps have been suspended for the second time since 2020 due to repeated reports of service personnel testing Ajax receiving vibration and hearing injuries. Health and safety mitigations have since been put in place; they include restricting the vehicles top speed to 20mph, reversing over a height no greater than 20cm and restricting crew’s time inside the vehicle to 90 minutes. Despite these mitigations, at least 112 service personnel have been adversely affected by crewing the vehicle. Since the second suspension in trials, the Minister for Defence Procurement, MP Jeremy Quin, has ordered an independent investigation into the injuries continuing to be caused by the mechanical faults of the vehicles. That investigation is set to conclude shortly; the preliminary prognosis not good, as Jeremy Quin announced to Parliament on Monday that Warrior may be required to plug the gap due to the ongoing delays.
With Ajax now facing serious prolonged fiscal and technical issues, the MoD has to consider an off the shelf alternative that can fill the role of Ajax, should the project be scrapped. These options include the previously declined CV90, the already-cancelled Warrior CSP, and the Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV).
The CV90 is a tried and tested platform that is used by many other western militaries, including Norway, who use an existing recce variant. Not only does this platform benefit from multi-national development, but it has also proven itself capable of exercising regularly in the freezing temperatures of Scandinavia as well as seeing combat in the heat of Afghanistan.
Scrapped in this spring’s defence review for costings, the WCSP saw the revival and digitisation of the Warrior IFV. Although the project faced many delays and went over budget, most issues stemmed from the MoD, not the platform or supplier. With 759 Warriors already in operation by the MoD it is a relatively quick and painless transition. However, parts such as the hulls will require refabricating in the not too distant future, incurring additional cost to the upgrade due to their age.
As for the Boxer CRV, this platform is currently employed in the Australian Army. Though it has a smaller main armament (30mm cannon) it has 4th generation ISTAR capabilities and excellent survivability features. As Boxer is already a part of the redesigned Brigade Combat Teams, integrating the CRV variant would theoretically standardise the spare parts required. One of the only drawbacks is that the British Army is only receiving one Boxer vehicle per week for its existing order. If the Boxer CRV was chosen and produced domestically, the production capacity would have to be expanded, yet this would still be cheaper than establishing a manufacturing base for an entirely new platform.
Ultimately, once the ongoing Ajax investigation led by Jeremy Quin is concluded, then the MoD must make a decision and stick to it. Lurching from suspended trails, to medical reviews for injured soldiers, to plugging ageing and soon-to-be mothballed platforms to fill the continued delays, is to go from a failed procurement policy to a failed defence capability policy. The Warrior, in its current IFV role, is unsuitable for the role envisaged for Ajax. As a short-term fix, to cover the lack of capability in aging CVR(T) and delayed Ajax, is one thing. To not announce a fresh policy or direction regarding the platform for this specific capability is operational negligence, and will ultimately weaken the combat effectiveness of the British Army.