WASHINGTON: When Britain signed a contract with General Dynamics in 2014 for 589 Ajax reconnaissance vehicles, it was welcomed into a new era in British ground forces.
However, this positive mood is now out the window as special hearings on armored reconnaissance vehicles become clear on Tuesday.
Members of the British Defense Commission beat Defense Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin and Field Forces Commander Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse to ask if the program could be saved and if there were alternatives for Ajax. None of those present at the hearings seemed particularly satisfied with the answers they received.
The program, which is a fixed-price 4.62 billion contract, went into turmoil last month after an internal military report was leaked that described key issues for crew members including joint pain and hearing loss and being unable to jump over 20cm high obstacles. . Crews testing Ajax are limited both how fast they can go and how much time they spend in the vehicle.
According to the BBC, the report specifically noted that the use of Ajax vehicles in current designs would create a real risk of a fraud problem and undermine trust in the vehicle. According to General Dynamics, the company has delivered 25 vehicles so far and 91 more are awaiting delivery.
In a prepared testimony, GD refuted a leaked report stating that a media account recently disparaged Ajax’s performance. These accounts are factually baseless and actual performance data refutes this. GDLS-UK is confident in their Ajax design and continues to complete the entire certification process to demonstrate functionality as part of a demonstration activity.
But speaking to reporters in Washington last week, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace bluntly said it was a problematic program and no one was hiding it.
I need to solve it. We need to get to the bottom of the problem. Ministry of Defense Procurement Minister spoke directly to GD Director. I’ll talk to her soon, Wallace said. Both General Dynamics and the Army decided they needed to correct this problem. (Wallace was not scheduled to meet with GD CEO Phebe Novakovic during his US trip.)
Wallace, a former ground forces commander, said he understands that every new system has a jagged problem, but Ajax’s problem is bigger than that. Basically, we paid for the equipment, and we expect it to be delivered. We have that right. And if the problem is not resolved, we will take action.
However, it is unclear what it means to take action. The Department of Defense has consistently said it is still committed to the program. Breaking a contract to start over doesn’t seem realistic given the money already invested and the lack of options.
Understanding the options was a big part of Tuesday’s hearings. Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood drew the line and questioned whether it was time to move completely away from Ajax. Conservative MP Mark Francois has repeatedly expressed his frustration that the longer the hearing, the more likely he is to cancel the program.
Wooddisse has suggested that if Ajax is canceled, the UK will have to combine airborne drones with ground-mounted reconnaissance to fill the gap. He also pointed out that the Challenger 3 tank could be used to compensate for the lack of guns currently planned for the Ajax system.
Ellwood seemed baffled by the idea of using heavy equipment for this mission and has repeatedly raised the idea of adding a turret to the Boxer combat vehicle instead of continuing to use Ajax.
The hearing emphasized that if the UK cancels Ajax, there is no easy and clear path for replacement. Ultimately, Quin said, this is why they focus more on fixing programs rather than replacing them.
We are committed to this program. We want it to work, Quin said. That is our goal. That’s what was working. I don’t want to surprise the 4,000 people who are working on this. A huge amount of work is being done to solve these problems, which is our goal, and it has fantastic features. We just need to make it work.
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