The Ajax programme, which began in 2010, is intended to transform the Army’s surveillance and reconnaissance capability. However, it has gone badly wrong, with no deployable vehicle delivered to date let alone providing Initial Operating Capability or Full Operating Capability dates. The Department has a £5.5 billion firm-price contract with General Dynamics Land Systems UK for the design, manufacture and initial in-service support of 589 Ajax armoured vehicles. The Department initially expected to bring Ajax into service in 2017 but subsequently missed a revised target of June 2021. By December 2021, the Department had paid General Dynamics £3.2 billion but received only 26 Ajax vehicles, none of which it can use. The programme remains in turmoil because the Department still does not know whether the noise and vibration problems—which since July 2020 it has known may have injured soldiers—are fixable. It does not expect to determine this until late 2022. The Department is not willing to set a new target for initial operating capability before the noise and vibration problems are resolved and it does not know when it will be able to introduce the full capability into service. There remains considerable uncertainty over how to resolve these safety issues and the programme is slipping further behind schedule as the Department and General Dynamics seek to agree a way forward. The slow progress and continued delays create significant risks to value for money, put at risk the Army’s plans for transformation and mean soldiers will have to use existing outdated vehicles for longer.
The Department’s management of the programme was flawed from the outset as the programme was over-specified and the Department and General Dynamics did not understand the scale of the technical challenge. We have seen similar failings again and again in the Department’s management of its equipment programmes. The Ajax programme also raises serious concerns about the Department’s processes and culture for testing whether new equipment is safe to use. The Department needs to learn the lessons from the Ajax programme to ensure the litany of failures is never repeated and that our service personnel receive the equipment they need for operations and the nation’s defence. As a matter of the upmost urgency, the Department must establish whether noise and vibration issues can be addressed by modifications or whether they require a fundamental redesign of the vehicle. If the latter, the Department must decide whether the right course is to proceed with General Dynamics or if it should opt for an alternative. We expect an update on this when we next take evidence and a definitive decision, either one way or the other, by December 2022. After twelve years, enough is enough.
As this Committee highlighted in its recent report on the MoD Equipment Plan 2021–31, the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine only reinforces the urgent need for the Department to reform, prioritise and effectively manage its expenditure to ensure the Armed Forces can secure all the equipment that they need in the quickest possible time.