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Tory MP slams ‘shambolically run’ tanks programme

3 min read

Tobias Ellwood calls for more defence funding

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A Tory MP today branded Britain’s Ajax programme a “disgrace” after it emerged the light armoured vehicles will not fully enter service until the end of the decade.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the first tanks will be ready for use from 2025, but will not have full operating capability until as late as 2029.

The vehicles had been due to enter service in 2017 but have been repeatedly delayed, with problems including noise and vibration which injured soldiers.

Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons Defence Committee, said the delays have left the British Army with tanks dating back to the 1970s.

Mr Ellwood, a former soldier, said: “While it’s encouraging to see AJAX will one day take its place on the battlefield the MOD’s handling of this frankly shambolically run programme has been a disgrace.

“Taking a decade and a half and costing £3 billion it is clear a series of errors were made in the execution of this programme.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reminded us how land warfare continues to play a major role in conflict but also the appalling state, size and readiness of our own combat capabilities.

“As we found in our 2021 report, the British Army is now running obsolete tanks, APCs and recce vehicles.

“With AJAX now confirmed it will not be fully operational until 2029, the Army is forced to retain SCIMITAR which first entered service in 1971.

“Unless there is absolute certainty that General Dynamics will be able to deliver their fleet of vehicles on schedule and meet the military specifications set by the Army, no more money should leave the public purse.

“Even if the first squadron of vehicles is delivered in as promised – around a dozen vehicles in 2025 – this would come fifteen years after General Dynamics’ won the contract and nearly a decade after it should have entered service in 2017. This is hardly a rate of production to write home about.”

The MoD said yesterday payments towards the £5.5 billion cost of the 589 Ajax vehicles – of which more than £3 billion has already been handed over – will resume.

It will pay £480 million this month after halting payments to US manufacturer General Dynamics more than two years ago.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Having worked closely with General Dynamics to address the issues, I am pleased to say that we are making progress and are now on course to see the delivery of a suite of hundreds of battle-ready vehicles for the British Army.”

In a written statement to MPs, defence procurement minister Alex Chalk said payments would resume with a payment of around half of what has been held back since December 2020.

He said: “Given the satisfactory progress against the programme, the department will resume payments this month, starting with a payment of £480 million.

“Restarting payments to General Dynamics reflects the fact that the programme continues to return to a firm footing and supports the delivery of the schedule to deliver operational capability.”

Mr Chalk said further payments for 589 of the fighting vehicles will be made against a “new schedule and its milestones”.

He added: “The Ajax programme is turning a corner, but this does not remove the need for the department to identify and learn lessons.”

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