In 2010 the British Army looked to find a new multi-role, fully-digitised armoured fighting vehicle designed to deliver a step-change in versatility and agility as part of the Future Rapid Effect System contact to replace the aging FV107 Scimitar, which has been in service since 1971.
Following a competitive tendering process DE&S beat out competition from BAE Systems to provide the biggest single order of armoured vehicles in a generation by way of the £5.5bn Ajax programme.
The first block of vehicles were intended to be delivered in 2017 but this was pushed back to January 2020 as a result of delays with an estimated initial operating capability expected by July 2020.
Delays and design problems place future of Ajax vehicles in doubt
However, the entire program may now be in doubt as a result of delays and design problems of the Ajax armoured fighting vehicle.
Military personnel across the country have for some time now been responsible for testing Ajax vehicles. This has involved a rigorous routine with various personnel operating with and closely to the Ajax vehicles.
Military personnel complain of excessive noise and vibration
This testing was halted in November 2020 following complaints from those involved in the testing of excessive vibration and noise leaving crews suffering from nausea, swollen joints and tinnitus. This may be due to poor quality control during manufacture such as substandard welding and inconsistencies in the vehicle’s hull.
Last November a number of those working on the Ajax Armoured Vehicle Programme were asked to attend Bulford Camp in Wiltshire to undertake hearing tests following the problems coming to light. These included an issue with their compatibility with the hearing protection in place.
Ajax personnel diagnosed with hearing loss
Several of the personnel were subsequently found to have suffered some level of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), including tinnitus.
The MoD has now identified 310 service personnel who need hearing assessments having worked with the Ajax.
Military lawyers investigate potential failings
Irwin Mitchell is currently looking into the programme and the potential failings by the MOD to assess whether more could have been done to prevent injuries to the service personnel operating with the vehicles.
Testing new military equipment naturally comes with certain risks. But the Ministry of Defence (MoD), like any employer, has a duty to protect service personnel from those risks and take all reasonable steps to prevent injury.
It has since being widely reported in the media that concerns around vibration and noise from these vehicles had been raised prior to any specific issues being identified, but it appeared that no further action had been taken at the time.
The Ajax’s manufacturer, knew about the noise and vibration as early as 2010, but believed that they were within safety legislation limits. Military personnel testing the vehicle for the MoD had also raised concerns about the noise and vibration issues by 2017.
The MOD has subsequently confirmed that "all testing and training on Ajax vehicles remains paused…we will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose.”
The MOD has also stated that “it is not possible to determine a realistic timescale for the introduction of Ajax vehicles into operational service.”
Lawyer deeply concerned by first-hand accounts
Carol Purang, a specialist military lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, is critical of the issues being raised by Army Personnel stating: “Having spoken to a number of individuals involved within the Ajax testing there is a general theme of NIHL and tinnitus arising out of the testing which has had a substantial impact on their day-to-day lives and is likely to cause them psychological injuries, as well as potentially resulting in the end of their service careers.
“It has recently been reported that, in addition to the 121 personnel who have undergone hearing assessments, a further 189 have been identified as having been in sufficiently close contact with the vehicles in question to necessitate assessments, bringing the total number to 310. It is likely that there will be a number of further cases arising from these assessments, as personnel who may have put their symptoms down to stress realise that they now suffer from NIHL.
“This is deeply concerning and we’ll continue to support those who serve in our armed forces throughout this difficult period.”
Irwin Mitchell remain committed to supporting all service personnel.
Find out more about our expertise in supporting members of the Armed Forces affected by hearing loss, including those who worked on the Ajax programme, at our dedicated Ajax noise induced hearing loss section.
The MoD says the trials resumed in March. But the leaked report says crews are still having to observe strict health and safety restrictions, including "limiting time in the platform to one hour 30 before a crew change or speed restrictions of 20mph" - which is less than half its top speed.