The Tragedy of Ajax

When the British Army named its replacement tank for the outdated Scimitar that should have been replaced 20 years ago, it focused on the story of Ajax’s epic fights at Troy, when he was undefeated by Hector and earned a reputation for his strength and spear and shield.

Two weeks ago I watched a troop of prototype Ajax tanks on their way back from Castlemartin Ranges after all tests were halted when the crews complained of excessive noise and vibration problems. Regardless of those who comment that the pollution soldiers experienced on Chieftain tanks in the 1980s was much worse, this project is becoming something of a farce.

The noise can be solved by throwing money at the issue and buying better headsets for all the crews. The problem of vehicle vibration is not so easy to answer as it has been sourced to poor design and quality control in the manufacturing of the steel hulls (they were made in Spain). One can lament the way the government abandoned the British tank manufacturers fifteen years ago and looked to foreign companies, or one can decry the way the MoD cut their in-house technical directorate, which kept a handle on the quality, safety and reliability of a project throughout its procurement cycle, but the bottom line is that this vehicle is no longer fit for purpose.

The tragedy of Ajax at Troy is that he committed suicide because the Greek leadership favoured Odysseus in the vote for Achilles’ armour. Unfortunately, it looks like the Ajax tank is going the same way because the hulls are so full of defects and the British Army is less interested in the sort of high intensity land operations that were envisaged for this capability. Then there is the question of accountability…

A worn out Scimitar on UN operations in Bosnia 1995

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