Lockheed: Ajax tank turret program halfway through production

The British Army’s long-running Ajax program is gradually nearing completion, with more than half of the tank turrets now built.

“We’re a little over 50 percent through Ajax production, but we have about two more years of production,” said Steve Wallace, head of production operations at Lockheed Martin The UK facility in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, said Army Technology.

While Lockheed’s production is reportedly on schedule, the Ajax program has been hit with difficulties. Rising costs and repeated delays have led to parliamentary calls for Ajax to be scrapped, although the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) has confirmed its commitment to the programme.

Field figures show Lockheed Martin’s Ampthill site has produced 141 turrets since 2018 when the contract for 245 turrets began. That includes 32 turrets last year and 32 so far in 2023.

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What is Ajax and when will it be developed?

The Ajax programme, which was first commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September 2014, is the UK’s largest single order for an armored vehicle in more than two decades.

Ajax was originally expected to cost $4.3bn (£3.54bn) and be completed by 2024. More recent estimates by the Foreign Office and the House of Commons say the scheme will cost $5.5 billion of taxpayer money and be fully operational by 2029.

General Dynamics Land Systems The UK is the prime contractor, overseeing the assembly of a total of 589 Ajax vehicles at the Merthyr Tydfil site in South Wales. General Dynamics said Army Technology that it has delivered 143 vehicles, with 44 already deployed by the British Army.

Each vehicle is 7.62 meters long, 3.35 meters wide and 3 meters high. They travel at a maximum speed of 70 km/h. The State Department has touted Ajax’s all-weather functionality, cutting-edge sensors and stabilized 40mm gun as competitive military advantages.

Lockheed Martin UK is one of Ajax’s subcontractors, responsible for building 245 rotating gun turrets under a $1 billion deal. General Dynamics says it has received 141 turrets to date – 62% of total production.

The current manufacturing cycle for each turret is 600 hours, which Lockheed aims to reduce to 500 hours, according to Stuart Devonshire, head of manufacturing at the Ampthill site.

A series of setbacks

On March 20, Defense Procurement Secretary Alex Chalk said he “openly acknowledged the problems”, the Ajax program faces.

Chalk also announced that the State Department had resumed payments to General Dynamics, following a suspension of payments in 2021 when various design flaws emerged.

A leaked document has revealed Ajax tanks pose safety risks to British soldiers if driven at more than 32km/h, while excessive vibration and noise meant soldiers testing the vehicles were left with swollen joints and tinnitus.

Chalk’s update on Ajax’s sequel was met with harsh scrutiny.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on March 31 gave a full timeline of the scheme’s setbacks. General Dynamics told the Commission that the delays were caused in part by challenges of integrating the cannon into the turretthe report said, and the State Department had chosen a “technically unproven and immature 40mm gun”.

The integration of the gun with the turret is done through a separate contract between General Dynamics UK and Lockheed Martin UK. Devonshire clarified that development of the turret component had matured and Lockheed’s Ampthill facility was back on schedule.

“The program has been running for 12 years but has not delivered a single deployment vehicle to the military,” the PAC previously told the UK House of Commons.

“Enough is enough – the Foreign Office must fix or fail this program before it further endangers our national security and billions more of taxpayers’ money is wasted,” said PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier. “These repeated failures strain older capabilities that are overdue for replacement and directly threaten the safety of our personnel and their ability to protect the nation and deliver on NATO commitments.”

The UK Foreign Office declined to comment on the status of Ajax’s production. Most signals indicate that the Foreign Office is fully committed to the program, as the British Army restarted training on Ajax vehicles in June.

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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