In September 2015, General Dynamics UK unveiled the latest version of its Scout SV armoured vehicle. The prototype tank – which was displayed at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London’s Docklands – has been renamed AJAX and described as "the future of armoured fighting vehicles".

Kevin Connell, vice-president of General Dynamics Land Systems UK, said at the time: "We are delighted to unveil the AJAX prototype, which is another significant step in the on-schedule delivery of the best-in-class platforms to the British Army. Working together with our industry partners, customers and end users, we will deliver into service a platform that will enable the British Army to gather the information they need, when they need it, on the battlefields of the future."

The word AJAX, with its mythological overtones, means two things for the British Army. First, it is the name for this specific vehicle, which has been billed as "the medium-weight core of the British Army’s deployable intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability".

Designed to provide commanders with a survivable and capable ground-mounted manned reconnaissance (GMMR) platform, the vehicle features a turret developed by Lockheed Martin UK and is armed with a stabilised 40mm automatic cannon.
More broadly, though, the name applies to the entire family of vehicles originally known as Scout SV. Alongside AJAX itself, the family comprises five turretless variants: ARES (reconnaissance support), ATHENA (command and control), APOLLO (equipment repair), ATLAS (equipment recovery) and ARGUS (engineering reconnaissance).

The fleet will replace the combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) (CVR(T)) vehicles, which have been in service since 1971. These vehicles have long been ripe for replacement: as early as the 1990s, the Future Rapid Effect System Programme sought to find a new alternative that would suit modern operational conditions.

As an MoD spokesperson says: "The changed character of conflict calls for greater adaptability and protection for a far longer period of time than the CVR(T) can offer. AJAX will continue the CVR(T) legacy, taking the British Army’s armoured vehicles programmes firmly into the future. AJAX is far more than a reconnaissance platform and offers an entirely new capability to defence."

Following years of competition from BAE Systems, General Dynamics UK won the contract in 2010, and instigated what was then the Scout SV programme. The programme passed its first major design point, the Preliminary Design Review, in December 2012, and conducted a rolling programme of design reviews over the following months.

In 2014, the contractor unveiled the first pre-production prototype, before being awarded £3.5 billion to deliver 589 Scout SV platforms to the British Army (245 AJAX, 93 ARES, 112 ATHENA, 50 APOLLO, 38 ATLAS and 51 ARGUS variants).
The following summer, General Dynamics UK made two key announcements: firstly, that it had been given a £390-million extended in-service support contract for the fleet; secondly, that it would open a new facility in South Wales for assembly, integration and testing. While the first 100 vehicles will be built in the company’s primary production facility in Spain, the remainder will be designed and developed in Merthyr Tydfil. According to Prime Minister David Cameron, this move will create 250 new skilled jobs, supplementing the 300 secured by the original production contract.

AJAX bridges the gap between our light and heavy forces, and will operate at the heart of the army’s strike brigades.

"The decision by General Dynamics to bring the assembly of these world-class armoured vehicles to South Wales is to the credit and skills of the local area," he said, adding that the maintenance package would last until 2024.
So, how will the vehicles differ from what has come before? As the MoD spokesperson explains, they were designed to provide a step change in protection, mobility and lethality at a tempo unmatched by in-service platforms.

"As the army’s first digital vehicles, they allow information to be analysed and exploited quickly, enhancing a commander’s ability to make effective decisions in a complex battlefield. AJAX bridges the gap between our light and heavy forces, and will operate at the heart of the army’s strike brigades," he says.

While the British Army already uses a wide range of digital equipment, enabling troops to pass information across the battlespace, AJAX will dramatically increase its capabilities in this regard. Providing a manned, all-weather, persistent ISTAR capability, it will take the collection, analysis and distribution of intelligence to a level not seen previously. Its multiple sensors are networked on platform through an entirely digital vehicle architecture.

"To fully exploit information, digital platforms can manipulate, store and transmit far greater amounts of detail than an analogue system might," continues the spokesperson. "The ability to collect information and pass it as widely as possible as fast as possible will enable commanders to make effective decisions in increasingly complex environments."

Custom engineering
The list of capabilities of the new vehicles is extensive. AJAX is a low-signature vehicle with an integrated survivability suite and mission-configurable armour. It features chemical, radiation and nuclear detection systems designed to ensure operational capability in the most demanding and dangerous of environments. These come together with a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route-marking system and a high-performance power pack.

Weighing in at around 40t, with the ability to increase up to 42t, the AJAX vehicles are larger and heavier than the CVR(T) fleet they are replacing. That said, design improvements mean they will easily compete with their predecessors in terms of mobility.
They will also be extremely adaptable, with the need for future growth and change built into the very fabric of their design. Although developed around a common base platform – therefore lowering the overall logistics footprint – they have a highly exportable hull that customers can equip according to their needs. What is more, with scalable and open electronic architecture, and a modular armour system, users will be able to tweak the system to incorporate changing technologies and meet new threats as they arise.

Responsiveness will be the name of the game going forward. With Future Force 2020 prompting changes in the army’s structure, it is impossible to say what the next few years will hold, but vehicles designed in the 1970s are unlikely to be up to the task. The AJAX fleet should be suited to a wide range of future operating environments, providing highly agile state-of-the-art protection for British troops.

Currently, the AJAX programme is in its demonstration phase, having completed the critical design review. It is going through a rigorous trial programme to ensure it meets the requirements set by the army, and three further prototypes are scheduled to be delivered next year. Two of these will be optimised towards major combat operations, and the third towards peace support operations, demonstrating the range of configurations on offer.

The AJAX fleet should be suited to a wide range of future operating environments, providing highly agile state-of-the-art protection for British troops.

According to General Dynamics UK, the move from Spain to Wales should not affect the vehicles’ slated delivery schedule, which is set to begin in 2017 and end in 2024. It is expected that the first British Army squadron will be equipped by mid-2019 and the first brigade will deploy at the end of 2020.

In the meantime, as General Dynamics works towards creating the eyes and ears of tomorrow’s battlefields, intensive testing will continue.

"We are on track to see the first demonstration platforms delivered to the army in 2017 and, by the end of 2018, we will see the army training on AJAX. The fleet will be at full operational capability in 2025," the MoD spokesperson explains.