'This Programme Has Been a Disaster': Over 300 UK Soldiers Seek Medical Aid After Trials of New Tank
05:27 GMT 07.09.2021 (Updated: 15:15 GMT 28.05.2023)
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Defence Images / AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the British Army AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the British Army
In July, a UK government report revealed that Ajax will pose security-related troubles to its crew if this fully-digitised light tank is driven at more than 20 miles (32 kilometres) per hour.
At least 310 UK soldiers are facing medical assistance after trials of the army's new Ajax armoured fighting vehicle, also referred to as a light tank, Minister for Defence (MoD) Procurement Jeremy Quin said in a statement on Monday.
"Of the 310 personnel, 304 have been contacted successfully and 248 personnel, including 113 of the original cohort of 121, have now been assessed", he noted. The health troubles reportedly include hearing loss, back spasms, and joint pain.
Quin added that MoD officials are continuing "to identify and monitor the hearing of personnel exposed to noise on Ajax" and that "the army is also in the process of identifying any health effects in those potentially exposed to vibration".
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Defence Images / AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the British ArmyAJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the British Army
AJAX, the Future Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the British Army
Referring to a yet-to-be-published report by the MoD's director of health and safety, Quin said that "while the report has not yet been concluded, it is apparent that vibration concerns were raised before Ajax trials commenced at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in November 2019".
He pledged that after the release of the document, his department would deal with what further probes were needed "to see if poor decision-making, failures in leadership, or systemic organisational issues contributed to the current situation".
The minister for defence procurement also said that it was "not possible to determine a realistic timescale" for the introduction of the Ajax vehicles into service, vowing that the MoD would not "accept a vehicle that is not fit for [its] purpose".
At the same time, Quin suggested that the Ajax trials could resume "imminently", but that they will involve General Dynamics staff rather than servicemen. The company was earlier picked to manufacture 589 Ajax light tanks for the army.
Tory MP Mark Francois, a member of the Commons Defence Committee, for his part, said on Monday that he wonders what British soldier "in his or her right mind would want to go to war in an Ajax".
"This programme has been a disaster and MoD ministers should emerge from denial, scrap it, and buy something that works – and doesn't injure its own crew!", the lawmaker argued.
13 February 2021, 10:39 GMT
The remarks come weeks after a government report claimed that Ajax poses safety risks to its crew if it is driven at over 20 miles (32 kilometres) per hour. The vehicle's maximum speed is 40 miles (64 kilometres) per hour.
The Telegraph reported in July that the light tank's trials had been suspended from November 2020 to March 2021, after crews suffered swollen joints and tinnitus. Currently, all personnel are supposed to regularly have an ear test and wear noise-cancelling headsets inside the vehicle.
A whopping £3.5 billion ($4.9 billion) has already been spent on the Ajax programme, rolled out in 2014, and is supposed to be wrapped up by 2024.