Coachlines - May 2020

02.05.20 Major Thomas F R Coker of Royal Dragoon Guards

Ajax – the core of the British Army’s strike concept – part one

The Ajax represents a huge step-change in capability for the armed forces

The Ajax represents a huge step-change in capability for the armed forces

The Ajax project is well under way at Pentrebach in South Wales, and the first of the 589 vehicles have been delivered to the Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) in Bovington for testing. General Dynamics UK is leading the manufacture, with a variety of other major and minor defence contractors tied in to deliver a truly world class vehicle. The initial tranche of vehicles includes 245 turreted reconnaissance Ajax vehicles and 256 support vehicles. The support vehicles are broken into Ares troop carriers, command variant Athenas, Argus Engineer Recce variants, Atlas recovery, and Apollo repair variants. All things being well, future tranches will hopefully include ambulances, fire support and manoeuvre support variants, although these are to be confirmed.

The new family of vehicles is to replace the British Army’s faithful Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) – CVR(T). CVR(T) has been in service since the 1960s and was originally designed for the rice fields of Borneo. One of the key user requirements for CVR(T) was to “fit between mangroves” – not the most precise of engineering statements! Whilst old, CVR(T) is still popular with soldiers and punches well above its weight on the battlefield because of its speed and small size (as well as the Scimitar toting an impressive 30mm canon). The Latvian Defence Force has already bought a full regiment’s worth and is considering buying a second. Exerting a lower ground pressure than the average soldier, the CVR(T) is able to go places that frequently surprise even the users, and it can disappear into the landscape with ease. Why then, would the British Army give up such a capable piece of equipment?

The short answer is that the Ajax family represents a huge step-change in capability. The turreted Ajax mounts the Thales Catherine MP thermal sight and the new BAE / Nexter CTA S40 40mm cannon with cased telescopic ammunition (which means that the case sits around the projectile, rather than the projectile sitting on the front of the tube of propellant). Without doubt, it will be a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Ajax will be able to detect armoured targets at a range of 22km, and engage them at 5km, this is game changing. CVR(T) Scimitar’s Battle Group Thermal Imaging sights, whilst still effective, are ageing and don’t have anywhere near the clarity presented by the new Catherine MP. Whilst the ability to detect at range is extremely useful, the MP’s real utility is in the recognition and identification of potential targets. On the modern battlefield NATO (and other) allies use a variety of equipment types, including former Soviet Bloc armour, and so long-range identification is crucial to prevent friendly-fire incidents. Furthermore, with the ever-increasing prevalence of other sensors on the battlefield (every casual observer’s mobile telephone is now a watching eye to present information, or mis-information, about a conflict), the need for commanders to be absolutely clear about what they are seeing before they engage a target is crucial, in case an honest mistake leads to dramatic escalations in the global media.

Looking at the main armament, the new cannon provides commanders with more options – new airburst ammunition provides the ability to deal more effectively with troops in cover, whilst the 40mm armour piercing round is even able to overmatch the armour on some main battle tanks. It is in a different league to what the Army is used to. Add to that improved armour (with two fits – one for major combat operations and another for peace support operations), a powerful new power pack and drive train, and the human factor alterations that CVR(T) didn’t necessarily have designed into it (no longer will the boiling vessel (box kettle) in the troop carrier be at risk of slopping water onto unsuspecting crewmen, or the commander have to load the gun whilst navigating and controlling fire), and you have a potent new vehicle that the British Army is looking forward to putting through its paces.