Britain Needs Better Tanks – Conservative Article
Not too long ago, news broke about the Ajax tank, and to say it was unflattering would be kind. The story showed that the tank was a massive disaster. This is a huge regression to the tanks that it is meant to replace, such as the Scimitar and Scorpion. Before I talk about this much further, a brief introduction of the tank (and its problems) must be done.
The Ajax tank is part of a family of different variants of armoured fighting vehicles, each fulfilling different roles on the battlefield. To give some examples, Ajax will perform a reconnaissance and strike role and has a turret. Ares, however, will be a reconnaissance and armoured personnel carrier, whilst Athena will be a command and control vehicle. All variants will be produced by General Dynamics and will cost £3.47 billion to make. The tank itself will make up 245 of the 589 vehicles produced and will be fully digitised.
However, a recent report, first leaked by The Sun, and then confirmed by the Ministry of Defence, highlighted that the Ajax variant is, at the moment at least, severely flawed. These flaws include not being able to reverse over an object that’s more than 20cm. Crews can also only operate the tank for 30 minutes due to the excessive noise. Not to mention that it has been giving crews tinnitus and it can only go at a maximum of 20mph, which is half its normal speed. The tank can’t fire on the move. Also, the project is four years behind schedule. What’s worse, is that these problems have been known since 2017.
As a tank fan, this news is extremely disappointing. Despite being an attempt to modernise Britain’s tanks (something which is desperately needed), to me, these so called upgrades feel like a regression. While no other tank sports the level of technology that Ajax has, crews were able to stay in previous vehicles, like the Scimitar Mark 2, for much longer. Therefore, this makes the older models more effective as a reconnaissance vehicle.
While the Ajax sports better armament than the Scimitar to engage the enemy with, Scimitar can fire its gun on the move. This makes it a harder target for the enemy to hit. If Ajax has to stop moving every time it fires, then that is an easy way to get hit by the enemy.
Plus, as a reconnaissance vehicle, if the Ajax isn’t moving, it’s missing a big part of its role. When comparing speeds, Scimitar can go 50mph, while the Ajax can only go 20mph (even its max speed, 40mph, is slower). If the Scimitar needed to reverse, it could do so without looking out for small objects. If Ajax had to reverse, it would have to stop as soon as it encountered a 20cm high object. This potentially endangers the crews as they wouldn’t be able to be back for their mandatory ear tests and checks for tinnitus.
However, perhaps I am not being entirely fair by comparing a trial tank with a fully fledged combat vehicle. As, while Ajax is already late, these oversights should be worked out before deployment, right? Or even, with such a list of catastrophic defects, maybe the variant would be canned and replaced with something else. Except, not. The MoD and the Army remain committed to the programme and hope to have it in initial operating capacity by the end of the summer. This does not give enough time to sort any issues. Thus both operational capability and crew confidence will be impacted, both taking their toll on Britain’s combat readiness. Why the government and MoD remains committed to this vehicle I don’t understand. It clearly doesn’t work.
However, the company responsible for this failure should receive most of the blame. After all, they, not the government, are building and designing the vehicle. General Dynamics is an American Defence and Aerospace corporation, and they are the 6th largest in the world. No doubt this means they are good at what they do, after all, it is why they would have been contracted. However this time they have dropped the ball.
This is unfortunate, as a key tank they have previously manufactured in the US is the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. This tank is still in use across the US Armed Forces. However, General Dynamics did not design the Abrams themselves, unlike the Ajax series. This highlights the fact they are better suited to manufacturing tanks, and not designing them. A better company for designing and producing tanks would be the British BAE Systems. Previous works for them include the aforementioned Scimitar.
Tanks remain an essential part of warfare. I mentioned my disappointment that Johnson made no mention of tanks in his increased military budget last year. But it is clear that he didn’t want to draw attention to this disaster. Britain has needed to upgrade its tanks for far too long. So while this project will remain a disaster, it is important that new tanks continue to be brought in and upgraded to ensure that the citizenry are properly protected. Not only this, but they also play a vital role in reconnaissance and enemy engagement, protecting troops’ lives as well.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
What tanks do we actually want? – A Liberal Response
An article I can always get behind. Although my military history is far rustier than it used to be, I cannot help myself but dig in and enjoy such a fantastic article. Kieran’s article is fantastic no doubt, but I feel from a military perspective, he misses a number of key concerns.
Firstly, the Ajax tank not being able to fix when shooting is a horrifically bad design flaw. In modern day capacity, as seen during the invasion of Iraq, a tank being able to fire on the move is crucial. If the army plans to use this tank for tank to tank combat, pace is crucial. The typical formation, attacking the enemy with pace straight on, means speed is crucial, especially for smaller tanks with a low firing range. If the tank has poor speed and cannot fire, it is prepared to fail.
However, as most will point out, this is not Ajax’s job. In fact, I would be shocked if an Ajax ever faces an enemy tank. That job is occupied by warrior and challenger tanks. This tank is used for troop support. It provides cover and support and therefore will barely move. Unless the SAS plan to use this tank in the same way the jackal 2 is used, which is highly unlikely, the basic specs of the Ajax are not terrible and are more efficient than Scimitar. It will definitely need to be improved for long distance use. 30 minutes maximum for drivers makes this vehicle useless for patrol. But the tank, as a personal support tank, is not horrific.
And this is the point. Kieran’s article almost expects this vehicle to face enemy tanks. Today, British deployment will almost entirely face insurgent forces. This is what this tank is built for, not fast pace invasion. For this purpose, I actually support its use.
I would far rather invest it in big boy tanks like the Abrams and Challenger cause let’s be honest, they are far cooler than the Ajax. However, for its purpose, with a few tweaks which I expect will be fixed, the Ajax does the job.
Written by Liberal writer Max Anderson
Too Many Problems for Approval – A Labour Response
Kieran’s article is a fantastic overview of the Ajax tank “disaster”. If like me, you knew little about tanks before, I’m sure you appreciate Kieran bringing you up to speed.
Technology is ever-changing through upgrades and modernisation – from smartphones to tanks. Given the latter, it’s completely necessary to make upgrades in order to compete globally with countries constantly aiming to improve their armoured fighting vehicles. So, like Kieran, I can’t condemn the eagerness of both the government and General Dynamics to upgrade their existing vehicles.
However, Kieran is completely right to highlight the problems of the Ajax tank and its pending launch. The first obvious problems are related to reconnaissance, namely that it will fail to locate an enemy to extents already achievable with existing vehicles. If modernisation was the initial purpose of developing these new vehicles, it makes little sense to launch them without fulfilling this purpose.
There are also concerns surrounding the health of crews. Kieran’s example of tinnitus, while not life-threatening directly, is a serious health condition that can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. If left untreated it can lead to stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts. If this one devastating impact of warfare is avoidable by either using different vehicles or delaying the approval of the Ajax tank further, that’s a much better outcome than knowing the consequences and still allowing them to exist.
If it is already four years behind schedule, and there are existing problems that have yet to be solved, I’m not optimistic that it’ll be ready for operation this summer. If it is, and these problems have not been eliminated, the government and General Dynamics will have a lot to answer for.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo