A few weeks ago I talked about trends in armored vehicles, and how there’s still a need for powerful, well-armored tracked models as well as the increasingly popular light wheeled ones. The trend towards lighter combat vehicles has been driven by the long spell of low-intensity wars we’ve been fighting, and as everyone’s probably guessed by now I don’t think it’s a particularly smart move. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan problems showed up, for example the vulnerability of the USA’s Stryker (now upgraded) and the UK’s Pinzgauer Vector (now withdrawn) to IEDs. The response was MRAPs, which might be wheeled but are far from light.
Now it looks like the trend might be changing direction. The British Army has finally started taking deliveries of its new AFV family, formerly known as Scout SV and now christened with the service name Ajax. This is the long-overdue product of the Future Rapid Effects System program, a long-running farce that wasted a fortune and barked up more wrong trees than a pound full of blind dogs. The aim was roughly equivalent to the Stryker project, but took a lot more wrong turns. For once though, this might have been a blessing in disguise. By the time the MoD finally lost patience and told the project leaders to just stop fannying around and buy something, it was obvious that light vehicles had serious operational vulnerabilities, so the final decision was for a medium, tracked system.
The Ajax fleet is planned to total close to 600 vehicles, in no less than nine variants. Most of them will be reconnaissance platforms, with split into two main families – turreted and protected mobility. The protected mobility vehicles include an APC that will carry dismount recce teams, a command vehicle and an engineer recce variant. These are armed with a remote weapons station that can take a GPMG, .50 M2 or grenade machine gun, have a crew of two and can carry four passengers. The turreted models are the basic reconnaissance vehicle, an artillery reconnaissance version and a surveillance radar platform. These all have a crew of three, and are armed with a 40mm autocannon and coaxial 7.62mm chain gun in a Lockheed Martin turret. Then there’s a third family, consisting of recovery and repair vehicles to support the rest of the fleet.
Ajax isn’t precisely a new vehicle. The base platform is the ASCOD, jointly developed by Spain and Austria for use as an infantry fighting vehicle. However Ajax is a very different beast. General Dynamics, the lead contractor, is building the vehicles in Wales and has made a lot of changes to the original design. The Spanish model’s 600hp engine has been replaced with an 815hp MTU diesel and the upperworks have been totally revised. Not only is the turret different; the turret ring has been drastically enlarged. It’s 1.7 meters across, allowing for a very roomy turret – and space to fit an even bigger one if required.
What’s most interesting is that the new vehicles are direct replacements for the old Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (Tracked) series. The turreted ones are replacing the Scimitar, a sporty little minitank with a 30mm gun: the others will be taking over from a variety of turretless CVR(T) models. But a Scimitar weighs under eight tons; the turreted Ajax tips the scales at 38, with growth potential to 42. That means it’s heavier than a T-55 and could potentially outweigh a T-72A. CVR(T) has lightweight aluminium armor that can stand up to 7.62mm ball rounds and should usually top a .50-cal over the frontal arc – but might catch fire from the round’s energy. I think we can assume Ajax is a bit better protected than that. General Dynamics say it has best in class protection; the standard ASCOD is protected against 30mm AP at the front, and Ajax outweighs it by ten tons; most of the extra mass is armor. My guess is it’s about as well protected as a T-55 or M48, and it wasn’t built that way to keep out Taliban AK rounds. The 40mm gun is also a big step up, and the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle fleet will soon be getting new turrets fitted with the same gun.
Of course the main power of a reconnaissance platform is in its sensors and communication, and Ajax shines here too. The sensor package is highly classified, but is likely to be ahead of any other current scout vehicle. Ajax can store six terabytes of data on board, share it around vehicle systems on a 20Gbps Ethernet link and datalink it over a secure data radio. A silent auxiliary generator lets it run all the electronics for long periods with the engine off.
The British Army has been cut to the bone and beyond in recent years, and some capabilities might have fallen so far that they can never be rebuilt. Ajax is a bright spot, though. It shows that someone is belatedly realizing that we might have to fight a high intensity war again someday, and that when it comes we’ll need tough, mobile vehicles that can take a few knocks and hit back hard. Ajax’s levels of protection and firepower far outclass any other scout vehicle in service or development, and should be a wake up call to anyone who thinks a Fennek or Stryker is enough of a fighting vehicle to be at the front line on a heavy metal battlefield.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical