Lessons from the Ajax Programme

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The Ajax prototype on display near Merthyr Tydfil, Wales in March 2016. Courtesy of Andrew Linnett/Defence Imagery/OGL v3.0

This paper seeks to address the wider issues of how and why the Ajax programme reached its current condition, and points to four early learnings.

The travails of the Ajax programme have been widely publicised in Parliament and the media. This Emerging Insights paper provides an interim analysis of how and why this situation has come about.

It argues that the plight of the programme must be understood in the context of over 15 years of British Army and Ministry of Defence (MoD) failure to follow through on armoured vehicle projects, resulting in a loss of expertise in both the industrial and governmental sectors. It also confirms that the MoD, the Army customer, the procurement body and industry have all contributed to the programme’s shortcomings. The paper identifies four preliminary lessons.

First, it underlines the necessity for government to maintain a drumbeat of orders if it wishes to maintain a national industrial capability in a sector.

Second, if government runs down its in-house expertise, it must rely on corporate claims about what is possible in a period of time for a fixed sum of money. Yet, especially in a competitive context, companies can be driven towards excessive optimism in their offers.

Third, when projects involve an extensive development and production effort, a team approach that brings together suppliers, procurement bodies and customers is likely to work better than arms-length relationships.

Fourth, looking for individuals and bodies to blame does not incentivise transparency and effective lesson identification and learning.

The paper recommends that the planned inquiry focuses on holding to account individuals who were involved not only in recent years but also from the start of the programme, requiring them to identify the decisions they took. There is a need to understand the pressures that directed them to behave as they did so future acquisition programmes can be managed differently. The paper includes key questions for all the parties involved.

Many defence budgets overrun their schedules and budgets, and do not fulfil all their requirements. However, it is rare for an order to go into production that is unacceptable to its customer.

Editorial Notice: An earlier version of this paper was published in January 2022. This version has been updated in light of new information that the author has been made aware of.


Trevor Taylor

Professorial Research Fellow

Defence, Industries and Society

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