A “root and branch reform” of how Britain buys military equipment is needed after a “damning” report into a multimillion pound programme to build the army’s new Ajax fighting vehicle, parliament has been told.
Anger at the fiasco united the opposition and the government’s own backbench MPs on Thursday after the release of a review into the project, which has been running for 12 years.
It emerged this year that the troubled £5.5bn programme, which was already six years late, would not be ready until the end of the decade.
However, as army personnel restarted training this week on the vehicles, a defence minister told parliament that the review made for “difficult reading”. It highlighted a “number of systemic, cultural and institutional problems across several areas,” the defence minister James Cartlidge said.
Originally intended to enter service in 2017, the programme has been repeatedly delayed, with problems including noise and vibration that have injured soldiers testing the vehicles.
The lessons learned review, which was produced by Clive Sheldon KC and published on Thursday, said it found no evidence of misconduct by any individual or anything that would require disciplinary action. However, it found that “a number of errors of judgment” were made and that “‘optimism bias’ infected some of the thinking of senior individuals”.
The shadow defence minister, Chris Evans, said the Sheldon review had shown that Ajax was the biggest procurement failure for a decade, adding: “The review is beyond damning.”
The Conservative former defence minister Mark Francois told the Commons: “The Ajax programme has been an absolute debacle. This report starkly reveals in exquisite, agonising detail just how massively bureaucratic and broken the MoD’s procurement really is.”
He called for “root-and-branch reform of how we buy military commitment” and said the “taxpayer and our armed forces deserve no less”.
The Conservative chair of the Commons defence committee, Tobias Ellwood, said that Ajax was a case study of how not to do procurement. “Ajax’s journey has been miserable … Something very, very serious has gone wrong,” he said.
Cartlidge said that the Household Cavalry had been undergoing standard army field training on Salisbury Plain in Ajax vehicles since Tuesday. “Focused on individual and crew training, this step marks the restarting of British army training on these sophisticated vehicles, and I hope underlines that this project really has turned the corner,”
So far 44 vehicles have been delivered, while there is an “end goal” for 589 vehicles to be fully operational by 2029, he said.