Are EMC Problems the root cause of the Ajax Noise issues?
21 Jul 21. The Ajax brief to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) by industry and the MoD alike, outlined a myriad of problems surrounding the fielding of Ajax. Noise and vibration were the main issues which have caused a stop to the Trials. Millbrook and MIRA have been tasked by the MoD and GDUK alike to investigate these serious issues which have caused hearing damage to a number of soldiers.
One problem highlighted was noise issues on the Bowman radios not apparent in other vehicles such as Warrior. This points to EMC issues with the Bowman radios talking to the C4ISR systems. We gave a brief description of EMC issues encountered in armoured vehicles and other defence platforms at the end of this Feature.
The MoD selected General Dynamics to develop what was then known as ‘Scout’ and later renamed ‘Ajax’ back in 2010. A fixed price contract to build 589 vehicles across six variants was signed in 2014 with the total cost of the programme envisaged at £5.3bn. Problems were identified by the MoD’s Major Projects Portfolio sponsor group which monitors performance of all major procurement programmes.
General Dynamics had already laid out its version of the problems besetting Ajax in written evidence delivered to the Committee. Referring specifically to the noise and vibration issues the company said that ‘it was working closely with the MoD to fully investigate these reports, identify and address potential causes.’ According to General Dynamics, by the start of July this year payments from the MoD to the company had totalled £2.65 billion.
Ajax brief to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC)
Having heard the entire brief to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) yesterday which Chairman Tobias Ellwood MP described as, “A litany of errors,” and the eye watering sums of money involved, £5.5 billion in the delivery of 25 vehicles, one point was obvious, Ajax has an inherent design problem and it is going to be very expensive to fix, if indeed as Jeremy Quin said if the pending Review deems the problems are fixable at a reasonable price and within an agreed delivery time.
The Defence Committee held a one-off evidence session on the Ajax programme, hearing from General Dynamics and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This session was intended to explore progress on the Ajax programme in light of recent reports about the vehicles’ mobility, speed, firing on the move, survivability and ISTAR capabilities and the noise and vibration problems encountered during testing. Questions focussed on the history of the Government’s negotiations with General Dynamics, as well as any contingency plans for cancelling the programme and the potential impact on jobs and the supply chain.
Carew Wilks, Vice President & General Manager, and Scott Milne, Executive Programme Director, appeared on behalf of General Dynamics Land Systems in the first panel. The second panel heard the Government’s side, speaking to Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement.
Kevan Jones MP made a number of very searching questions about GD’s contract performance and its ability to deliver which Carew Wilks tried deftly to avoid but failed.
Carew Wilks, Vice President & General Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems–UK
Carew Wilks was between 2011 and 2013 Director Land Equipment DE&S at Abbey Wood, Bristol and whose earlier career had been spent as an Army Engineering Officer.
Carew Wilks, looked forlorn and not his usual ebullient self, in the heat of questioning from the Committee, admitted noise and vibrations have been ‘a feature of the design since 2010.’ The Government has previously stated ‘anecdotal reports of vibration’ were made after soldiers took part in pre-trials training on prototype variants of the Ajax vehicles in 2019. Tests of the programme were previously ‘paused as a precautionary measure’ between November 2020 and March 2021.
Carew Wilks said, “If we’re talking about noise and vibration on the platform, this has been a feature of the design since 2010 when we started work on the programme. Armoured vehicles such as this require a balanced design to meet all the requirements, and with the engine configuration and other characteristics, there is noise and vibration on the platform.”
He went on to say that another issue was the noise resonance from the BCIP 5.6 Bowman radio system which was not present in Warrior which has a similar radio system.
This was the clue to the EMC issues. Sources told BATTLESPACE as long ago as 2015 that GDUK may have EMC issues with Ajax as they had tested individual systems but not the entire vehicle. Logic suggests that the harmonics issues only became apparent when the complex C4ISR recce system was fired up and tested when the radios were switched on. Whilst we cannot prove this, the likelihood is that the Bowman radios interfered with the complex ISR and targeting systems. This is not an unusual occurrence and similar issues occurred in Afghanistan with C-IED systems. The Bowman VHF radios had to be turned off when C-IED systems were in use, hence HF became a more popular bearer. Another situation occurred when the windscreen wipers of the MAN trucks interfered with thee VHF radios and they had to be supressed.
Radiation issues were one of the main causes for the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled gun system by the US DoD in 2002. Like Ajax, Crusader had a very sophisticated software system of 4000 lines of code. This belched out EMC on the battlefield and in reality, Crusader became a beacon on the battlefield for any enemy missile attacks or enemy counter battery fire.
Carew Wilks was also asked if GDUK was in dispute with the MoD over Morpheus. He quite rightly declined to answer this question as it was not in his remit to do so.
Mark Francois asked if GDUK had taken account that Ajax would be required to accommodate the Morpheus radio system and had GDUK taken that into account. Carew Wilks replied that the system installed was open architecture and fully GVA complaint which would enable any radio upgrade.
Neither the MoD nor GDUK commented on how much it would cost to retrofit the entire Ajax fleet to Morpheus standard from Bowman. This was a huge cost when the Editor worked for ITT Defence UK on Bowman in 1992. GVA compliance and plug and play systems lessens any retrofit costs in this case.
Carew Wilks said that GDUK was committed to the vehicle achieving FOC by 2025 by delivering 116 vehicles.
25 vehicles had been delivered, 12 with turrets, 270 hulls constructed along with 60 turrets. 60,000 kms of trials had already taken place and 4000 rounds of CTA ammunition fired with 70 Battlefield Missions. All the 25 vehicles delivered have noise and vibration issues.
One member of the Committee appeared to try and place the blame for Ajax on Carew Wilks when he was in charge of vehicle procurement at DE&S. However, he firmly reposted such a suggestion saying that on his departure from DE&S he had served in various industry posts before joining GDELS.
Scott Milne, Executive Programme Director, General Dynamics Land Systems–UK
Scott Milne added, “From the inception of the contract, the control of noise and vibration is a key feature of the design. We put design features in from the very start of the design to make sure the noise and vibration generated to the platform does not exceed legislation limits and action values. Throughout the development phase of the programme, through the seven prototypes and for each production variant, we have tested the noise and vibration levels of the platform – those levels are comparable to other armoured fighting vehicles within the family and in service today.”
Scott Milne went on to say that the bulk of the noise issues emanated from the 800hp V8 engine and running gear. It is likely that the noise issues went over the required prescribed government limits when weight was added to the vehicle which started at 25 tonnes and is now 42 tonnes, an increase which puts strain on the engine, transmission and drivetrain. One of the reasons for the success of the GDUK bid was the ability to install a larger engine and gearbox. One possible reason used by GDUK as a ‘get out of jail free card,’ was the suggestion that the differing headset configurations between the MoD issued systems and those used by GDUK for the Trials could have caused the noise issues.
Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, Ministry of Defence
Jeremy Quin said he would be “very surprised” if initial operating capability (IOC) was declared in September 2021. He told the House of Commons in June this year that there was ‘90% confidence’ of IOC meeting the September target. Jeremy Quin then told the hearing there are “serious issues with noise and vibration” which must be resolved before IOC is declared and that he hopes trials of the Ajax vehicles will resume soon. He went on to say that an independent expert is being sought to evaluate the Ajax programme. He went on to say that the project may be cancelled but he would await the Report following the evaluation at Millbrook which the MoD is paying for with GDUK providing the vehicles and drivers. Carew Wilks confirmed that MIRA was also involved in the evaluation of the problems and GDUK was paying for these trials.
Jeremy Quin said that the Millbrook Report would be available by September at the earliest, in reality, we would expect either late autumn or early next year once all involved have seen the results and most importantly the cost of fixing the problems. He confirmed that the £5.5 billion was a Fixed Price contract between the MoD and GDUK, so, in effect, any repairs or fixes would be down to GDUK.
Jeremy Quin was asked whether any money had been held back pending the resolution of the noise and vibration issues and he confirmed that money had been withheld and that in his opinion, GDUK would be responsible for paying for fixing the problems.
Everyone agreed that the main issue was the decision by the MoD to have a ‘design and make’ contract before the design had been tried and tested in the prototype stage. Had this happened this would have reduced the huge costs already paid out as the problems would have been ironed out and the design frozen prior to the production phase. £3.2 billion was paid for initial design and development phase, £750 million for training and support and £2 billion for manufacture, subsystems such as radios C4ISR systems and the turrets.
The other ‘bridge too far,’ was to introduce a new canon along with a new vehicle. The TRL Level of CT40 was around 6 when introduced so huge sums , well over £100 million by the MoD and over £50 million by Lockheed, was spent making it fit for purpose, up to today’s level, with some issues left unresolved. Both GDUK and Lockheed Martin offered a turret solution with a Bushmaster 44 30mm solution, this was turned down by DE&S who were fixated by CT40, which, as we speak, has only one other customer, France, the manufacturer of the canon.
Tobias Ellwood welcomed Mr. Quin’s ‘willingness to conduct a review and make a sober assessment as to whether you can genuinely go forward with this or whether it is then time to draw a line’.
David Williams CB, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence
David Williams and Jeremy Quin confirmed that Ajax is a fixed price contract for the defined contract requirements that covers demonstration, vehicle production, training systems and in-service support. The contract value is £4.62bn (excluding VAT). Initial Operating Capability had originally been scheduled for 2020 with full operating capability forecast for 2025. An additional £800 million for training, support and CT40 enhancements, takes the final value to £5.5 billion.
When questioned about jobs and investment by GDUK Carew Wilks made a vain attempt to underline the 10,000 jobs claims made by Sandy Wilson and his team in 2010. He said that the Ajax programme supports 800 personnel working at Merthyr Tydfil and Oakdale together with a UK supply chain of 3,300 direct jobs. However, it should not be ignored that the MoD had confirmed as far back as 2016 that almost 100 Ajax vehicles would be manufactured in Spain. In a written statement to the UK Parliament, the MoD had also confirmed that hulls for a further 489 armoured fighting vehicles would also be built in Spain before being transported to the Merthyr Tydfil facility in Wales for final assembly.
The panel asked how much GDUK had invested in the Ajax facility in exchange for this £5.5 billion contract and they confirmed that the total outlay was £40 million for the South Wales factory, which raised a few eyebrows!
Reassessment is now on the cards and Jeremy Quin told the Committee that, “We are currently undertaking a search for the right person who will be responsible for the delivery of this programme through to FOC (Full Operational Capability) or informing ministers if – something which we sincerely hope is not the case – this is for any reason unachievable.”
Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse CBE MC, Commander Field Army, Ministry of Defence
Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse confirmed at the hearing that the Army was now looking at recce alternatives on the battlefield in the form of UAVs and Apache.
In a slightly confusing turn of events, Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood suggested that Ajax was there to support Boxer with its 40mm turret. That was never the intention for Ajax, whose role is purely for recce. Tobias Ellwood asked the General what alternatives would be sued to support Boxer which does not have a turret system to give covering fire to its troops. General Wooddisse suggested that Challenger 3 would be able to give covering fire to Boxer. But, again this confuses the issue as Challenger 3 operates in front of Boxer and is not designed to give covering fire to infantry given its 120mm gun. An alternative could be Boxer with Stinger or Javelin missiles as an interim solution.
It was also pointed out that it would take at least three weeks to deploy Challenger 3 by sea to Ukraine in the event of any conflict.
What was never said throughout the whole discussion is that Ajax, at 42 tonnes, is too big for recce purposes to replace Scimitar. In addition, the staggering price of £9 million per vehicle puts it in the top league of any other recce variants in use. Countries such as Holland and Germany use Dingo armoured vehicles with advanced C4ISR systems and UAVs for recce ops. The Army is already developing a Jackal with a mast-mounted Long Range Day/Night EO/IR camera and associated equipment, should JLTV be eventually procured by the UK, a JLTV with an advanced C4ISR system and OWS for protection and accompanying UAVs would be another recce solution.
In his piece today Howard Wheeldon said, “If so and if the Army is to have a vehicle fit for purpose and able to do the job required within a suitable time frame my answer is that the decision announced in the Integrated Review process to cancel the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle upgrade programme should be immediately reversed.” (That is exactly what BATTLESPACE discussed in our feature last week ‘Did The UK MoD Cancel The Wrong Armoured Vehicle Programme? By Julian Nettlefold.’) “There would appear to be so many problem issues on Ajax to resolve that experience suggests that even if all of these could be resolved it would probably take in excess of five years; increase the overall cost substantially and even then, leave an unacceptable element of risk and loss of confidence in those who would use the capability. Better by far that the MoD walk away from the programme than take on any further additional risk.”
Major General Timothy Hodgetts CBE, Surgeon General, Ministry of Defence
Major General Timothy Hodgetts confirmed that nine soldiers had reported for hearing and ‘vibration white finger issues,’ but none of the later had developed to more serious issues.
Trials of the Ajax AFV have already been paused due to safety concerns following personnel complaining of vibration injuries, hearing loss, nausea and possible spinal injuries. To make matters worse a leaked internal report claimed that Ajax was unable to travel safely at speeds over 20 mph because crew members were suffering noise that was claimed to be so loud it made them feel sick.
Mark Francois MP, made the comment that. “If you are having to give people steroid injections after having been in the vehicle, that tells you everything you need to know. It was time to ‘rip the plaster off’ and cancel it”
There are also unsubstantiated claims that the vehicle could not be fired on the move. This is reportedly due to the fire control computer shutting down due to increased vibration as it cannot lay the second round on target.
Mark Francois also posed a question about possible hull cracking on Ajax. Neither GDUK nor the MoD commented on what are, unless confirmed, rumours. However, BATTLESPACE covered these rumours in both Warrior and Ajax some time ago and we understand that the turret rings on both vehicles had to be ‘beefed up,’ and the Ajax turret strengthened to take account of the 20,000lb recoil of the CT40 canon, as it wobbled when fired.
Mr Francois also asked Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, Ministry of Defence and David Williams CB, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, to confirm or deny that the price of a CT40 round was 10 times that of the 30mm Rarden round. The Minister and Mr Williams avoided an answer saying it was confidential and replied that it would be replied to in due course, he veered the answer sideways saying that one round was the equivalent power of three 30mm rounds. BATTLESPACE has covered the costs of the CT40 ammunition for some time and suggested many times of the extra costs required in fielding non-NATO approved unique ammunition. BAE is the lead on CT40 ammunition, and, like any new system, the ammunition and any new variants have to be developed with up front funding from the MoD customer and thus benefitting BAE Systems.. With just two customers, the UK and France, the ammunition cost will not be cheap.
Cancellation or Continue at a Price?
At the end of the gruelling session, all parties involved, and the audience were very much better informed about the pitfalls of the Ajax Programme and whether it would survive. Ajax is key component of the Army’s equipment Programme and with a staggering £3.45 billion already spent one would err on the side of ‘continuing at a price.’
However, the crux of the matter is the fixed price contract with GDUK and the downside for them once the issues are found and resolved. One source suggested at least £2 million per vehicle in the worst case scenario and a delay of two to five years. That would give GDUK a bill of over £1 billion, a huge amount of money which of course would have to be explained to shareholders.
We await with interest as to developments. Haven listened to the detail of the problems, we see cancellation looming to a vehicle programme which appeared to have been flawed from the start in concept and execution. The Army, MoD and DE&S cannot escape from taking the blame for Ajax.
Will Ajax survive or become ‘The British Army’s Nimrod,‘ as was suggested yesterday.
EMC problem (excessive field strength)
An EMC problem (or Electromagnetic compatibility problem) occurs when one piece of electronic equipment or an electromagnetic system is adversely affected by the operation of another. One example might be breakthrough by the high field strengths produced by a nearby radio transmitter. EMC problems are not always due to defects in the transmitter, and so do not necessarily require improvements in the radio transmitter design, such as reducing its radiated harmonics. It may be that the immunity of the affected equipment is poor due to inadequate shielding, or filtering of sensitive inputs. EMC problems can have a range of effects on equipment, and there are ways to mitigate or eliminate them in practice. Effective EMC mitigation techniques may differ by the type of equipment that malfunctions, and by the nature of the strong radio frequency field.
The singing spark can be thought of as the ultimate form of the rusty bolt effect. This is a situation where the output of a transmitter is clean, the receiver is able to reject the transmitter’s frequency but some object energised by the RF field is then able to generate harmonics or act as a non-linear mixer which generates intermodulation products.
To solve this the best thing to do is to locate the rusty bolt and either remove it or render it harmless. Possible examples of rusty bolts include the pole holding an aerial, cast iron drainpipes, loose manhole covers and guy wires on radio masts.
Harmonics generated in situ
In situ harmonics occur when an RF current flows through a device, and harmonics are generated due to the non-linear nature of the device. This can be regarded as a rusty bolt effect which exists within the malfunctioning device. A good example of this is the pair of diodes which protect the receivers in many VHF rigs lacking an electromechanical relay to switch between transmit and receive (such as the 144 MHz DJ-F1E) from the transmitter’s RF output. In the case of the DJ-F1E, these diodes can create intermodulation products when the radio set is overloaded.
Reproduction of the signal in an IF stage
It is possible for the unwanted signal to enter an Intermediate frequency stage, and if it falls within the passband of the stage, it can cause an unwanted effect. In an AM system, it is possible that the unwanted signal will be amplified by the linear stage and appear finally to the detector as if it were a sideband of the carrier, it is possible sometimes for harmonics of an HF transmitter generated within a TV set to enter the video IF (which is at about 30 MHz). These harmonics which enter the TV IF could give similar herring bone pattern effects to those seen when harmonics of the HF transmitter are generated in the front end.
In FM systems where the IF stage gain is very high and the stage is designed to be linear, it is likely that if the unwanted signal is at least 10 dB weaker than the wanted signal that the capture effect will result in the receiver ignoring the unwanted signal. If however the unwanted signal is stronger than the wanted signal then it is likely that the receiver will be unable to demodulate the wanted signal. This is related to the normal method of jamming FM systems, to jam an FM signal it is normal to transmit a signal which is 10 dB stronger (at the front end of the target receiver) and is within the plateau of most narrow IF stage.
(Sources Wikipedia, Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd., forces.net)