Merthyr: Make or break for Army Ajax armoured vehicles?

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A prototype image of the Ajax Armoured VehicleImage source, General Dynamics
Image caption,
The Ajax was intended to be "fully digital" and provide the Army with modern armoured fighting vehicles

An announcement on the troubled Ajax fighting vehicle being built in Merthyr Tydfil looks set to be made next week.

The multi-billion pound project has been delayed after several hundred soldiers who tested the armoured vehicle were assessed for vibration injuries, or suffered hearing loss.

Ajax helps sustain hundreds of jobs in Merthyr and Oakdale, Caerphilly county.

Its scrapping would be a huge blow to the towns and an embarrassment for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

It would also leave the Army with a big hole in its plans, as it is said to be one of the cornerstones of the Army's restructure.

The MoD signed a contract for 589 of the Ajax vehicles in 2014 and has spent nearly £3.5bn on the programme.

The fully digital vehicles, being assembled by US-based defence contractor General Dynamics in Merthyr, were promoted as the "next generation" of armoured vehicles.

In October the MoD appointed a senior official to get the project back on track.

David Marsh also has the power to recommend that Ajax be scrapped.

'End-of-life watch'

Earlier this year UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin told the Commons he could not "100% promise" that a solution would be found.

He warned that the UK government would "never accept" a vehicle that did not meet its testing requirements.

Labour said the minister had placed Ajax on an "end-of-life-watch".

Trials have since been underway to see if the vibration issue can be put right.

If it can, it would represent a huge turnaround.

The mood music up until now has been pessimistic.