Can we discuss the DTR article on the AJAX/ASCOD 2? I actually like the DTR magazine, but the "coverage" of the AJAX feels more like an advertorial, which includes exaggerated and sometimes incorrect statements. Maybe the coverage of the Boxer was also a bit biased, but it at least some to be based on facts (which were widely available due to the Boxer being an in-service vehicle with two users and a third customer), while the AJAX article seems to repeat too many advertising slogans from General Dynamics.
Let me just quote some of the statements:
"From what DTR undersands, Ajax protection levels appear to be higher than any other IFV currently in service and are on par with many NATO main battle tanks."
The Ajax has better protection than any other IFV currently in service? First things first: the AJAX does currently not exist in an IFV variant, so it is really a comparison between apples and oranges. As previously mentioned in this topic, the IFV variant requires a raised roofline and a stretched chassis to accommodate both turret and dismounts. That means that the article is quite misleading to begin with, as there would be less growth potential left for armor protection.
However I don't believe that both underlined parts of the statement are true even for the actual AJAX as purchased by the British Army. The Namer IFV seems to be in service, it is a lot heavier (60 tonnes combat weight without the turret) and has much thicker armor than the AJAX (with a combat weight of 38 metric tons and a GVW of 42 metric tons). The Puma IFV is also heavier (combat weight level C is 41.5 metric tons, GVW is 43 metric tons), has much thicker armor and has a smaller protected volume (due to the unmanned turret and the limited height of the dismount compartment). The Puma most likely makes use of more weight-efficient armor, as it reportedly uses SICADUR for its ballistic protection (with modified nano-structure by IBD Deisenroth), ERA and AMAP's NERA products. SICADUR is a brand for silicon carbide ceramic tiles for ballistic protection by ETEC, which stated that SICADUR is 7 times as expensive than aluminium oxide; given that the AJAX was designed to be very cost-effective and isn't known to make use of any weight saving construction techniques, it seems reasonable to believe that it doesn't use as expensive (and weight efficient) armor as the Puma.
The T-15 Armata is not in service yet, but I also cannot see a possible explanation why it should be less armored against ballistic than the AJAX, given its huge weight and massive armor thickness. Mine protection and the turret armor (is the unmanned turret of the T-15 armored at all?) might be better on the AJAX, but even then it would be hardly justified to claim that it is overall better protected.
Protection levels on par with many NATO main battle tanks? How does the author of the DTR article come to this conclusion? Did he fall for the "best protected vehicle in class" statement that GD made (ironically PSM, Rheinmetall and BAE Systems also claim that their current IFVs are the best protected vehicles in their class)?
Now arguably reaching a higher level of ballistic protection than a MBT isn't hard, given that the AMX-30 and Leopard 1 exist - but the AMX-30 isn't in active service with a NATO country anymore, while the Leopard 1 is only used by Greece and Turkey in the later variants with upgraded armor (1A1A1 and 1A3 sub-variants). Based on the armor thickness (more on that later), I doubt that the AJAX's frontal protection is enough to resist impacts from a 100 mm APCBC round at 1,000 m distance. Given that the Leopard 1 is just a single tank type, speaking of "many NATO main battle tanks" wouldn't really make sense... so what would be "many NATO tanks"? M48, M60 and T-55/TR-85 are also operational with NATO, but these have even thicker (physicially) armor than the Leopard 1, it would be very silly to assume that the AJAX reaches a better level of frontal protection than those against ballistic threats.
Okay, most NATO MBTs don't feature any type of mine protection and have very weak side armor, so there might be some truth to this statement when it comes to the up-armored variant of the AJAX with thicker side armor - but then again, why bother making this statement regarding the AJAX, as it would also be true for a dozen other IFVs? Any IFV with ERA, composite armor skirts at the sides or side armor to resist more than just 14.5 mm AP rounds would be better armored than "many NATO main battle tanks". This would include the Warrior IFV with Chobham armor, the Bradley with ERA, the Strf 90C with AMAP, the CV90 Mk III with their mine protection kits, and many other types of IFVs. So DTR might have smoked some serious stuff when writing this phrase..
Based on photographs, there appear to be three different armor configuration for the AJAX/ARES hull - there might be more when accounting for facts like the location of screws etc. on the different prototypes, but that shouldn't matter. They can be identified by the different thickness of the frontal glacis plate of the hull in relation to the height of the headlights.
One configuration as used on the ARES - lets call it the "light configuration" based on the thickness of the glacis plate - is the thinnest. Note that the headlights are protruding over the armor.
This version honestly seems to have thinner armor than the ASCOD Ulan with MEXAS. Note that the armor on the ARES is spaced, but the overall thickness seems to be identical near the driver's hatch. The engine cover appears to be thicker on the ARES (if the empty space is included), but that seems to be the result of the ARES featuring a composite fibre material cladding on the inner side of the UFP for thermal insulation, which the Ulan lacks.
Given that the Ulan with MEXAS does not meet STANAG 4569 level 6 - it is designed to protect against an unspecified type of 30 mm APFSDS from a distance of 1,000 m instead of the required 500 m, I'd also assume that this armor configuration for the AJAX/ARES fails to meet the level 6 requirements of STANAG 4569.
The "medium configuration" is used in most of the 3D renderings by General Dynamics of the AJAX and ARES variants for the British army and also used in the 3D renderings and models of the ASCOD/AJAX (and variants) offered to Australia. It also seems to be the configuration that is used for the series production model, though this is a bit harder to tell due to the Barracuda camouflage used on the pre-production vehicles. The headlights and the glacis plate have a similar height, resulting in them being one the same line.
There is a further configuration with thicker armor, but this seems to be limited to prototypes. Maybe the greater armor thickness is meant to be an upgrade option, part of an urban combat armor kit or result of different armor technology, which wasn't used on the final production model. The glacis armor is thicker, so that it is higher than the upper edge of the headlights. The turret armor thickness however remains identical to the previous configuration...
So who does make the armor for the AJAX? The armor for the AJAX - or at least some of the ballistic armor panels - are made by Permali-Gloucester. Permali-who? You've never heard of this company? Well, there is a reason for this: Permali-Gloucester pretty much exclusivley delivers armor solutions to the British Army (at least when it comes to land vehicles) with the exception of spall liners for the French VBCI. I've also never heard of them before, but according the Military Technology magazine (international version of the German Wehrtechnik) and according to press releases from Permali-Gloucester, the company was contracted by General Dynamics to deliver armor modules/materials for the AJAX family of vehicles.
According to Permali-Gloucester, the applique armor products from the company consist of "glass, aramid or UHMWPE materials and thermoset resin systems or advanced thermoplastic matrices" and can incorporate "ceramic tiles, for protection against armour piercing rounds, and aluminium or steel skins for greater rigidity or increased protection levels. " In other words they seem to make either make armor made of composite fibres/plastic or the generic ceramic-polymer armor arrays that pretty much every armor manufacturer offers and have been sold since the 1990s.
Now there are two big questions that should be asked:
Why does Permali-Gloucester deliver armor to the British military only?
Why was this company chosen to deliver the armor for the AJAX?
I think the answer to both questions might be related, but that is speculation on my side. Maybe I am wrong and there are other reasons, but given that the company is not state-owned, one would assume that it is interested in selling its product abroad to as many customers as possible. The fact that only British vehicles are protected by their armor (and the VBCI by their spall liners), implies that something about their armor is not competitive enough. That might be the price, the performance or other, unknown factors. Given that the AJAX is designed to be cost effective, the former explanation wouldn't make much sense, which is why one could assume that the armor from Permali might not be entirely capable of competing against the products from the big players like Tencate, Rafael, RUAG, IBD, etc., which all have sold some of their armor solutions to multiple export customers. So why does the AJAX use this armor then? Probably because the company is British and the ASCOD/AJAX was marketed with its high local industry involvement to the British government/army. Now, in theory the AJAX offered to Australia might be using armor of a different supplier, but the model seems to indicate that it is pretty much based on the AJAX with only some modifications.
Based on the armor thickness of the AJAX (and the assumption that the AJAX uses the same steel hull thickness as the ARES, which seems to be roughly identical to the original ASCOD, i.e. protecting frontally against 12.7 mm ammo only, when not fitted with applique armor), I don't see anything that would warrant the claims made in the DTR article regarding the armor protection. It is not really thicker than the armor used on other IFVs - the Puma and Strf 90C with AMAP-SC have thicker, multi-layered NERA arrays (in case of the Puma in combination with ceramic armor at the upper hull section and apparently also the LFP) for the frontal hull, the CV90 is also offered with similar armor thickness for the later models (CV90 Mk III and Mk IV). The Lynx KF41 armor thickness is hard to estimate, we also don't know which configuration has been displayed. AJAX for Australia and the AS-21 Redback are paper designs ATM, so armor also remains . The Namer's armor is also undoubtely better than the Ajax's.
I've seen no reason to doubt that the AJAX with the "medium armor configuration" reaches STANAG 4569 level 6 ballistic protection and exceeds the requirements for STANAG 4569 level 4 (like the Puma). I have however seen no reason to believe that it is better protected than any other current top-of-the-line IFVs. Given that the hull armor is not NERA, but ceramic-polymer armor, I don't believe that protection against RPGs is possible for the hull front and turret front. Aluminium oxide with polymer backing and encased in steel has a thickness efficiency of 1 or even below 1 (depending on the relation between backing and ceramic tiles) against shaped charges according to papers based on different tests made in China and Switzerland. Nano-ceramics and more expensive ceramics (silicon carbide, boron carbide) might perform better (IBD's AMAP-B can reach a thickness efficiency of more than 1 vs KE), but there is no indication that the AJAX makes use of such materials (and it would be contradictory to the aim of making a cost-effective vehicle). So the only option I see for saying that the AJAX's frontal armor is protected against RPGs is by counting the engine compartment and its rear wall as armor. The side armor when fitted with the add-on armor might have a better chance against RPGs, but I still wonder where all the stuff that is in the external storages boxes of the AJAX/ARES is supposed to go, when the add-on armor is fitted... or maybe the add-on armor isn't actually all armor, but also partly storage boxes.. There is probably a reason why the Tarian RPG net and slat armor were fitted to some AJAX/ARES prototypes.
PS: I actually wanted to talk about more than just one statement from the DTR article, but given the wall of text I've produced, I think it might be better to do that at another time.