Britain’s biggest warship, HMS Prince of Wales, set sail from Portsmouth for major aviation trials involving stealth jet and drone operations. However, it has been parked close to the south coast of England after hitting a snag shortly after departure.
As per the Royal Navy’s account, the warship broke down due to a malfunction in the propeller shaft. The £3 billion HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier left Portsmouth on August 27, but a “mechanical fault was discovered with the starboard shaft,” said Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse.
It is now being contended that the aircraft carrier could potentially miss the important aviation trials involving F-35B fighter jets and Banshee drones that were expected to operate off the deck of HMS Prince of Wales. The plans could now either be delayed or disrupted, Sky News reported.
According to the Royal Navy, the aviation trials were to be held off the coast of North America and in the Caribbean. HMS Prince of Wales was to cross the Atlantic with her task group with port stops in New York in the United States, Halifax in Canada, and the Caribbean.
The ship was forced to creep back to Hampshire from a point off the Isle of Wight, with the help of tugs, just as its journey to the US was underway. It was informed that the divers would assess the issue in a protected bay, which is thought to be at Gosport and was described as a “significant technical fault” by the specialized news source Navy Lookout.
The website said a photograph of the carrier leaving Portsmouth showed only a wake on the port side, suggesting a problem with the other propeller shaft. The Royal Navy did not immediately confirm the claim. However, a statement was released later in the day.
Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse @smrmoorhouse updates on the situation with @HMSPWLS: “I’ve been to the ship today to see for myself what the issue is and how we in the Royal Navy can work together to make sure that the ship can successfully return to her tasking.” pic.twitter.com/yU9ogHVQDt
— Royal Navy (@RoyalNavy) August 29, 2022
Rear Admiral Moorhouse said in a video on Twitter that it was “likely that the fault will require repairs which may impact the ship’s program.”
“The ship is now moving to a more sheltered anchorage for further inspection, and then we’ll be able to provide further comment on the nature of the issue and the impact on her current schedule,” he said.
The NATO flagship was sailing to undertake training exercises with the US Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the United States Marine Corps. The Royal Navy said on its website, “The next three months will see the Prince of Wales task group work closely with US allies, operating F-35B jets and uncrewed systems which will define Royal Navy aviation of the future.”
Marred With Embarrassment & Delays
The vessel’s malfunction has embarrassed the Royal Navy since its operations began last year. HMS Prince of Wales is a 280-meter ship that can carry 36 F-35B Lightning jets and four Merlin helicopters, with a crew of about 700, increasing to 1,600 when all aircraft are onboard.
One of the two aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class in the British Navy, the 65,000 metric ton HMS Prince of Wales is currently the NATO military alliance’s command ship. In the fall, its sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth will be sent to the Baltic and Mediterranean.
The two are “the largest and most advanced warships ever built for the Royal Navy.” The sister ships operate F-35B stealth fighter jets acquired from the United States. The Royal Navy has continually tried to boost the number of F-35s in its armor.
As per the Royal Navy, the HMS Wales was ready to traverse the Atlantic Ocean to push the boundaries of uncrewed technology and the tactics used by the UK’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. According to Sky News, the aviation trials would include the Banshee drones.
The Banshee series of unscrewed aerial targets primarily use armament system operational testing. The threat posed by several human and unmanned systems, such as fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and cruise missiles, is simulated using these aerial targets.
“Taking the HMS Prince of Wales task group across the Atlantic for the rest of this year will not only push the boundaries of UK carrier operations but will reinforce our close working relationship with our closest Ally,” said commanding officer Capt. Richard Hewitt, in a statement.
While in New York, HMS Prince of Wales was also expected to host the Atlantic Future Forum – a conference of thinkers and strategists from defense aimed at strengthening the cooperation between the two western allies, the US and the UK.
However, as the ship undergoes repairs after breaking down, the plans for aviation testing and this joint conference hang in the balance. The warship may need to enter dry dock early at Rosyth in Scotland, ahead of a scheduled inspection in 2023, if the issue cannot be fixed at sea, allowing it to continue its voyage to the US.