More embarrassment for Navy as second ship fails to depart on Nato exercise

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 11, 2023) U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Maj. Paul Gucwa, from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, lands an F-35B aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales (R09) during the final first of class sea trials for F-35B test (DT-3), Oct. 11, 2023. The Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) Prince of Wales' participation in WESTLANT 23 encompasses a range of United Kingdom and U.S. naval aircraft trials in the western Atlantic Ocean throughout the autumn of 2023. Prince of Wales continues to push the boundaries of naval aviation capabilities and operations from QEC aircraft carriers, including increasing the range and lethality of F-35 operations. The U.K. is the only Tier I partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program. U.K. and U.S. interactions during this deployment are characterized by cooperation and reinforce international relationships, as well as enhance interoperability between the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. The F-35 Joint Program Office is the Defense Department's focal point for the 5th-generation strike aircraft for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and our allies. The F-35 is the premier multi-mission, 5th-generation weapon system. Its ability to collect, analyze and share data is a force multiplier that enhances all assets in the battle space, with stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity, and range. The F-35 has been operational since July 2015 and is the most lethal, survivable, and interoperable fighter aircraft ever built. (U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann)

A Royal Navy aircraft carrier failed to depart on schedule for a Nato exercise just a week after its sister ship had to pull out due to a mechanical fault.

HMS Prince of Wales had been due to depart from Portsmouth, on the UK’s south coast, at 12:15pm on Sunday (12 February 2024), according to the harbourmaster. The £3bn vessel was expected to deploy from the naval base to Norway and join Exercise Steadfast Defender, which is one of the largest Nato exercises since the Cold War.

Hundreds of people had lined Portsmouth Harbour to watch the carrier’s scheduled departure, when police told crowds the vessel would no longer be sailing, and the port was reopened to normal marine traffic.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said the aircraft carrier will sail soon, ‘subject to suitable tide and weather conditions’. The MOD did not give a reason for the last-minute postponement of the sailing.

HMS Prince of Wales had been called up to replace the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth, which also failed to depart as planned on 4 February, after last-minute checks revealed mechanical issues with the starboard propeller shaft coupling.

HMS Queen Elizabeth failed to depart for the Nato exercise on 4 February 2024. Image courtesy of Dave Jenkins/InfoGibraltar via Wikimedia.

In an update issued late this morning (12 February 2024), the MOD confirmed that HMS Prince of Wales is now likely to depart ‘later today’ without clarifying the cause of the delay.

The last-minute change of plan is the latest in a series of embarrassing gaffes for the Navy, which has attracted criticism for being underprepared during a period of intense tension in the Red Sea.

Just 18 months ago, HMS Prince of Wales broke down near Portsmouth after setting sail for America – also due to a faulty propeller shaft.

In January, a Royal Navy minesweeper collided with another in Bahrain, when a wiring error inadvertently sent the vessel into reverse.

MIN recently reported that the Royal Navy had attracted criticism for appearing ‘desperate’ after advertising for a rear-Admiral on Linkedin.

Main image of HMS Prince of Wales by Dane Wiedman.

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