HMS Prince of Wales Heads to Norway as NATO Response Force Flagship

HMS Prince of Wales Heads to Norway as NATO Response Force Flagship

HMS Prince of Wales will also be responsible for leading NATO's Maritime High Readiness Force.

The Royal Navy is back, and it is ready to defend Europe. On Monday, HMS Prince of Wales, the United Kingdom's largest warship, departed Portsmouth and sailed past the Isle of Wight to join a NATO task force exercise off Norway. The Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier will take on the role of the command ship in Exercise Cold Response, a large-scale Norwegian-led deployment that will involve more than 35,000 troops from twenty-eight nations.

HMS Prince of Wales will also be responsible for leading NATO's Maritime High Readiness Force—an international task group formed to deal with major global events—and the Royal Navy announced that the exercise will show how a unified force would defend Norway and Europe's northern flank.

The carrier assumed command of the NATO Response Force from the French Marine Nationale as of January 1. As the flagship of the alliance's maritime task force, the vessel is expected to see deployments to Arctic, Baltic, and Mediterranean waters over the next year.

Cold Waters

The most senior sea-going staff in the Royal Navy are on the carrier, and that includes the Commander United Kingdom Strike Force, which is headed by Rear Admiral Mike Utley.

"NATO is the cornerstone of the UK defence and our commitment to the alliance is absolute," said RAdm. Utley, who will lead the task force during the exercises. "It is a privilege to be the UK Maritime Component Commander as we participate in this Norwegian-led exercise."

The Royal Navy's carrier will be at the head of the powerful maritime task force, which will include aircraft and land forces, including Royal Marines Commandos. The carrier will be protected by a "ring of steel" that the Royal Navy said would be made up of warships, aircraft, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary replenishment vessel. Those warships and aircraft will defend Prince of Wales against threats above, below, and on the waves throughout her high north deployment.

Cold Weather Operations for a New Cold War

This exercise will mark the first time one of the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers has operated in the Arctic and it is a challenge the ship's company is relishing.

"I'm looking forward to operating in the extreme cold weather," said Leading Airman (Aircraft Handler) Josh Thomason. "We are prepared as a team to operate with different aircraft in these harsh conditions and are looking forward to the challenges this will bring."

The deployment began less than two weeks after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and NATO has already found itself in a de facto new "Cold War," which could require an increased presence in the Arctic,  including the Barents Seas.

However, the crew is up to the task.

"It is a source of pride for all our sailors to be working with the NATO staff under Rear Admiral Utley as the NATO Command Ship," said HMS Prince of Wales' commanding officer Captain Steve Higham. "As we sail to meet up with other NATO units taking part in Cold Response in Norway, the team in HMS Prince of Wales is ready to deliver as a Command Ship for NATO in the most challenging of environments." Operation Cold Response will run through early April.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: Reuters.