While HMS Queen Elizabeth may be the flagship of the Royal Navy, her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales has assumed command of the NATO Response Force from the French Marine Nationale as of January 1. HMS Prince of Wales will be the flagship of the alliance's maritime task force, which will take the vessel to Arctic, Baltic, and Mediterranean waters over the next year.
On Tuesday, the NATO flag was transferred to HMS Prince of Wales during an official ceremony on the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier. The warship departed from Portsmouth on Wednesday morning to begin her 12-month journey as the command platform for Rear Admiral Mike Utley, the leader of the NATO task group. She will spend 200 days at sea while operating globally with NATO allies and other partner nations. It will be the first mission for HMS Prince of Wales since the £3.2 billion vessel entered service in late 2019.
Despite the early morning departure, many gathered at the best lookout points in Portsmouth to wave the warship off.
A Fresh Start
This new command for the warship comes just a year after the vessel experienced significant flooding that caused damage to her electrical cabling. Following repairs last spring, Prince of Wales began sea trials in April. In October 2021, the Royal Navy declared the aircraft carrier fully operational after she successfully took part in an international exercise off the Scottish coast. The vessel was joined by her sister vessel HMS Queen Elizabeth, which had recently completed her maiden deployment to the Far East.
The ship has proven to be more than ready to take on the flagship role of the NATO Response Force, a coalition that was formed to address major global incidents.
"We have got our orders loud and clear—we've got to be ready to respond and we will be," Prince of Wales' Captain Steve Higham told The News on Wednesday. "The great advantage for us is that we will be working with partners and allies from across the NATO alliance and that strength in depth is what gives us the real edge. This is the start of HMS Prince of Wales's fifty-year life. And to start right at the heart of NATO, as the NATO flagship, is really important."
The Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier currently carries both Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II stealth multirole fighters and Merlin helicopters for airborne early warning and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
"NATO is the cornerstone of the UK defense and our commitment to the alliance is absolute, and it is a privilege to be the UK Maritime Component Commander moving into our vital role this year," said Rear Adm. Utley. "The Royal Navy is global, modern, ready and well-placed to support NATO in all its endeavors."
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 Amazon.com.