HMS Prince of Wales: The Royal Navy's Powerhouse Aircraft Carrier is Back in Service

HMS Prince of Wales Royal Navy
January 11, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: HMS Prince Of WalesU.S. NavyRoyal NavyMilitaryAircraft Carrier

HMS Prince of Wales: The Royal Navy's Powerhouse Aircraft Carrier is Back in Service

HMS Prince of Wales is back in service and recently completed F-35 training operations with the United States Navy, and ready to prove that she is the finest the Royal Navy has to offer.

 

In December 2023, the Royal Navy's largest warship returned to Portsmouth and received what could only be described as a hero's welcome, as more than 2,000 friends and family gathered to greet HMS Prince of Wales. The vessel departed from the UK at the beginning of September for an autumn dedicated to expanding the boundaries of naval aviation with the Royal Navy's two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

The return was bittersweet, however, as the ship's crew also bid farewell to Commanding Officer Captain Hewitt OBE RN, who has overseen a successful 2023. Captain Will Blackett has since assumed command of HMS Prince of Wales.

 

She is the eighth vessel to be named for the title of the UK's heir apparent, and the first since the King George V-class battleship that was launched in 1939 and sunk less than two years later during the Second World War.

Her commission date marked the 78th anniversary of the sinking of her predecessor.

HMS Prince of Wales is one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK, and in addition to serving as a deterrent, the aircraft carrier will be used for humanitarian relief, high-intensity warfighting, and combating terrorism.

Two years ago, in January 2022, HMS Prince of Wales took over the role of command ship for NATO's maritime high readiness force from the French Navy.

HMS Prince of Wales: Fighting Aircraft Carrier for the Royal Navy

The vessel is one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK, with a flight deck that is 70 meters wide (230 feet), and 280 meters (918 feet) long. The warship isn't equipped with catapults and arrestor wires and instead was designed to operate with Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) jets from a ski-jump ramp.

The flattop can embark up to thirty-six Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters and four Merlin helicopters. 

In surge conditions, the carrier is capable of supporting up to seventy F-35Bs, while she has accommodation for 250 Royal Marines and the ability to support them with attack and transport helicopters.

The carrier operates with a crew of 679 but can accommodate up to 1,600 personnel – including full airwing, Royal Marines, and even refugees if required.

HMS Prince of Wales

In addition to its aircraft, which serve as its primary offensive and defensive systems, HMS Prince of Wales is armed with three Phalanx CIWS (close-in weapon system) turrets to deal with incoming threats from the sea and air. Comprising a radar-guided 20mm Vulcan cannon mounted on a swiveling base, the Phalanx has a dual fire rate of 3,000 or 4,500 shots per minute and is capable of hitting targets up to a mile away.

The carrier has a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 10,000 nautical miles.

Not All Smooth Waters

The 65,000-tonne carrier has also had its share of problems since even before officially entering service.

The warship required a lengthy maintenance period in 2020 to address a leak that was reported to cause serious flooding to some lower compartments, which resulted in damage to several systems that cost £3.3million to repair while an additional £2.2million was spent fixing the pipes on both of the Royal Navy's two brand new carriers.

The carrier was also sidelined for several months after she broke down off the Isle of Wight just one day after departing from Portsmouth in September 2022 to begin a planned four-month deployment to the United States. Divers were even called in to inspect the hull of the 930-foot-long flattop after damage was reported to the starboard propeller shaft.

HMS Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier

The disabled flattop had to be towed to Rosyth, Scotland, for repairs, which reportedly cost the UK taxpayers upwards of £25 million ($30.5 million USD). One reason for the sky-high repair bill was that an inspection identified a problem with the Prince of Wales' port shaft, and Royal Navy officials have decided to overhaul that one as well. The carrier's return to service was further delayed due to the availability of parts – which highlighted troubles the Royal Navy could face in a major crisis.

It was a major embarrassment for the UK's senior service, as the breakdown came just months after HMS Prince of Wales took on the duties of NATO flagship. That was also a headache for the UK's ruling Conservative government as it gave ammunition to Labour's shadow cabinet – which took aim at the slow pace of the progress.

"At a time when threats are rising, we need our Navy's ships at sea keeping us safe, not stuck in dock for repeated repairs," John Healey, Labour's shadow defence secretary, said earlier this year.

However, HMS Prince of Wales is back in service and recently completed F-35 training operations with the United States Navy, and ready to prove that she is the finest the Royal Navy has to offer. That shouldn't be too tall of an order.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected]