The Royal Navy Is Facing an Aircraft Carrier Crisis

HMS Prince of Wales Royal Navy
February 4, 2024 Topic: Securuty Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Royal NavyAircraft CarrierHouthisNavyMilitaryHMS Prince Of Wales

The Royal Navy Is Facing an Aircraft Carrier Crisis

The sidelining of the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier also comes as UK ministers have warned that the nation isn't sufficiently prepared to fight an all-out war amid stockpile shortages and an armed forces recruitment crisis.

The Royal Navy Doesn't Seem Ready for War – As Flagship Carrier Sidelined - Last week, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) considered deploying one of its two conventionally-powered aircraft carriers to the Middle East – possibly to replace the United States Navy's Nimitz-class nuclear-powered USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), which began her current deployment last October.

As previously reported, some critics have been vocal as to whether a Royal Navy's flattop is actually up to the task. HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales each operate with a much smaller airwing than the U.S. Navy's carrier. While the Royal Navy's £3.5 billion flagship has the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II onboard, it has never operated with more than eight on board.

It is now a moot point – HMS Queen Elizabeth is now unable to even take part in a major NATO operation due to a mechanical fault, it was reported on Sunday. Instead, the Royal Navy is sending the recently repaired HMS Prince of Wales to take part in Exercise Steadfast Defender, the largest NATO exercise in Europe since the Cold War.

"Routine pre-sailing checks yesterday identified an issue with a coupling on @HMSQNLZ starboard propeller shaft. As such, the ship will not sail on Sunday. @HMSPWLS will take her place on NATO duties and will set sail for Exercise Steadfast Defender as soon as possible," the Royal Navy (@RoyalNavy) announced via a post to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, late Saturday.

"Routine pre-sailing checks yesterday identified an issue with a coupling on HMS Queen Elizabeth's starboard propeller shaft. As such, the ship will not sail on Sunday," Royal Navy Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Burns told the BBC. "HMS Prince of Wales will take her place on NATO duties and will set sail for Exercise Steadfast Defender as soon as possible."

More than 40 vessels from two dozen NATO nations and international partners are expected to participate in Exercise Steadfast Defender off Norway's Arctic coast in March. Before heading to the Arctic, the carrier strike group was expected to take part in the annual Joint Warrior exercise off northern Scotland before joining Exercise Nordic Response – the maritime part of Steadfast Defender.

Aircraft Carrier Problems: History Repeats Itself

A similar propeller problem afflicted HMS Prince of Wales, sidelining the carrier for several months. It seems the Royal Navy is taking extra precautions this time as HMS Prince of Wales broke down after just beginning a deployment that would have taken the Royal Navy's newest and most expensive carrier across the Atlantic to the United States.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was deployed instead.

Though these incidents demonstrate the value of having two carriers, it will likely still take at least a week for HMS Prince of Wales to be made ready to sail. It will involve accelerating existing maintenance tasks, the transfer of equipment from her sister as well as storing and fuelling ship.

The sidelining of the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier also comes as UK ministers have warned that the nation isn't sufficiently prepared to fight an all-out war amid stockpile shortages and an armed forces recruitment crisis.

Aircraft Carrier HMS Prince of Wales

The Royal Navy once ruled the waves, now it can barely keep its carriers operational.

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].

Image Credit: Shutterstock.