UK's £3bn Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales finally deploys on Nato mission after embarrassing setbacks

12 February 2024, 16:41 | Updated: 12 February 2024, 19:41

Britain has finally managed to deploy an aircraft carrier
Britain has finally managed to deploy an aircraft carrier. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Britain is finally deploying one of its two aircraft carriers as HMS Prince of Wales sails from Portsmouth following a series of setbacks.

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The £3bn warship left a day after its expected departure for a Nato exercise.

That was a further humiliation given the carrier had to replace its sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, after it broke down.

It has heavily dented the reputation of the two carriers, which can deploy advanced F35 stealth fighters and are regarded by the Royal Navy as being crucial to its ambitions to project power around the world.

Questions have been asked about why neither carrier has deployed to attack Houthis in the Red Sea, forcing the RAF to conduct long range missions from Cyprus to bomb them instead.

Read more: Humiliation as replacement ship for malfunctioning British carrier postpones departure for Nato exercises

For both ships to struggle to deploy immediately after that has only dented the perception of their use at a time of increased scrutiny on the state of Britain's armed forces.

Retired Rear Admiral Chris Parry said: "The carriers are getting a reputation for not being reliable.

HMS Prince of Wales has finally left Portsmouth
HMS Prince of Wales has finally left Portsmouth. Picture: Alamy

"They are big, complex bits of machinery, and the joy of having both of them is that the second one can step into the breach at a moment's notice - that moment has been a bit longer than we would have hoped.

"Prince of Wales has been in maintenance so I suspect there have been some delays associated with getting equipment and systems commissioned and ready for service."

HMS Prince of Wales was due to leave on Sunday but it was not revealed why.

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Security minister Tom Tugendhat told LBC: "I'm afraid it's not something I can explain - that's a matter for the MoD (Ministry of Defence), and I'm going to have to ask some questions about it.

"But I'm sure the First Sea Lord is looking at this right now. Admiral (Sir Ben) Key has commanded an aircraft carrier in the past and will no doubt be all over the details of this and making sure they set sail as soon as possible.

"It isn't acceptable that we have such expensive and important items of kit sitting in dock when they should be out defending our interests abroad."

Britain's aircraft carriers' reputations have taken a hit
Britain's aircraft carriers' reputations have taken a hit. Picture: Alamy

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the Prince of Wales' departure on Monday was "subject to suitable tide and weather conditions".

HMS Queen Elizabeth had to drop out of Nato's Exercise Steadfast Defender off Norway after an issue was discovered with a propeller coupling.

Instead, now it has left, the Prince of Wales will lead a carrier strike group of eight ships - four British and the rest coming from the US, Spain and Denmark.

Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, said it was a "monumental effort" to get the ship ready within a week.

Commodore James Blackmore, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said: "The UK has an unwavering commitment to Nato and collective deterrence and defence of the Euro-Atlantic region.

"There is no better demonstration of that than HMS Prince of Wales being at the heart of the upcoming Nato maritime exercises, the largest in over 40 years."