The Second UK Aircraft Carrier Sets Sail


Britain’s second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wails, has sailed from Rosyth Dockyard for the first time.

According to a story on the UK’s Ministry of Defence website published on September 19, 2019:

Eight years after her first steel was cut, the 65,000 tonne warship will head under the iconic Forth Bridges in the coming week to begin her initial sea trials.

Defence Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

“Prince of Wales’ departure from Rosyth is a landmark moment for the carrier programme. As the ship takes the next step to becoming fully operational, she carries with her the story of Britain’s maritime might.

“This tremendous achievement is a testament to the talent of British industry and I look forward to the moment we can welcome her into the Royal Navy family.

The carrier will conduct extensive sea trials off the coast of North East Scotland upon departing Rosyth before arriving at her home port of Portsmouth later this year.”

Upon her entry to Portsmouth, she will be officially commissioned into the Royal Navy by her Lady Sponsor, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and sit alongside her sister ship for the first time.

Prince of Wales’s Captain Darren Houston said:

“I am immensely proud of the professionalism and determination that my ship’s company have shown in preparing themselves and their ship for this historic day.

“Whether through working alongside our industrial partners to support the build and commissioning of key systems or training tirelessly to operate the ship and work as a team, the crew have demonstrated unfaltering dedication and resolve in the face of a multitude of challenges.”

The Prince of Wales is only the second ship in the world after HMS Queen Elizabeth to be built from the hull upwards, specifically to operate the fifth generation F35B Lightning II Joint Strike fighter jet.

Sir Simon Lister, Managing Director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance said:

“The Aircraft Carrier Alliance has bought together the very best of British industry, and it is thanks to their hard work, skill and determination that we have reached this important stage in the programme.

“By working together as one team, we are now able, on schedule, to start testing this magnificent ship in preparation for handing her over to the Royal Navy.”

First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin said:

“This is much more than just the departure of the second ship in the class from Rosyth, but marks a sea change in Britain’s aircraft carrier capability. HMS Prince of Wales confirms Britain’s place as the leading European carrier strike nation within NATO.

“From high-end warfighting to humanitarian assistance, Britain remains ready to deliver on operations anywhere in the world.”

The ship has emerged from build two years after her sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is currently transiting the Atlantic, including visiting Canada. The deployment, known as WESTLANT19 is an Operational Trial to be conducted with UK F-35Bs off the East Coast of the US.

The introduction of the new carrier flying F-35Bs opens the transformation aperture to provide a forcing function for RAF and Royal Navy integration. As Group Captain Ian Townsend, a key officer involved in working the F-35 introduction Ian Townsend into service for the RAF and now the RAF Marham Base Commander and currently the F-35 force commander, put it with regard to the Queen Elizabeth and F-35 transition put it in an interview with us:

As an airman, I like anything that enhances my ability to deliver air power, and the ship certainly does that. The ship has been tailor-made from first principles to deliver F-35 operational output. The ship is part of the F35 air system.

I think this is the key change to where we were in Joint Force Harrier where the ship was really just a delivery vehicle. The ship was just a runway.

The Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are much more than that. They are right at the heart of the air system’s capability fundamentally enabling and supporting what the air vehicle is doing three, or four, or five hundred miles away from the ship. And that wasn’t quite the same in Joint Force Harrier with the Invincible Class CVS carriers. So it’s very different for us.

Everyone involved in embarked F-35 operations needs to understand what the air vehicle is going off to do because everybody on the ship is much closer to that end delivery of effect. This is a very different concept of operations from 15 years ago.

And in a 2018 interview with the then head of the F-35 force based at RAF Marham, Air Commodore David Bradshaw, now in a senior position at the Ministry of Defence, the integration piece for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy enabled by working the carrier operational envelope was highlighted.

“We have designed the Lightning Force from the very beginning to be joint. My deputy is a Royal Naval officer. The entire Lightning Force is a mix of light and dark blue.”

The new Queen Elizabeth class carrier is the largest warship ever built in the United Kingdom. While most of the focus of the press coverage has been on the process of building the carrier and now its sea trials, the carrier is coming at a very interesting point in British history.

There is a clear need to shape a post-Brexit defense policy, and having a significant epicenter of national sovereignty able to operate throughout the region and beyond But it is also at the heart of integrating UK forces to deliver UK capabilities within the integrated battlespace, both in terms of an integrated carrier strike force as well as in terms of shaping the various war fighting systems which will come together onboard the ship.

It is however at the heart of shaping 21st century interoperability, notably in the Northern European defense effort. There is the interoperability being worked with the US Navy, as evidenced in the Saxon Warrior exercise off of Scotland.

There is the interoperability being worked, as the USMC will operate its F-35Bs off of the ship. This will require an ability for the ship to operate US weapons onboard as well as to accommodate USMC maintainers as well with their specific national maintenance approaches. The ship is an F-35 carrier and will work its interoperability with other F-35s as well in the region, notably with the Dutch, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Italians, the Israelis, the US and perhaps others Europeans as well.

In other words, the carrier is at the vortex of a turn in British history, and a key element of shaping 21st century force integration and interoperability. It is clear as well that the way the RAF is going about its transformation provides opportunities to shape new collaborative opportunities with European allies as well going forward.

Obviously, with the political changes underway in Europe and elsewhere, the UK is looking to shape partnerships, which protect its interests and provide strategic opportunities to shape its capabilities going forward.

And flying a force of F-35s and Typhoons provides them with an interesting opportunity to work with Europe going forward. As Air Commodore Bradshaw added during our 2018 interview: “With the F-35, we will have unique opportunities to work with our Northern European allies, including the Norwegian, Danish and Dutch Air Forces as well as out USAF neighbors at RAF Lakenheath. And with the Typhoon, we have good opportunities to work with the Germans, Spanish and Italians. And with the Italians flying a mixed force of F-35A, F-35B and Eurofighter, we have great opportunities to work together as well.”