Britain’s Royal Navy has a royal headache — namely in the form of its aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales. The £3 billion ($3.8 billion) warship broke down off the Isle of Wight last August as it headed to the U.S. from Portsmouth Naval Base. It had to be towed to Rosyth, Scotland, for repairs.
Inspections by divers and engineers found that the 33-ton starboard propeller had malfunctioned, the BBC reported.
Expensive Ship, Expensive Repairs
The most expensive warship ever built in the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales was only delivered to the Royal Navy in December 2019. It will now require expensive and lengthy repairs. Originally estimated at around £3 million, last month it was reported that repair costs had shot up to an estimated £20 million to £25 million. One reason is that an inspection identified a problem with the Prince of Wales’ port shaft, and Royal Navy officials have decided to overhaul that as well.
The carrier’s return to service now depends on the availability of parts, but also on the tides. The HMS Prince of Wales requires an exceptionally high tide to move from the dry dock, and this complicated her return to homeport.
Sidelined for a Full Year
The Royal Navy has announced that the carrier — the sister ship of the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth — will be returned to service later his year. That means the vessel, which is NATO’s flagship as of January 2022, will be laid up for a year.
“We expect HMS Prince of Wales to commence her operational programme as planned in autumn 2023. This will include flying training and trials,” a Royal Navy spokesperson said in a statement last month. “An investigation is under way to establish the cause of the starboard shaft failure and once complete ministers will provide an update on the outcome.”
Political Battle Brewing?
The delay in returning the carrier to service has been a headache for the UK’s ruling Conservative government as well.
It was reported on Thursday by the Daily Mail that Labour’s shadow defense secretary, John Healey — who has been critical of the UK’s Indo-Pacific military ambitions — took aim at the slow pace of 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,” Haley stated. “‘HMS Prince of Wales is brand new and a NATO flagship and ministers cannot allow ongoing problems to undermine the ability of our armed forces to lead important joint exercises.
“The Conservatives must be upfront about the impact of these delays on the UK’s ability to meet our commitments to NATO and our allies in full.”
Who Will Pay?
The Ministry of Defense has said it will try to claw back the eight-figure cost of the repairs from the French-owned firm Thales, which was responsible for the propulsion system in the consortium that built the ship, as well as from Kongsberg, the Norwegian builder of the parts.
Even if the repairs to HMS Prince of Wales are delayed until fall, it will still have spent less time in drydock than Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, which has been plagued with problems for years. That vessel’s latest problem is a lack of a crew to man the Russian Navy’s flagship should it actually return to service.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, 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.