The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is planning to make Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, currently undergoing repairs to its damaged starboard screw housing in Rosyth, available for operational flying training and trials by the autumn.

The vessel had only just set off for its trans-Atlantic crossing in August 2022 to participate in exercises off the US eastern seaboard and host a joint UK-US forum onboard when the issue with the starboard shaft was identified and it returned to Portsmouth Naval Base.

After several weeks spent alongside the Princess Royal Jetty, where the vessel’s 33-tonne starboard propellor was removed, HMS Prince of Wales was dispatched, under reduced speed, to Babcock’s Rosyth Dockyard in the Firth of Forth for drydock repairs.

In January this year, it was reported that repair works would be conclude by the spring of 2023. However, it appears that this timeline has been pushed further to the right as repairs continue.

In a parliamentary written response on 26 April, it was revealed by James Cartlidge, newly appointed Minister of State at the MoD, that it “remains committed” to ensuring that HMS Prince of Wales is able to undertake its planned operations in the autumn.

Further, Cartlidge said that there was “no impact” on the schedule for HMS Queen Elizabeth, sister ship of HMS Prince of Wales, as the latter vessel conducts “repairs and routine maintenance”.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth was tasked to cover the deployments of HMS Prince of Wales last year when the latter vessel was forced to return to port.

Commissioned into service in 2019, mechanical issues and maritime misfortunate are not unknown to HMS Prince of Wales. In October 2020 the vessel sustained major flooding in its engine room following a burst fire main which caused significant damage to its electrical switchboards.

Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers

The £6.2bn Queen Elizabeth-class carrier programme has produced the largest ever vessels built for and operated by the UK Royal Navy. Displacing around 65,000 tonnes, they are around three times the weight of their predecessors, the Invincible-class light carriers.

HMS Queen Elizabeth conducted the first overseas deployment of the class in 2021 when it formed the centrepiece of a UK-led task force that conducted operations in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Asia-Pacific region. During the deployment, an F-35B crashed on take-off in the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in a multinational effort to recover the downed aircraft in case it fell into Russian hands.  

At full load, the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers can carry around 40 aircraft but will typically be deployed in peacetime with around 12 F-35B fighters and a similar number of rotary-wing platforms, such as the Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter and Wildcat utility platform.