The HMS Prince of Wales has suffered a series of costly failures since its launch in 2019.
The British Royal Navy’s largest ship, the HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier, has spent more time docked for repairs than on duty since it was commissioned in 2019, The Times reported on Monday. The vessel is currently sitting in a Scottish dockyard with a broken propeller shaft.
The £3.2 billion ($3.8 billion) warship has spent only 267 days at sea since entering active duty in December 2019, the newspaper reported, citing Ministry of Defense figures. Christmas Eve marked the 268th day it has spent undergoing repairs.
In a lecture earlier this month, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, chief of the Defence Staff, admitted that the carrier has been a source of “deeply frustrating” problems. Such megaships “are massive capital projects where sometimes things will go wrong,” Radakin added.
The Royal Navy describes the Prince of Wales as “one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK.” Capable of launching NATO’s latest F-35B multirole combat aircraft, its flight deck is 70 meters wide and 280 metrers long, and with aircraft onboard it takes a crew of around 1,400 to operate.
The carrier’s malfunctions began with two major floods in 2020. The second flood filled the engine room with thousands of gallons of seawater, resulting in the Prince of Wales missing a planned trip to the US and returning to its home port of Portsmouth for six months of repairs.
The carrier managed to sail to Gibraltar in 2021, but disaster struck again a year later when it broke down shortly after leaving Portsmouth en route to the US this August. Engineers discovered damage to its propeller shaft, which naval officials reportedly blamed on the crew forgetting to grease it adequately.
A Royal Navy spokesman told The Times that repairing the damaged shaft will take until Spring 2023, after which time the Prince of Wales will return to Portsmouth to undergo more “pre-planned maintenance.”
The Labour Party has condemned Britain’s Conservative government for allowing the ship to repeatedly break down on its watch.
“We need our fleet at sea, not stuck in dock,” shadow defense secretary John Healy said. “HMS Prince of Wales is a NATO flagship and ministers cannot allow problems to undermine the ability of our armed forces to lead joint exercises.”
Image credit: Alex Ceolin, OGL v1.0