The UK on 01 October 2021 has two world-leading aircraft carriers ready for duties around the globe after HMS Prince of Wales (R09) was declared fully operational.
A fortnight-long international exercise off the Scottish coast put the stamp on two years of intensive training for the Portsmouth-based warship, 700-plus crew, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons who will operate aircraft from her flight deck – including the fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter – and thousands of military personnel and civilians who support and maintain the endeavour.
It means HMS Prince of Wales (R09) can join her sister HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) on the world stage; the latter is currently beginning the second half of her maiden deployment commanding an international carrier strike group in the Pacific.
«We have excitingly jumped the final hurdle and are now a fully-fledged strike carrier, ready at 30 days’ notice for operations around the globe», said HMS Prince of Wales’ Commanding Officer Captain Steve Higham. «This is a significant moment for the ship which will see us operate with fighter jets, helicopters, drones, and other vessel. We’ll achieve all of this by working with our friends and colleagues from the RAF, the British Army and across Defence to deliver our contribution for the UK as a problem-solving, burden-sharing partner nation. The whole Prince of Wales team are grateful for the support of our followers, our families and our friends and hope that they keep following us towards our first deployment».
The carrier’s Senior Warfare Officer Lieutenant Commander David Thompson added: «HMS Prince of Wales (R09) is at the end of a challenging yet successful journey on the road to operational readiness. We are prepared to support Commander UK Strike Forces and are relishing the opportunity to work alongside other allied nations».
The final act of the new carrier’s preparation for operations was participation in the largest military exercise hosted in the UK this autumn.
Thousands of military personnel from a dozen nations took part in the combined UK/NATO exercise Joint Warrior/Dynamic Mariner which ended yesterday, testing their abilities individually and collectively to deal with global events.
More than 20 warships and submarines, plus maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters and thousands of military personnel from a dozen nations are taking part in the fortnight long combined exercise.
Ten Royal Navy vessels, plus elements of four Fleet Air Arm squadrons (troop carrying and submarine-hunting Merlins, Commando and anti-surface Wildcats and Hawk jets which have decamped from Cornwall to Scotland), Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade and the guns of their supporting artillery regiment, 29 Commando RA, plus senior staffs – around 2,000 men and women in all – represented the Senior Service.
HMS Prince of Wales (R09) and amphibious flagship HMS Albion (L14) led the Royal Navy participation, joined by frigates HMS Argyll (F231) and Lancaster (F229) – the latter fresh from operations in the Arctic – tanker RFA Tiderace (A137), support ship RFA Mounts Bay (L3008), minehunter HMS Pembroke (M107) and a smattering of P2000 patrol craft.
After a week where the participating units get to know how to work together – there are half a dozen mini task groups operating off the Scottish coast – the exercise shifts up several gears in its second week as participants face wide-ranging challenging scenarios which mirror real-world events, such as evacuating civilians from a war zone.
As well as the big-picture challenges, other facets of naval operations – gunnery on the range at Cape Wrath, board and search/counter-smuggling operations, mine warfare and swarm attacks – are all thrown into the exercise to give participants a complete workout.
Besides validating HMS Prince of Wales (R09) operationally, Joint Warrior has been used to refine the ongoing transformation of the Royal Marines into the Future Commando Force, able to rapidly deploy raiding forces when needed.
Staff onboard UK amphibious flagship HMS Albion (L14) perfected planning for commando raids which are the heart of the concept, as well as honing skills working alongside NATO allies and mastering the art of choreographing an international naval force.
«Providing a command platform for the Amphibious Forces HQ is one of the core roles of HMS Albion (L14)», explained Lieutenant Mike Cooper, responsible for Albion’s communications and information systems. «Joint Warrior allows my team to plan and execute embarking a headquarters, along with testing the wide array of computer and communication systems on board. Above all, the exercise ensures that the UK’s high-readiness amphibious assault ship is prepared for any challenge».
Beyond testing staffs, Joint Warrior exercises every member of the ship’s company: the gunnery team had to fend off assaults from fast attack craft swarming around HMS Albion (L14), the flight deck has hosted RAF Chinooks alongside more regularly Royal Navy Wildcats and Merlins, and firefighters and damage controls have been put through their paces.
«Large multi-national training exercises like Joint Warrior are fundamental to enhancing our ability to deploy high-readiness military forces to conduct coordinated joint operations», explained HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer Captain Simon Kelly. «They also give us the opportunity to work alongside NATO allies and partners, fostering vital relationships and honing our specialist roles within a large war-style scenario. During the exercise we have hosted a joint maritime and land headquarters onboard, further developing the littoral strike group concept at the heart of Royal Navy’s Commando Force concept».
HMS Prince of Wales (R09) is due to return to Portsmouth in the small hours of Saturday October 2 to avoid bad weather forecast over the coming days.