It's Been a Rough Week for What's Left of the Mighty British Navy

When you’ve only got two big boats left, and the two of them are…well…busted, that’s gonna leave a mark.

In fact, when they break down on their way out of port, with the harbor closed to other traffic, and everyone lining the quays and roadways in anticipation of watching the awesome, majestic outbound passage, and then nothing.

It can be a little dispiriting.

Particularly when that boat is a replacement for the bigger boat that should have gone but couldn’t because it broke down. All to a multinational exercise your flagship is supposed to be leading.

A Royal Navy aircraft carrier has failed to set sail for a Nato exercise, a week after its sister ship pulled out because of a mechanical fault.

HMS Prince of Wales was due to replace HMS Queen Elizabeth in Exercise Steadfast Defender – the largest Nato exercise since the Cold War.

However, the £3bn warship has remained in Portsmouth and the harbour mouth has been reopened to normal marine traffic.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the departure had been “postponed”.

Hundreds of people lined Portsmouth Harbour to watch the carrier’s scheduled departure at 12:15 GMT.

However, after MoD police boats secured the area and the harbour mouth was closed, the channel was reopened and the crowd dispersed.

[CUE: sad trombone

Party’s over.

Broken rules Britannia’s waves.

HMS Queen Elizabeth (aka Big Lizzie), the relatively brand-new (2017) crown jewel of the British Navy, had been due to set sail to join a big NATO naval exercise on Feb 4. The day before she left port, however, her participation was quite literally shafted when a routine inspection turned up major problems with her propellor shafts. Couplings were rusty.

And this ocean-going NATO get-together is a big deal – 24 other countries are planning on participating – so there could be no question of Britain missing it.

…More than 40 vessels are taking part in Exercise Steadfast Defender off Norway’s Arctic coast in March.

Before heading to the Arctic, the carrier strike group will take part in the annual Joint Warrior exercise off northern Scotland before joining Exercise Nordic Response – the maritime part of Steadfast Defender.

The Royal Navy said the fleet of 40 vessels taking part in the exercise come from more than 24 nations.

They had to scramble to find themselves a boat, and fortunately, their second carrier (they only have two) was in port, getting set up for a maintenance cycle. Now, HMS Prince of Wales doesn’t have quite the capacity of Queen Elizabeth, so it wouldn’t make as neat a picture being there, but it’s still a plenty capable warship, packed with lots of good, lethal stuff.

 ….The vessel is one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK, with a flight deck that is 70 meters wide (230 feet), and 280 meters (918 feet) long. The warship isn’t equipped with catapults and arrestor wires and instead was designed to operate with Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) jets from a ski-jump ramp. The flattop can embark up to thirty-six Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters and four Merlin helicopters. In surge conditions, the carrier is capable of supporting up to seventy F-35Bs, while she has accommodation for 250 Royal Marines and the ability to support them with attack and transport helicopters.

The carrier operates with a crew of 679 but can accommodate up to 1,600 personnel – including full airwing, Royal Marines, and even refugees if required.

In addition to its aircraft, which serve as its primary offensive and defensive systems, HMS Prince of Wales is armed with three Phalanx CIWS (close-in weapon system) turrets to deal with incoming threats from the sea and air. Comprising a radar-guided 20mm Vulcan cannon mounted on a swiveling base, the Phalanx has a dual fire rate of 3,000 or 4,500 shots per minute and is capable of hitting targets up to a mile away.

Except when it can’t get where it’s got to go, and, embarrassingly, that’s happened far more often than it should have.

…The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) only stated that the departure of the warship had been delayed and no further details. It was a year and a half ago that HMS Prince of Wales was sidelined for several months after she broke down off the Isle of Wight after beginning a planned deployment to the United States. The Royal Navy has stated that the issues are not related.

The delay further tarnished the reputation of the Royal Navy as a capable fighting force, and The Sunday Times even called it a “Further Embarrassment” for the senior service of the British military. It certainly puts into question whether the United States and the rest of NATO can count on the Royal Navy in wartime if neither of its two carriers can actually be deployed on time!

Prince of Wales didn’t make it out again yesterday.

The logistics involved in getting a beast of this size fired up, loaded up, and ready to move out in a hurry?

Holy smokes. Amazing.

I mean, this has to be mortifying for Brits who still give a flying fig about their proud military history.

I mean, yoicks.

When will Prince of Wales depart? Will it be repaired in time to make the exercise at all? 

To everyone’s huge relief, it sailed out of Portsmouth this morning – a day late.

HMS Prince of Wales finally set sail for the largest Nato maritime exercise in 40 years on Monday – a day after its initially planned departure was cancelled at the last moment.

The ship was meant to leave on Sunday to replace HMS Queen Elizabeth, which failed to depart from Portsmouth Harbour a week earlier due to an “issue” found in final checks with the starboard propeller coupling.

No official reason was given for the cancellation of the Prince of Wales’ departure, but on Monday it finally set sail from Portsmouth Harbour, cheered on by family members and supporters.

Woof. Bet there were purple faces from held breaths on that launch ’til they cleared the channel.

But the British Navy has serious repair and maintenance problems all through what’s left of its fleet. Its Type 45 destroyers apparently have had multiple woes with what they called “dodgy” engines. Those were supposed to be on track for modifications, but in 2022, they found out it would take over 6 years to get that done on just 6 vessels.

Admiral Lord Alan West has blasted the so-called ‘power improvement project’ (PIP) to upgrade the dodgy engines of the Type 45 destroyers as it was revealed it wouldn’t be completed for another six years.

The vessels are touted as one of the world’s most advanced warships by the navy. But they have been plagued by engine woes, which have seen them breaking down in the hot waters of the Gulf.

All six of the fleet of Portsmouth-based warships will need to undergo work to fix the embarrassing design flaws.

None of this is a good look and could truly be considered desperately dangerous when you think of what the world looks like right now.

…There had been speculation last month that the Royal Navy might send one of its two carriers to the Middle East to aid or even replace the U.S. Navy’s USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) when it returns to the United States later this year.

Yet, it seems that NATO can’t count on the Royal Navy to get a carrier to the exercise it was supposed to lead – so how can it be counted on deploying a carrier to confront the Houthi rebels in Yemen?

Our ships are looking like scows themselves in recent photos, so I can’t be too hard on the Brits. But holy smokes.

These are scary times.

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