HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy‘s flagship aircraft carrier, will be temporarily replaced by the HMS Prince of Wales on a crucial NATO exercise due to an issue with a coupling on its starboard propeller shaft. The problem was detected during routine checks before sailing, leading to the decision that the Queen Elizabeth would not be able to participate in the upcoming Exercise Steadfast Defender, the largest NATO exercise in Europe since the Cold War.
The HMS Prince of Wales, another aircraft carrier, is set to take its place and sail as soon as possible, ensuring the continuity of the mission. The exercise, to be held off the Arctic coast of Norway, will see participation from more than 40 vessels from over 24 nations. Before the Arctic deployment, the carrier strike group will take part in the annual Joint Warrior exercise in northern Scotland and then join Exercise Nordic Response, which is the maritime part of Steadfast Defender.
This propeller shaft issue on the Queen Elizabeth is unrelated to a previous problem experienced by its sister ship, the HMS Prince of Wales. Earlier, HMS Prince of Wales also suffered a broken propeller shaft and underwent repairs that lasted nine months. The incident occurred when the carrier came to a halt off the coast of the Isle of Wight. Further inspections revealed a malfunction in the ship’s 33-tonne starboard propeller and its coupling.
The latest development raises concerns about the UK’s military preparedness with regard to its aircraft carriers. The Government had previously considered deploying a British aircraft carrier to the Red Sea to address the ongoing threat posed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. This decision would involve either the HMS Queen Elizabeth or the HMS Prince of Wales as a replacement for the US Navy‘s USS Dwight D Eisenhower.
The Royal Navy, along with other armed forces, still faces challenges, including stockpile shortages and recruitment issues. A recent report from the House of Commons defence committee highlighted the consistent strain on personnel and the shortfall in recruitment and retention. The committee warned that the UK military’s readiness has been compromised, leaving the country ill-prepared for all-out war in a time of global instability.
This setback comes amidst a significant exercise, Exercise Steadfast Defender, which is aimed at demonstrating the unity and commitment of the NATO alliance. By leading the exercise, the UK would reaffirm its leading role within NATO.
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