UK delays departure of second aircraft carrier set for Nato exercise

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A second state of the art UK aircraft carrier has delayed its departure to the largest Nato exercise in Europe since the cold war, a week after its sister ship cancelled its deployment due to a problem with its propeller.

HMS Prince of Wales was set to depart from Portsmouth Harbour in the South of England on Sunday to sail to Exercise Steadfast Defender on Norway’s Arctic coast. However, it was forced to abandon its departure at the last minute.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the ship had been held back, but did not provide a reason for the decision.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was originally supposed to take part in the exercise but its deployment was cancelled last week after the Royal Navy identified an issue with the starboard propeller shaft. It will instead head to Rosyth in Scotland to receive repairs to address “wear and tear”, the Royal Navy said in a message posted on social media platform X on Saturday.

The £3bn HMS Prince of Wales is supposed to take its place. Crew and base workers had been readying the 65,000-tonne sister warship to depart on Sunday.

The Royal Navy said that HMS Prince of Wales was still due to set sail soon, subject to suitable tide and weather conditions. It said updates on sailing times would be published later on Sunday.

Cancellations due to “wear and tear” have been a source of embarrassment for the Royal Navy and add to concerns that the UK’s military is not equipped to deal with escalating tensions in the Red Sea.

In August 2022, HMS Prince of Wales broke down shortly after leaving Portsmouth following a propeller shaft problem.

The MoD said last week that the issue on HMS Queen Elizabeth was “separate and not linked” to the earlier defect on its sister ship. The issue was with the ship’s “shaft couplings”, it said. 

“The ship’s propeller shafts are too big to be made from a single piece of metal, so each shaft is made from three sections, which are connected using shaft couplings, which bind the shaft sections together,” the MoD added.

The Steadfast Defender exercise is an attempt to ready Nato forces in the face of potential Russian aggression and is set to include more than 40 vessels and about 90,000 troops, according to Nato officials.

Sweden, whose Nato bid is yet to be ratified by Hungary, will also be included, bringing the total number of nations involved to 32.

The drill will take place across Germany, Poland and the Baltics in February and March and forms part of a new training strategy by Nato that will see the military alliance carry out two major exercises each year, rather than one.

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