Second British Aircraft Carrier Starts Sea Trials

Barely days after leaving the docks of Rosyth shipyards, the Royal Navy's second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, put to sea to begin its first trials, in order to evaluate the nautical qualities, propulsion and the maneuverability of the building. For this purpose, the ship carries a crew of 600 people, reinforced by more than 300 subcontractors and civilian specialists. The technical trials will last between 1 and 2 months, after which the ship will return to the military port of Portsmouth where, alongside its sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth, it will officially enter service with the Royal Navy before the end of the year. HMS Prince of Wales and its air group will then have to go through a long and careful qualification procedure, before being admitted to operational service, probably at the beginning of 2021.

Ordered in 2008, the two British aircraft carriers, whose construction began in 2009, are intended to resume the long tradition of Royal Navy aircraft carriers, despite the interruption between the withdrawal from service of HMS Illustrious in 2014, and the entry into service of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018. These 282 m and 65.000 tonnes vessels are the largest combat vessels ever built in Europe. Armed by a crew of 1450 men, and capable of carrying 250 marines, they are designed to operate more than 50 aircraft, including heavy CH-47 Chinook helicopters and V-22 Ospreys, as well as F-35B takeoff and vertical landing. In a classic mission, the air group will be made up of 12 F35Bs, and 24 rotary wings of different types. Its propulsion, of the Integrated Electric Propulsion type, is based on 4 GE electric motors of 20 MW powered by 2 gas turbines of 36 MW and 4 diesels of 9MW (x2) and 11MW (x2), allowing the ship to sail up to 25 knots and have a range of 10.000 nautical miles, enough for a round trip without refueling between Portsmouth and New York.

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HMS Illustrious, which left active service in 2014, was the third ship of the Invisible class which took part in the Falklands War in 1982 along with HMS Invisible and Ark Royal

With this second building, the Royal Navy regains its prominent role in Europe, and in its ability to offer a significant force projection capacity to political power. But it will still take several years for the fleet of F35Bs in service with the RAF to reach a sufficient volume to allow optimal use of the 2 ships. However, unlike France, the British authorities have not neglected the interest of having 2 aircraft carriers, especially since the construction of the second copy would have cost 20% less than that of the Queen Elizabeth according to the authorities. Furthermore, the choice of conventional propulsion only slightly hinders the ship, which already has a more than substantial autonomy, whereas the impact on the price would have been more than noticeable if the ship had chosen nuclear propulsion.

Above all, with this type of propulsion, the Royal Navy is anticipating what it has been doing very well for decades, namely offering the ship on the second-hand market if, within 25 years, there is an opportunity to build a new class appeared. Finally, and this is not negligible, this technology makes it possible to avoid having to constitute a "nuclear" crew, which we know to be a rare commodity today, especially when we implement a fleet of 4 SSBNs and 7 SSN. On the other hand, the choice of a springboard aircraft carrier, and not equipped with catapults, greatly limits the possibilities of the on-board air group, condemns it to using only F35Bs, very expensive aircraft with a lack of reach, and prohibits the use of surveillance aircraft such as the E-2D Hawkeye, which handicaps the entire carrier group.

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