Britain’s biggest warship has left Portsmouth, headed for exercises in the Atlantic and Mediterranean in her latest foray as NATO’s command ship.
HMS Prince of Wales will complete two weeks of preparations off the UK’s South Coast before joining warships from across NATO for Spanish-led training and port visits to Spain and Portugal.
The aircraft carrier is scheduled to visit Rota, on Spain’s west coast, before linking up with a multinational task group for Spain’s annual exercises, known as Flotex.
It will involve a large contingent of Spanish ships and will include NATO task groups (Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2) which are responsible for the security and prosperity of the Mediterranean.
The ship has a new commanding officer for the deployment after Captain Richard Hewitt replaced Captain Steve Higham, who took the ship through major milestones and her maiden operational deployment to the Arctic earlier this year.
Capt Hewitt said: “Taking command of the largest warship is an honour as we push the limits of aircraft carrier operations.
“I’m excited to lead this amazing team as we head for exercises in our role as NATO’s command ship.”
“It’s been a privilege to work alongside the women and men of HMS Prince of Wales,” said Capt Higham, as he departed.
“We’ve taken the ship from sea training to her maiden deployment to the Arctic leading NATO. This brilliant team have consistently operated with pride, passion and purpose.”
Before heading towards Spain, the ship will work with the Royal Navy’s new ‘eyes in the sky’ for the first time.
Two Merlin ‘Crowsnest’ helicopters will train alongside the ship ahead of future operations, in which the aircraft will provide protection from aerial threats using its powerful radar to scour the skies for potential foes.
The distinctive-looking helicopter – a large radar dome or ‘bag’ sticks out from the fuselage, earning the aircraft the affectionate nickname of ‘baggers’ – provides airborne surveillance and the control of other aircraft (known as ASaC) for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.
The iconic Osprey tiltrotors will also make an appearance on the ship, perfecting ways of operating seamlessly with the US Air Force aircraft from RAF Mildenhall.
Two anti-submarine warfare helicopters from Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron will also be training aircrew in operating from the ship as she sails off the South Coast, plus Chinooks from the Royal Air Force’s 27 Squadron.
HMS Prince of Wales is currently NATO’s command ship, leading the alliance’s Maritime High Readiness Force – an international task group formed to deal with major global events.
The ship deployed to the Arctic for the largest exercises in the region for 30 years.