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Cost Estimates for Repairs to HMS Prince of Wales Skyrocket

HMS Prince of Wales repair costs
HMS Prince of Wales during her maiden arrival at Portsmouth (Royal Navy photo)

Published Mar 22, 2023 2:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK’s troubled plagued aircraft carrier the HMS Prince of Wales is the focus of a new controversy after The Times [London] published a report at the end of last week contending the problems were known before the Royal Navy took delivery and that taxpayers will now have to pay for the repairs to the vessel. The carrier remains in a dry dock in Scotland with her return to service being delayed till late spring with the Ministry of Defense having also launched an investigation into the carrier and its issues.

Costing an estimated £3.2 billion ($4 billion) to build, the carrier which was the most expensive warship ever built for Britain was delivered to the Royal Navy in December 2019. Reports indicate that the vessel has spent more time undergoing repairs since her delivery than in service as the Royal Navy sought to complete her commissioning and preparation for active duty. In August 2022, she was set to begin one of her highest-profile duties since delivery with a tour that was to cross the Atlantic for joint exercises with the U.S. Navy. Shortly after departure from Portsmouth, however, the carrier was forced to anchor and it was later determined that a coupling had failed on her starboard shaft causing significant damage to the shaft and propeller, with superficial damage to the rudder.

According to the report in The Times, the repair costs for the carrier have skyrocketed to an estimated £20 million. Original reports estimated the cost at £3 million. After entering the dry dock at Rosyth, Scotland in October 2022, an inspection identified potential similar issues with the port shaft. In February reports surfaced in the media that the Royal Navy as a precaution had decided to overhaul the second shaft at the same time and that the carrier’s return to service was then being delayed as they awaited the arrival of parts.

The Prince of Wales requires an exceptional high tide to move from the dry dock and the delays are complicating the timing of her return to the Navy homeport according to the media reports. It is being said that the Navy had expected she would return to base in February and that it is now being delayed till at least May.

A Royal Navy spokesperson responded to The Times saying, “We expect HMS Prince of Wales to commence her operational program as planned, in autumn 2023. This will include flying training and trials.” The spokesperson responded to further speculation confirming, “An investigation is underway to establish the cause of the starboard shaft failure and once complete ministers will provide an update on the outcome.”

The British tabloids are highlighting new accusations that the delivery of the carrier may have been rushed to suit political purposes and that there may have been an awareness of potential problems with the shafts. They are alleging that reports show that issues were identified with the shafts but that it was decided to take delivery regardless of the potential for failure. They contend that the carrier’s problems stem from a misalignment of the shafts during construction.

Ministry of Defense investigators are said to be looking into who knew about the potential problems and when they were first identified as a concern. They also want to know if the issue was ignored or who made the decision not to highlight the issues up the chain of command. 

The Royal Navy responded to inquiries from The Times stating that during tests performed on the HMS Prince of Wales before delivery in 2019, both shafts and the vibration measurements had “remained within the established limits.”

Experts also point out that the government will have a difficult time potentially recovering any of the costs of the repairs from the building group, which was disbanded after the delivery of the second carrier. Both the HMS Prince of Wales and her earlier sistership HMS Queen Elizabeth were built by a specially formed Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a partnership between defense companies BAE Systems, Babcock International, and Thales Group.