Britain’s biggest warship has set sail for an autumn deployment along the US east cost.

The Royal Navy said the deployment would push “the limits of aircraft carrier operations with drones, fifth-generation stealth fighters, tilt-rotors and helicopters”.

HMS Prince of Wales departs Portsmouth for the Eastern Seaboard of the US to “revolutionise the way the Royal Navy operates Carrier Strike Groups”, the Navy said.

HMS Prince of Wales

By the time she returns home shortly before Christmas, the ship will have:

• operated advanced drone technologies, demonstrating the delivery of vital supplies without the need to use helicopters;
• landed and launched F-35 Lightning stealth fighters in more ways, more quickly and in the harshest of sea conditions to increase the strike carrier’s firepower;
• and increased the range and conditions in which the US Marine Corps’ impressive MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft can operate.

Drones and autonomous systems

Once in the Channel the ship’s company will conduct trials with UK-firm W Autonomous Systems to assess the feasibility of drones delivering supplies to Royal Navy vessels at sea – initially flying in up to 100kg of stores.

Both the Royal Navy and its supporting flotilla from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are experimenting with drone technology – saving launching large, expensive naval helicopters to perform the missions.

“We are all excited for the longest deployment of HMS Prince of Wales,” said Commanding Officer Captain Richard Hewitt.

“Being the first to operate with this level of drones will be a huge achievement and keep us on the front foot as we prepare for the next major Carrier Strike Group deployment in 2025.”

Once in the US, the ship will embark F-35B stealth fighters for the final phase of pushing the boundaries of the UK’s fifth-generation jets’ operating limits from the carrier.
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