HMS Prince of Wales sailed from Portsmouth today for the east coast of the United States where she will conduct further F-35 flying trials and experimentation with uncrewed aircraft.
HMS Prince of Wales will make her first trip to the US following the pattern of the Westlant 18 and Westlant 19 deployments that saw HMS Queen Elizabeth make diplomatic visits, exercise with the USN and conduct developmental flying. She will also stop in New York, Halifax, Canada and make the first visit to the Caribbean by a QEC carrier.
While in New York, the carrier will host the next Atlantic Future Forum in New York (28-29 September) an annual conference that brings together influential thinkers from defence and industry in the US and UK to discuss shared security and military issues. PWLS will remain at high readiness throughout her time in the US to be diverted for urgent operations if required in her role as NATO’s command ship.
PWLS will embark a small air group of helicopters and UAV with F-35s to join the ship when off the coast of the US, most likely from the F-35 Integrated Test Force and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron based at Patuxent River, Maryland. Details of the flight trial program are not available right now but are expected to include the much-delayed second phase of Shipborne Vertical Rolling Landing (SRVL) trials that were first attempted on HMS Queen Elizabeth in October 2018. Defining the safe operating limits for SRVL is important to the future operation of the QEC carriers as it allows jets to recover to the ship with unused weapons and fuel loads.
In July QinetiQ was awarded a £1.5m contract to run a further set of trials of the Banshee Jet80+ air vehicle from the carrier during this deployment as part of the VAMPIRE (phase 1) programme. It is envisaged that Banshee will be used as a training aid to simulate cruise missiles and aircraft attacks, replacing the crewed Hawk Jets formerly used in this role. With the addition of Electronic Warfare systems, the Banshee can also test the ship’s threat warning systems, adding more depth and realism to the training.
In an operational scenario, Banshee could be deployed in a decoy role and will also carry ISR payloads including radar and cameras. Banshee is integrated with the MAPLE autonomous systems command and control software and further work will be done to develop UAS command, control and communication procedures. The small delta-wing jet is launched from mobile ramps erected on the carrier’s flight deck and is capable of around 400 knots and achieving an altitude of 25,000 feet. When the mission is complete Banshee may be recovered after descending by parachute. It is possible there may also be trials of other small drones and uncrewed aircraft operating from the carrier during the deployment.
As the Summer leave period draws to a close, RN surface fleet activity is set to increase significantly with HMS Queen Elizabeth departing for the CSG22 deployment in European and Mediterranean waters, escorted by HMS Defender, Diamond and Kent. Meanwhile HMS Albion and RFA Mounts Bay will also sail for the Littoral Response Group deployment.
Main Photo: Ian Pears