After nine months in dry dock at the Rosyth shipyard in Scotland to replace a shaft line that broke while out on patrol in the North Atlantic in August 2022, Britain’s second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is finally operational ready. On September 1, the Royal Navy announced that she had just set sail from Portsmouth naval base for the United States. In short, she will carry out the mission that she could not fulfill last year.

During this deployment, which will last about four months, HMS Prince of Wales will have to experiment with new concepts aimed at “pushing the boundaries” of naval air operations… with an emphasis on embarked aerial drones.

According to the program outlined by the Royal Navy, the crew of this 65,000-ton aircraft carrier will carry out drone resupply tests as part of the “Heavy Lift Challenge” project. For this, there is the collaboration of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the manufacturer Windraces Autonomous Systems, which has developed an aircraft capable of transporting a load of at least 100 kg over a distance of 1,000 km.

This is an excellent way to take advantage of the potential of the Fleet Air Arm helicopters, especially if one takes into account that, according to figures from the US Navy, 90% of logistics missions are carried out by V-22s. Ospreys and C-2 Greyhounds for aircraft carriers are all about carrying packages under 25kg. In most cases, it is about delivering electronic components or essential parts to repair or maintain a system.

The French Navy has already tested a logistics drone aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. So has the US Navy, with the Aircraft Division of the Naval Air Warfare Center [NAWCAD], which has evaluated the Blue Water from the Texan manufacturer Skyway.

When it arrives in the United States, HMS Prince of Wales will carry F-35B fighter-bombers [short takeoff and vertical landing – STOVL]. The Royal Navy explains that the objective is to “test more advanced take-off and landing techniques” to reduce the time between two sorties and “launching more missions.”

“Five years after the F-35B debuted on a Royal Navy aircraft carrier (HMS Queen Elizabeth), there is still much to learn about these advanced fighters,” explains the British Navy.

There are also plans to do the same with the US Marine Corps’ MV-22B Osprey in preparation for the “global deployment” of HMS Prince of Wales in 2025. However, everything will depend on whether these aircraft are allowed to fly. , one of which crashed in Australia last week.

Finally, as suggested a few weeks ago, the Royal Navy will test the Mojave MALE [Medium Altitude Long Endurance] drone from US manufacturer General Atomics, which has received a €1.5 million contract aboard HMS Prince of Wales pounds for this purpose.

Based on the MQ-9 Reaper, the Mojave was unveiled in December 2021. Its distinctive feature is that it can take off from short runways thanks to a new landing gear and modified wings, with leading edge slats and a flap of double groove on the trailing edge. Powered by a 450-horsepower Rolls Royce turboprop, it can carry around 700 kg of ammunition.

“Tests are planned to see if the Mojave can land on the 274-metre deck of the Prince of Wales,” the Royal Navy said.

Laurent Lagneau