The British Royal Navy’s flagship the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has been forced to miss upcoming joint NATO drills due to an unexpected “issue” in one of its propeller shafts. “Routine pre-sailing checks yesterday identified an issue with a coupling on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s starboard propeller shaft. As such, the ship will not sail on Sunday,” Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Burns stated, adding that: “HMS Prince of Wales will take her place on NATO duties and will set sail for Exercise Steadfast Defender as soon as possible.” The Defence Ministry subsequently elaborated that the issue was “separate and not linked” to earlier technical troubles reported on its sister ship HMS Prince of Wales. “The issue identified is with the ship’s shaft couplings. The ship’s propeller shafts are too big to be made from a single piece of metal, so each shaft is made from three sections, which are connected using shaft couplings, which bind the shaft sections together,” the ministry elaborated.
The Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers have become increasingly notorious for their lack of reliability, with issues during their short service lives ranging from flooding to fighter crashes and a range of other issues that have seriously hampered their operational readiness. HMS Prince of Wales was in 2023 cannibalised for parts to keep HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing. Navy reports have frequently highlighted issues such as insufficient training for carrier operations placing personnel at risk. These issues with the two ships come amid broader similarly serious problems affecting the wider British surface fleet. The carriers’ primary escort the Type 45 Class destroyer has become particularly notorious, and in 2021 the number of ships out of action reached 83 percent with only one of the six ships capable of operating. The ships have suffered from greater reliability issues and significantly lower versatility than destroyers in the United States, China, Japan and South Korea, while carrying 50 percent or less the firepower. The Defence Ministry has long been considering retiring the Type 45 without replacement due to the questionable affordability of developing a next generation successor, leaving British carriers as the only ones in the world without a destroyer escort.