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HMS Prince of Wales, the second of the two large fleet aircraft carriers about to join the Royal Navy, was named today by the Duchess of Cornwall at Rosyth naval dockyard.
When in Scotland, Camilla carries the title Duchess of Scotland and she is the new ship’s official ‘sponsor’.
Relations of veterans of the last HMS Prince of Wales were expected to attend. A major battleship, she was sunk along with the battle cruiser Repulse in the South China Sea by Japanese torpedo bombers on 10th December 1941, losing 327 of the 1612 crew.
The huge 65,000 tonne ship took just over half the time to build as her sister HMS Queen Elizabeth, currently undergoing sea trials from her home port of Portsmouth. The two carriers are due to be commissioned fully into the Fleet in 2019 and 2020.
Each ship is manned by a crew of 670 rising to 700. With all 35 F-35 combat aircraft embarked, plus a mixed fleet of helicopters and up to 300 commando assault troops, the ships can accommodate around 1,600.
The Navy has had to stretch its personnel resources to man the two big ships. The Royal Marine Corps has had to allocate some 200 men to help man the second carrier, which has meant closing down one of its three commando, or battalion strength, units.
In the defence review of October 2010 David Cameron’s coalition government proposed either mothballing the proposed new Prince of Wales, using it as a helicopter carrier or even selling it.
The two big carriers are cornerstones in the government’s new national shipbuilding strategy announced earlier this week. This aims to cut costs and boost competition in building ships for the Navy, a field in which there is only one major UK contractor today. Bae built both carriers, the six Daring class destroyers, which ended up costing about £1 billion each and the new class of eight Type 26 anti-submarine frigates. Costed at about £750 million currently, the first is not now expected in service for nine years.
Central to the new strategy is the building of a new ‘light’ Type 31e frigate at a fixed price of £250 million. Each will be built in sections in different yards around the British Isles – to encourage competition against Bae – and assembled at one or two major hubs. The ships are to be built for export as much as for the UK.
This bold proposal has caused astonishment and even mirth amongst independent circles. “You don’t get much frigate for £250 million these days,” says Francis Tusa the highly respected editor of Defence Analysis. “At that price you’ll just get a floating grey box. Most frigates of that tonnage cost at least £275 million for the hull alone and the weapons systems around £175 million.” Others fear that the fixed price will mean the new ships would be too lightly armed to operate in troubled waters such as the Eastern Mediterranean or the Gulf.
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