Royal Navy suffers 'embarrassing' fault with HMS Queen Elizabeth that delayed UK sea trials of F-35

ROYAL Navy supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth suffered a mechanical fault which delayed her latest bout of tests with Britain’s new state-of-the-art stealth jet, The News has learned.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 4:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 9:29 pm

The 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier was meant to set sail from Portsmouth on Tuesday morning, with the Royal Navy confirming the departure the night before.

But navy top brass scrapped the £3.1bn behemoth’s movement two hours after it was announced on Twitter. The ship eventually departed on Friday morning.

Officials from Portsmouth Naval Base gave no explanation for the unexpected cancellation when quizzed by The News, insisting the Senior Service would not ‘discuss’ the ship’s programme ‘in detail’.

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Bob Cooling, pictured after becoming the captain of former Royal Navy aircraft carrier Illustrious in Portsmouth. Photo: Royal Navy

Now, sources on the naval base have claimed a mechanical fault with the warship’s huge generators was to blame.

The issue is the latest to plague the 280m-long aircraft carrier, which last year suffered from a fault in her electric drive just days before a major flood forced the ship to head back to Portsmouth for repairs.

Vice Admiral Bob Cooling, who was in charge of Britain’s last operational aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, was shocked by the news.

He said: ‘This is embarrassing for the Royal Navy. It’s becoming a feature of 21st century warships, which are more unreliable than 20th century ones.

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth passes the Round Tower as she leaves Portsmouth harbour to undergo further sea trials. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 24, 2020. See PA story DEFENCE Carrier. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

‘The whole point about an aircraft carrier is that they need to be able to sail at very short notice.

‘To not be able to get to sea because you have got a mechanical failure is very unusual.’

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However, retired Commodore Adrian Whyntie, a senior weapons engineering specialist, downplayed the situation and insisted the latest fault was ‘nothing to worry about’.

Pictured: HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves her home port of Portsmouth to conduct sea trials with the lightning jets in UK waters. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury UK Lightning Force jets conducted their first maritime flights during operational tests with HMS Queen Elizabeth just a few months ago. The 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier has previously only carried out trials with the jets from her decks while training in the western Atlantic during 2018 and 2019.

‘This is absolutely normal,’ the veteran naval officer of Titchfield told The News. ‘With my experience bringing ships out of build, you want the faults to appear now.

‘A car manufacturer will do exhaustive tests on loads of prototype vehicles before they’re ever manufactured. You can’t do that with a warship like this.’

He added: ‘If I had been on board a new warship and nothing went wrong, I would be very, very worried.’

As revealed by The News, Queen Elizabeth ‘lost all propulsion’ for several hours in June, forcing her to anchor off Britannia Royal Naval College for 24 hours while repairs were carried out.

HMS Queen Elizabeth pictured on Friday leaving Portsmouth for her next phase of flight trials with the F-35 off the UK coast. Photo: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

The ship spent an extended period at anchor near Plymouth where further investigations were carried out.

Labour’s shadow defence procurement minister, Stephen Morgan said ‘teething’ problems were to be expected.

But demanding action, the Portsmouth South MP said: ‘When it comes to our national security and the operational capability of our troops, there can be no room for failure.

‘It is imperative that a close eye is kept so that teething issues do not stray into operational failings.’

Speaking last week about why Queen Elizabeth’s delay, a navy spokeswoman said: ‘HMS Queen Elizabeth did not sail today. This will not affect her training programme. We do not discuss ship’s programmes in detail and all ship’s movements are subject to change.’

Job done...homeward bound. One of the tugs pictured returning to Portsmouth Naval Base after guiding HMS Queen Elizabeth from the city's dockyard. Picture: Sue Jones from Southsea

The News has approached the navy for further comment.