Royal Navy's newest warship HMS Prince of Wales to be pushed to the 'limit of carrier operations'

BRITAIN’S biggest warship will be ‘pushed to the limits of carrier operations’ on her next mission, the vessel’s new commander has vowed.

Captain Richard Hewitt took over command of aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales this week, replacing former skipper Captain Steve Higham.

The mighty £3.2bn warship is currently doing two weeks of training off the south coast before she resumes her role as a Nato command ship – in a mission that will take her to the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

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HMS Prince of Wales pictured sailing past the 'Rock' of Gibraltar

And the 65,000-tonne behemoth’s latest voyage will see Prince of Wales operating with a range of hi-tech helicopters and aircraft.

She will also join a warships from across Nato for Spanish-led training and port visits to Spain and Portugal.

Capt Hewitt – who previously commanded Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender – said: ‘Taking command of the largest warship is an honour as we push the limits of aircraft carrier operations.

‘I’m excited to lead this amazing team as we head for exercises in our role as Nato’s command ship.’

Captain Steve Higham, left, pictured handing over command of HMS Prince of Wales to Captain Richard Hewitt

Portsmouth-based Prince of Wales will visit Rota, on Spain’s west coast, before linking up with a multinational task group for Spain’s annual exercises, known as Flotex.

It will involve a large contingent of Spanish ships and will include Nato task groups which are responsible for the security and prosperity of the Mediterranean.

But before heading towards Spain, the naval leviathan will work with the Royal Navy’s new ‘eyes in the sky’ for the first time.

Two Merlin ‘Crowsnest’ helicopters will train alongside the ship ahead of future operations, in which the aircraft will provide protection from aerial threats using its powerful radar to scour the skies for potential foes.

Prince of Wales will also work with the distinctive Osprey tiltrotors, perfecting ways of operating seamlessly with the US Air Force aircraft from RAF Mildenhall.

Two anti-submarine warfare helicopters from Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron will also be training aircrew in operating from the ship as she sails off the south coast, plus Chinooks from the Royal Air Force’s 27 Squadron.

HMS Prince of Wales is currently Nato’s command ship, leading the alliance’s Maritime High Readiness Force – an international task group formed to deal with major global events.

The ship deployed to the Arctic for the largest exercises in the region for 30 years.