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HMS Prince of Wales arrives in Spain ahead of NATO workout

Britain’s biggest warship has arrived in Spain ready for key exercises in the Mediterranean and Atlantic as NATO’s command ship.

Aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales is currently the lead vessel in NATO’s Response Force – which can be deployed anywhere at short notice to react to world events – and has stopped in Rota on Spain’s west coast ahead of joint training led by Spain. 

The warship will be at heart of a multinational task force, but will first stop in the Bay of Cadiz port to prepare for the forthcoming exercises, as well as welcoming visitors, while adventurous training will be laid on for sailors, including cycling, kayaking, football and golf.

Captain Richard Hewitt, who only took command of the Portsmouth-based strike carrier last month, said: “Taking command of HMS Prince of Wales while at sea, and sailing to Rota, to meet up with our Spanish allies, highlights our enduring commitment to NATO and our allies.  

“Continuing HMS Prince of Wales journey as the NATO command ship for 2022 by operating with our Spanish allies emphasises that as an alliance, NATO continues to operate in defence of its citizens and territory.”

It’s the second visit by a Royal Navy aircraft carrier to Rota in a year; HMS Queen Elizabeth stopped there during her global Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment. 

Prince of Wales will be involved in Spanish-led exercises – known as Flotilla Exercise 22, which will see navies from five nations test their ability to react to crises together over the coming weeks. 

It will involve a large contingent of Spanish warships plus NATO task groups (Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2) which are responsible for the security and prosperity of the Mediterranean region. 

It comes as NATO’s annual Baltic exercise begin, which includes seven Royal Navy ships led by Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender. 

Before heading to Spain, HMS Prince of Wales worked with the Royal Navy’s new ‘eyes in the sky’ for the first time. 

Two Merlin ‘Crowsnest’ helicopters trained 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.

The distinctive-looking helicopter – a large radar dome or ‘bag’ sticks out from the fuselage, earning the aircraft the affectionate nickname of ‘baggers’ – provides airborne surveillance and the control of other aircraft (known as ASaC) for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.

Iconic Osprey tiltrotors also made an appearance on the ship, 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 also trained aircrew in operating from the ship as she sails off the South Coast, plus Chinooks from the Royal Air Force’s 27 Squadron.

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