LPX-II Light Aircraft-Carrier
The government is thinking of turning a large multi-purpose transport ship that is already under construction into a light aircraft carrier, Chosun Ilbo reported 11 August 2020. That would make it possible to bring forward the scheduled launch of the carrier from 2033 to 2030. The government may also procure F-35B vertical takeoff/landing aircraft that could be carried by it by that time. The source said the idea reflects President Moon Jae-in’s determination not to be left behind by Japan’s light aircraft-carrier plans. “The Defense Ministry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Navy, and the Air Force are giving serious thought” to the idea, Chosun Ilbo's source said. In case of an attack from the North on South Korea's missile defenses, a light aircraft carrier carrying F-35Bs could stay out of the range of the North's new missiles or rounds from the MRLs and launch a counterattack.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said 07 October 2019 that it would support the construction of a light aircraft carrier by 2033. For its concept design and the development of key technologies, a total of 27.1 billion won [US$22.6 million] was earmarked for 2020.
Korea had previously tried to introduce aircraft carriers, and it was at the time of Kim Young-sang's government [1993-1998]. The KCVX plan was initiated in the early 1990s by the Korean Navy as a pilot shipbuilding order to DSME and Hyundai Heavy Industries to start something. While Korea-Japan relations were cooling due to the announcement of the construction of the Dokdo islets in 1996.
In 1994, Koryo Tong Co., Ltd. purchased Minsk and Novorossisk, the Kiev-class carriers of the former Soviet Union , with 3.7 billion won and 3.4 billion won, respectively, under the name of scrap metal imports. There were problems dismantling Novorossik and Minsk due to pollution problems, and the dismantling found civil society in opposition. During this two-year stay in Korea Minsk had been thoroughly researched and rebuilt, but it is unknown. There is a reason why a group of aircraft carrier plans in the early 90s were called as Kim Young-sam's carrier.
Daewoo Shipbuilding and Hyundai Heavy Industries [HHI] competed in am experimental design competition for a Navy aircraft carrier in 1994. Since the beginning of 1996, the Dokdo conflict with Japan deepened. At that time, the Kim Young-sam administration had established a controversy with Japan regarding the Dokdo friction and past history issues.
Aircraft carrier plans and a model were unveiled at the Seoul Air Show 10 May 1996 [other sources report October 1996]. According to some reports, an aircraft carrier was planned for sometime after 2010, as part of the Strategic Mobile Fleet. In 20 March 2001 ROK President Kim Dae-jung said that South Korea would create a new "strategic mobile fleet" consisting of destroyers, submarines and anti-submarine aircraft. In a speech before graduating midshipmen at the Korea Naval Academy in the southeastern port city of Chinhae, President Kim said, ``We will soon have a strategic mobile fleet that protects state interests in the five big oceans and play a role of keeping peace in the world.''
In 2000 it was estimated that a budget of approximately $ 700 million would be needed by the Republic of Korea Navy for a 35,000-ton aircraft carrier. Korea's Strategic Mobile Fleet could be sent to secure a sea lane in East Asia in the event of a maritime dispute. Currently, the Korean Navy is divided into three sectors -- one each assigned to East, West and South Seas surrounding the southern half of the Korean peninsula. The Strategic Mobile Fleet will take a form of an integrated fleet that can be rapidly deployed into the area of trouble. In this respect, the Strategic Mobile Fleet is a transition from the current coastal navy to the blue water navy. Under prevailing naval doctrines, the presence of an aircraft carrier is pivotal to a blue water navy.
“To cope with potential maritime disputes with neighboring countries, we need to secure aircraft carriers as soon as possible,” Rep. Chung Hee-soo of the ruling Saenuri Party and a member of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, said 11 October 2013 during a confirmation hearing for Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “For more active international peacekeeping operations, our Navy should have carriers.” According to Rep. Chung Hee-soo, as of 2013 the ROK Navy planned to build two 30,000-ton light aircraft carriers between 2028 and 2036. The carrier is to have specifications similar to the Italian aircraft carrier Cavour, which can support about 30 aircraft.
In other words, if the construction cost of the 45,000-ton aircraft carrier is 1.2 trillion won, the cost of purchasing the aircraft to be installed in the aircraft carrier should be at least 3 trillion won, and the maintenance / supply system must be added.
Korea might need three carriers to do all maintenance, training, and operations. If there are two carriers, one carrier must be prepared for training and operation at the same time. Especially, when there is one carrier, it is not possible to put in the mission at all times. France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier in the UK are not enough to use as a single ship when the ship and the troops are fatigued. However, considering the economic power of Korea, more that one aircraft carrier is not realistic.
Korea is not suffering from distant overseas disputes. There is also no area where there is a sharp margin of interest to the extent that large forces should be dispatched. The countries that are going to wage war are all around the Korean peninsula, so Korea can launch aircraft from the peninsula. In addition, some wing squadrons are close to the coast. Since the distance between the neighboring countries and the mainland coastline is shorter than 200km, the Korean Peninsula itself could be used as a runway, so it would be better to have a relatively cheap air tanker instead of expensive carrier.
Seoul plans to have a landing platform helicopter (LPH), a type of light aircraft carrier, in the water in the next 10 years, a government insider told Defense News for an article 23 July 2019. The new ship will have roughly 30,000 tons of displacement - that's roughly the size of the US Navy's Tarawa-class Amphibious Assault Ships (AAS), and twice the size of the Republic of Korea Navy's two existing LPHs.
"The plan of building the LPH-II ship has been included in a long-term force buildup plan," a spokesperson for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told Defense News anonymously. The spokesperson said the decision was reached in a July 12 meeting of South Korean military leaders. "Once a preliminary research is completed within a couple of years, the shipbuilding plan is expected to be included in the midterm acquisition list," the spokesperson noted.
"It's the first time that a light aircraft carrier-class ship is pursued under South Korea's force improvement plans," Kim Dae Young, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told Defense News. "It's also a symbolic and meaningful step to upgrade the country's naval capability against potential threats posed by Japan and China."
The South Korean military on 10 August 2020 unveiled its blueprint for mid-term defense plans for the period 2021 to 2025, which includes a plan to develop light aircraft carriers starting in 2021. The goal was to have them operational after 2026.
South Korean military authorities advanced the deployment of vertical take-off and landing fighters on light aircraft carriers. Although the aircraft type had not been formally determined, there is no vertical take-off and landing fighter aircraft that can replace the F-35B. In fact, it had been decided to purchase 20 F-35Bs. The military authorities will first introduce F-35Bs before putting them into light aircraft carriers. The Air Force, not the Korean Navy, is responsible for training and application. In the United Kingdom, there are cases where the Air Force is solely responsible for carrier-based aircraft.
The South Korean Navy planned to expand the seventh mobile battle group to the mobile fleet in 2025. Leave the territorial waters and protect South Korea’s national interests in the Gulf of Oman, East China Sea and other distant waters. Crude oil and export materials are at the core of maritime interests. The home port of the mobile fleet is Jeju.
The concept map of the South Korean Navy shows that the light aircraft carrier can not only be escorted by the Sejong King-class Aegis destroyers, Chungmugong Yi Sunsin-class destroyers, and Shimsan An Changho-class submarines, but also by the new stealth destroyer KDDX.
The South Korean National Assembly held a plenary meeting on December 2, 2020, and voted to pass the 2021 defense budget of 52.8401 trillion won ($48,000,000,000), an increase of 5.4% year-on-year. However, the South Korean Navy has announced the introduction of planned light aircraft carrier budgets in addition to research labor and holdings. Apart from the 100 million won allocated for the study, there is no other arrangement. According to verification, the Defense Project Agency originally applied for 10.1 billion won ($10,000,000) as a basic design fee for a light aircraft carrier, and the Ministry of Planning and Finance reduced the amount in full on the grounds that “the project feasibility investigation and other procedures have not been conducted”.
Only 100 million won ($90,000 yuan) was approved for study costs. Based on the annual salary of an average Korean young man from 20 million won to 30 million won, it is only enough for three or five people in an office to make up the budget for a year. This budget means that the National Assembly can't afford the South Korean Navy's plan.
In the first half of 2021, the government was formulating a basic strategy to promote the Korean Navy’s light aircraft carrier project and conduct a feasibility review. According to analysis, it can be fully constructed using domestic technology. Its basic design will begin in 2022, and the procedure for building ships will begin in 2026. As early as 2033, it is possible to see the South Korean Navy light aircraft carrier escorting territorial waters.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|