South Korea is set to launch a new project to build a ship on which short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft such as the F-35B stealth jets it is seeking to buy, can be operated.
The decision to build the carrier-type vessel, expected to be operational by late 2020s, was taken on July 12.
“The plan of building the Landing Platform Helicopter-II (LPH-II) ship has been included in a long-term force build-up plan,” spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted as saying by Defense News on Tuesday.
“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 spokesman added.
Other than building the LPH-II ship, Seoul is also working to convert two Izumo-class helicopter destroyers to light aircraft carriers for STOVL jets by 2023.
Interestingly, South Korea has been studying the purchase of F-35B fighters. The results of the pilot study, being conducted by a state-funded research institute are expected in September this year.
“The study weighs in on two options to replace the order of F-35As with F-35Bs, and buy 20 more F-35s additionally,” a defense procurement source said.
Seoul has already bought 40 F-35As for $6.75 Billion in 2014. Inking another deal for 20 units of F-35B STOVL fighters will take the new total to 60.
The light aircraft carrier-class ship is expected to have a displacement of 30,000 tonnes, or more than double the capacity of its predecessors- Dokdo and Marado. It is likely to have a ski jump-style launch ramp.
“The new ship is expected to accommodate 16 STOVL aircraft, 3000 marines and 20 armoured vehicles,” the source said.
“Pursuing the idea of building a light aircraft carrier-class ship is a symbolic and meaningful step to upgrade the country’s naval capability against potential threats posed by Japan and China,” Kim Dae-young, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said.
Earlier today, two Chinese and three Russian military aircraft reportedly “violated” South Korean airspace, following which, two fighters belonging to the country were scrambled to intercept and fire warning shots at the aircraft.