AEGIS AWD + LHD… for ROK
Australia isn’t the only Pacific Rim country looking to modernize its Navy these days. China’s rapid shipbuilding program and work on its aircraft carrier project gets a lot of attention – but just to the east, South Korea is fielding its own AEGIS-equipped “air warfare destroyer,” while picking up new capabilities via a new class of amphibious assault LHD ship. Sound familiar? Hobart and Canberra Class, meet the KDX-III King Sejong Class AEGIS destroyer (launched May 2007) and the new “LPH” Dokdo Class LHD (commissioned July 2007).
The 199-meter, 18,860-ton Dokdo Class officially has the less aggressive designation of LPH (landing platform, helicopter), but its well deck and amphibious assault capabilities place it in the LHD category…
The Dokdo Class can carry up to 720 troops, plus a mix of helicopters, tanks/armored vehicles, and wheeled vehicles. Transport to shore is accomplished via landing ships or LCAC hovercraft. The Dokdo Class is only 2/3 the size of Australia’s new Canberra Class, and just over 1/3 the size of the USA’s Wasp Class; but Dokdo is the largest ship in the South Korean Navy.
These ships will carry Thales’ SMART-L long range 3 dimension search radar, with a detection and tracking range of 400 km/ 240 miles. For defense, they will rely on a combat system from the Samsung Thales Corp. joint venture, which controls SeaRAM guided missile system, 2 Thales “Goalkeeper” 30mm CIWS systems, and various decoying systems. Support from Korea’s new frigate-sized KDX-II destroyers and KDX-III King Sejong Class AEGIS destroyers will also be essential.
There has been media speculation that the Dokdo Class is in fact a light aircraft carrier, citing the ability to install a ski jump and operate V/STOL Harriers or STOVL F-35B Lightnings from its deck. America’s 42,000 ton Wasp Class LHDs are used in this manner, and it would be possible from Australia’s Canberra Class as well. The smaller size of the Dokdo Class, however, means that using the ship in this way would get one very few fighters, while sacrificing most of the ship’s carrying capacity to achieve even that. Aircraft require a lot of space below-decks, and so does their fuel and weapons storage. South Korea’s prime focus remains North Korea, and aerial cover for amphibious operations a la Inchon can easily be supported from land bases. Meanwhile, international operations featuring Korean LHDs would need Korean helicopters far more than they’d need Korean fighters.
Circumstances can change; but Korea’s Ministry of Defence has stated that they have no plans to operate fighter aircraft from these ships, and military logic makes this a believable assertion. This is not to say that offensive fixed wing aircraft will never operate from Dokdo. Only that they’re far more likely to be UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper, rather than supersonic fighters.
The Dokdo Class ship ROKS Marado was scheduled to enter service by 2010, but that hasn’t happened yet. Its name commemorates the southernmost point that is commonly thought of as both the ending and beginning point of Korea. The 3rd ship of class will be named after Baengnyeong Island, which is located in the Yellow Sea near the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) with North Korea. Up to 4 ships of class are planned.
Contracts and Key Events
April 13/09: Samsung Thales Corp’s senior vice president, Byun Seung-wan, is quoted by Defense News as saying that Dokdo’s combat system is drawing regional interest:
“Some Southeast Asian countries have shown interest in one developed for the South Korean Navy’s 14,000-ton Dokdo Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH 6111) vessel commissioned in 2007, he said.”
The article also traces STC’s growth as a global developer of naval and land combat and battlefield management systems.
July 3/07: The ROKS Dokdo is handed over to the Navy in a ceremony. KOIS report.
Note that the name Dokdo is politically significant, referring to a set of islands whose territorial claim is disputed with Japan. The Korean perspective on Dokdo/Takeshima may be found here. Unsurprisingly, Japan filed a diplomatic protest over the name back in 2005. Asian countries tend to have civilization confidence, however, and the Korean reply was rude.
Additional Readings & Sources
- KBS “News in Zoom” – Asia’s Largest Landing Ship-LPX, “Dokdo”
- GlobalSecurity.org – LP-X Dokdo (Landing Platform Experimental) Amphibious Ship
- ‘Manoeuvre’ in Maritime Asia (April 22/08) – ADD Naval Weapons Arm to Develop UAV’s? They seem to be interested in UAVs that can take off and land in 200m. Which happens to be the size of the Dokdo Class’ flight deck.