Navy's light aircraft carrier project scuppered again by National Assembly - Korea Times
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Navy's light aircraft carrier project scuppered again by National Assembly

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A computer generated image of an envisioned light aircraft carrier released by the Republic of Korea Navy, Nov. 8. Courtesy of Republic of Korea Navy
A computer generated image of an envisioned light aircraft carrier released by the Republic of Korea Navy, Nov. 8. Courtesy of Republic of Korea Navy

By Jung Da-min

The Republic of Korea Navy's plan to launch a light aircraft carrier development project next year is in serious jeopardy following a major budget cut at the National Assembly.

Although developing indigenous technologies for the carrier was one of President Moon Jae-in's election promises, the military has failed to persuade lawmakers of the necessity of the project. Considering Moon's term ends in May next year, it is uncertain whether the project will be revived under the new administration.

On Tuesday, the Assembly National Defense Committee cut the related budget from the proposed 7.2 billion won ($6.07 million) by 93 percent to 500 million won.

This was the second time the committee cut the budget related to the project. In November 2020, the committee reduced the proposed funding of 10.1 billion won to 100 million won only to be used to conduct research or hold debates on the feasibility of the project. After the failure of its first attempt to launch the project with a basic design process, the Navy reduced the project budget proposal by 30 percent to win the committee's approval, but has suffered another setback.

While at least 4 billion won is needed for the basic design process of the light aircraft carrier, the 500 million won allocated for next year can be used only for data collection and research.

Members of the committee, both from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), have said a careful approach is needed for the project when its necessity has yet to be proven. Rep. Shin Won-sik of the PPP said there has been no consensus on the need for the light aircraft carrier project and further cost analysis is needed.

A computer generated image of a vertical take-off and landing aircraft taking off from an envisioned light aircraft carrier released by the Republic of Korea Navy, Nov. 8. Courtesy of Republic of Korea Navy
A computer generated image of a vertical take-off and landing aircraft taking off from an envisioned light aircraft carrier released by the Republic of Korea Navy, Nov. 8. Courtesy of Republic of Korea Navy

After the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) decided on the need for the project in December 2019, the military has said the country needs to develop its own light aircraft carrier to meet the changing security situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. At a meeting of the defense project promotion committee held in February presided over by Defense Minister Suh Wook, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) had set the basic strategy for the aircraft carrier project, along with a budget of 2.03 trillion won over 12 to 13 years for the design and construction process.

"Including the cost for the procurement of main equipment (meaning fighter jets) to be loaded on the carrier, the total budget of the project could rise to 10 trillion won. We should not hurriedly allocate 7.2 billion won for next year to make the whole thing irreversible," Shin said.

A key point of securing the country's own light aircraft carrier is deploying a vertical take-off and landing aircraft such as the F-35B, along with other rescue and maritime operations helicopters. The carrier would be able to carry up to 20 aircraft.

From the DPK side, Rep. Sul Hoon said that he understands the Navy's strong will to realize the project but the committee believes it is premature to proceed with the project immediately.

The Navy has said it will remain committed to the project, while cooperating with DAPA to supplement and prepare the necessary parts for it.


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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