Daehan Lee story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
According to DSME, their CVX is 45,000 tons with a crew complement of 1,400 sailors and maximum sailing speed of 27 knots. It features a flat deck unlike the ski-jump-based aircraft carrier proposed by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).
A Senior Engineer from HHI commented that the DSME is actually 38,000 tons because DSME wrote the loaded displacement tonnage, but DSME’s Principal Engineer and General Manager emphasized practicality of the CVX construction, noting that its carrier model reflects maritime strategic needs and requirements that the ROKN has demanded to shipyards. Following interviews with the ROK Navy and DSME, the Korean Navy’s demands include both helicopters and fixed wong operations, and space efficiency without a ski-jump to load more jets and helicopters onboard.
The manager and engineer of DSME expected that its CVX could accommodate 12 and 16 jets respectively in its hangar and on the flight deck. Similar to HMS Queen Elizabet with her characteristic two ‘islands’ design (the bridge located forward and the flyco for flight operations aft). The carrier could operate the other bridge as a back-up in case of emergency when one of the two bridges is compromised, according to the Principal Engineer.
DSME told Naval News that two CIWS (close-in weapon system) will be fitted aboard CVX. One will be installed at the stern and one at the bow of the carrier, along with localized anti-air KVLS (Korean Vertical Launching System) system behind the second island, at the stern. It was also confirmed by the General Manager that DSME was provided with technical aide from British company Babcock and Italian company Fincantieri during the initial design phase of the carrier, especially in finding solutions to connect aircrafts onboard with the mother ship.
On the first day of MADEX 2021, a Memorendum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between DSME and Fincantieri for support to the conceptual design for the CVX project. Talking to Naval News, Italian Navy Admiral Dario Giacomin, Vice Secretary General of Defence and Vice National Armament Director said:
“Italy is a leading country in the defense sector, Italian shipyards are cutting hedge for major surface combatants ships (like DDX and FFG) submarines and submarine rescue ships, logistic support ships) and in particular in the projecting and building light aircraft carrier. Italy is the only nation that built 3 different carriers in the last 30 years. ITS Cavour recently completed the carrier qualification in the US for operating F35B. ITS Trieste (currently under final construction phase) is already fit and ready for F35B.
Fincantieri is the italian defence shipyard Champion, made and makes this possible with a state of art project capability and outstanding construction skills. All in full and strict cooperation and sinergy with the Italian Navy”
The ROKN explained that types of helicopters for a planned carrier have not been decided yet, but DSME showed confidence that its proposed CVX can load any helicopters available such as Wildcat, Marine One, MH-60R etc. Both DSME and the Korean Navy denied the ongoing speculation that there has been a request to convert the KFX (Korean Fighter eXperimental) prototype, KF-21 for the CVX, because it is currently land-based and would substantially require more time for such a change and development of proper engines. They also flatly expressed budgetary concerns when asked if there is a possibility of increasing the carrier tonnage. However, another representative from the DSME booth implied that the ROKN and the shipbuilding industries started working on the blueprint of light aircraft carriers first to acquire technical basis and operational capabilities, even though they already found out in their research in 2015 that a mid-sized CVX would be more efficient to operate aircrafts.
DSME concluded by stressing that its CVX blueprint meets maritime needs of the ROK Navy by enabling not only flight operations, but also amphibious assaults based on support of helicopters, emphasizing its competitiveness while pointing out that HHI’s proposed carrier lacks key function for future warfares: anti-drone system (the DSME design features anti-drone defense systems), the number of helicopter spots (only 6 compared to 9 in the DSME design), with arguably wrong location of phased array radar under the wheelhouse of the bridge, which could hinder detection of inbound hostile aircrafts.