The theme of the seminar, broadcast live on YouTube, was officially dubbed “The core strategic asset of national security, the necessity of light aircraft carriers” . Eight new images showing the LPX-II from various angles (see the gallery below), several infographics and an artist impression of the future “ROK Navy Carrier Strike Group composition” were unveiled.
ROK Navy’s future carrier strike group
The artist impression of the ROK Navy CSG (above) is particularly interesting as it shows the future of the South Korean Navy fleet, with:
- the LPX-II light aircraft carrier,
- two KSS III submarines,
- the KDX III batch 2 destroyer,
- the KDDX destroyer,
- the KDX II destroyer
- ROKS Soyang Fast Combat Support Ship,
The image also shows South Korea’s future naval air assets:
- the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft
- the F-35B STOVL aircraft
- the AW159 Wildcat maritime helicopter
- and a VTOL UAV
Controversy over LPX-II program cost
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) held the 8th Defense Projects Council on the same day. They discussed ways to expand consensus on the construction of LPX-II. However, there is still controversy over the project’s expected astronomical costs. Others argue that a light aircraft carrier may not be the best platform to counter China’s rapid naval expansion.
The ROK Navy however addressed those issues via infographics/Q&A session (see page 2 of this article).
According to Director Jeong Seung-gyun, head of the ROK Navy planning LPX-II has a length of 265 meters, a width of 43 meters for a light displacement of 30,000 tons (probably around 45,000 tons fully loaded). This puts LPX-II in a similar size to that of French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and the U.S. Navy’s America-class which are comparable in size (~43,000 tons full load/261.5 meters and 45,693 tons full load/257 meters respectively).
Q&A with Doctor Kim Jae Yeop
Doctor Kim Jae Yeop is a Seoul-based researcher with Pacific Rim Institute for Strategic Studies (PRINSS). Naval News reached to him to get his opinion and analysis on the latest developments regarding the LPX-II program.
Naval News – In your opinion, why was this seminar organized ? Is the South Korean public hostile to the project ?
Kim Jae Yeop – Not absolutely. But it is true that the situation is quite challenging. First, the proposed initial budget for the program (amounting roughly $10 million), was dismissed by Finance Ministry late last year. In this year’s budget, ROK Navy only secured $100 thousand; for studies on the program such as the recent seminar. And politicians, opposition & even some ruling party members in National Assembly’s Defense Committee, suggest that the program still needs more public consensus.
NavalNews – Where does LPX-II fits in the ROK Navy doctrine ? Surely, deterrence against North Korean aggression can not be the only “raison d’etre” of the project ?
Kim Jae Yeop – When it comes to “just cause” for the program, threat from Pyongyang will be less convincing. The ROK Navy says light aircraft carrier will offer an alternative for dealing with vulnerability of land-based airfields from Pyongyang’s new sophisticated ballistic missiles. But just a dozen of F-35B (even unable to be equipped with air to ground weaponry for internal weapon bay) will not make much of a difference on the threat.
Instead, the reason for LPX-II should be convinced by challenges posed by navies of neighboring powers like China & Japan. And it should be in the context of securing Seoul’s own sea lines of communication at distant maritime domains; rather than offshore nearby Korean Peninsula. Because, when it comes to maritime conflicts around Korean Peninsula, there are already more cost-effective countermeasures; like land- or air-based assets equipped with anti-ship weapons or submarines.
Naval News – With so many ongoing naval projects (KSS III, KDX III Batch 2, KDDX, procurement of F-35B to name a few), will the Ministry of National Defense have enough budget to fund LPX-II ?
Kim Jae Yeop – Korean Defense Ministry believes they can afford LPX-II, because cost of around $2 billion dollar for the project will be proceeded for the next decade; not at once. But, as you pointed out, Korean Navy already seeks a number of major acquisition programs. So, in terms of finances, it’ll be more challenging than Defense Ministry thinks.
Nevertheless, it is important for Korean Navy to put priorities on those major acquisition programs before LPX-II. Because they will be necessary to guarantee strategic value of Korea’s future light aircraft carrier. Without them, LPX-II will be nothing but expensive but vulnerable maritime target; like some critics of the program concern.
Twin island design
The latest design of LPX-II shows a twin island arrangement which is likely the reflection of international cooperation.
In terms of foreign partners, US & UK government and firms are said to be involved. The US will transfer technology for reinforced deck as part of F-35B purchase while the UK has been providing technical and doctrinal advice. As we reported in October 2020, the UK Government and Babcock International, which led the Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier design process, « are said to be actively engaging with their South Korean counterparts ». This likely explains why the latest design of LPX-II shows two islands that look similar to those of the Royal Navy aircraft carriers. For the record, Babcock was already involved in the ROK Navy’s KSS-III large attack submarine program.
About LPX-II program
South Korean shipyard Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was awarded a contract for the LPX-II conceptual design in October 2019. The LPX-II project aims to build a new versatile large-deck landing ship for short take-off and vertical landing fighter jets.
HHI was expected to finish the conceptual design by the second half of 2020, with commissioning with Republic of Korea Navy planned for the early 2030s. The vessel, displacing around 40,000 tons (30,000 tons initially but recent DAPA references to the project mention the higher figure) would be based on the existing Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship (LPX-I project) but without a well deck, focusing on air operation (in a similar way to the LHA class of the U.S. Navy). It would be able to accommodate around 20 F-35B STOVL fighters. On 30 December 2020, details for South Korea’s LPX-II light aircraft carrier were finalized and the necessary budget was officially allocated in the 2020~2024 Mid-Term Defense Plan (국방중기계획).
The ballistic missile defense (BMD) capable multi function radar (MFR) being developed for Korea’s nextgen destroyer (KDDX) will reportedly equip LPX-II. The latest infographics shared by the ROK Navy shows that the LPX-II will feature a new CIWS currently under development, K-SAAM surface to air missiles and LIG Nex1 SLQ-261K Torpedo Acoustic Counter Measure (TACM) system.
In addition to the F-35B, South Korea’s light aircraft carrier will also deploy the future Marine Attack Helicopters of the ROK Marine Corps, for which there is an upcoming competition between local company KAI (with the Surion MAH), Bell Helicopters (with the AH-1Z) and Boeing (with the AH-64 Apache). All three companies were showcasing their solutions at ADEX 2019.