Daehan Lee story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur.
ROKS Marado has a light displacement of 14,800 tons (19,000 tons full load displacement). It has a length of 200 meters, a beam of 31 meters and a draft of 6.6 meters. The ship has a crew complement of 330 sailors and is capable of carrying 720 marines, 6 MBTs, 7 KAAVs, 2 LCACs, and 7 to 12 helicopters such as the MUH-1s and recently selected MAH helicopters.
It is armed with 4 KVLS cells that launch a total of 16 K-SAAM (surface-to-air missiles) Sea Bow, and 2 Phalanx Block 1Bs close-in weapon systems (CIWS). It also features K-Dagaie NG decoy launching systems with new generation decoys (SEALEM and SEALIR) by Lacroix. Key components and equipment for propellers and elevator have also been localized. By carrying out reinforcement work for the side of Marado, the ship is now capable to bear the load of 60 tons (previously 25 tons). This is likely linked to the ability of Marado to accommodate the V-22 Osprey (unlike Dokdo).
Compared to ROKS Dokdo, ROKS Marado benefits from significantly improved anti-air and flight systems. ROKS Marado flight deck can accommodate the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft. The flight control (FLYCO) tower’s design was changed and its location moved from the front to the rear of the island. Marado features an improved anti-air radar too: It is the fixed EL/M-2248 MF-STAR AESA multifunction surveillance radar produced by Israeli company Elta Systems, which substituted the previous SMART-L multibeam radar by Thales.
In terms of weapon systems, Marado adopted Raytheon’s Phalanx instead of 30mm Goalkeeper fitted aboard Dokdo. It changed the location of the CIWS in the stern, placing it on the upper side. Stark differences come from its localized combat system, such as the LIG Nex1’s SPS-550K 3D air and surface surveillance radar which is also used by Incheon and Daegu-class frigates, not the previous MW-08. Also, Infrared Ray Search and Target (IRST) equipment, SAQ-600K, has been placed to alternate Vampir-MB optronic sight. Defensive guided missiles to intercept anti-ship missiles, Sea Bow (K-SAAM), can be launched from the Korean Vertical Launching System (KVLS) instead of the Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM). As the Navy did with Marado’s FLYCO tower, KVLS was also moved to the rear of the superstructure. Improvement of the combat system doubled the number of maximum engagement targets.
The keel laying ceremony for Marado was held at Hanjin Heavy Industries in Busan, on April 28th in 2017, and the launching ceremony took place on May 14th in 2018. Sea trial started in 2019, followed by the installation of the CIWS 20mm Phalanx and the MF-STAR anti-air radar in the first half of 2020. Marado was fully built in July 2020. The performance of the Israeli radar was proved until April in 2021 with support of aircrafts from the Navy and Air Force. Takeoff and landing tests of amphibious helicopters (MUH-1 and UH-60) were successfully completed in May this year, along with the final coat of paint on the ship.
The ROKN will officially deploy LPH Marado after a series of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) tests for its crews from July to December this year. Its home port will be Jinhae. In 2022, the ROKN possessing two Amphibious Assault Ships (Dokdo and Marado) will consider deploying them to the annual training, called MIDCRU (Midshipman Cruising). Additionally, local media reported that the Navy is considering using it as a host ship to welcome the British Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth that will visit the ROK Fleet Command in Busan in August and September 2021.