The centrepiece of the training task group is the ROKN’s new helicopter training and casualty receiving ship ROKS Hansando (ATH-81) which is on its inaugural training cruise. Prior to its commissioning in 2021, destroyers formed the basis of ROKN training task groups, which have traditionally deployed on an annual basis. Like with previous instances, this year’s deployment is supported by a fast combat support ship, in this case, ROKS Daecheong (AOE-58) commissioned in 1997.
The Defence relationship between Australia and the Republic of Korea, particularly in the land domain, has massively expanded in recent years with the procurement of the AS10 Huntsmen and the evaluation of the AS21 Redback by the Australian Army. Now, it appears, Korea is attempting to break into the challenging Australian naval market.
Earlier this year, at an event in Canberra, representatives of the Korean government boldly pitched the KSS Batch-II design to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as an alternative to the Collins class Life of Type Extension (LOTE). Compared to LOTE, Korean officials reportedly promised, the first KSS Batch-II could be delivered within seven years of signing a contract while providing greater range and operational flexibility. Uniquely among western conventional submarines, the KSS Batch-II are equipped with facilities to support submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), space which could likely be adapted for emerging hypersonic weapons systems or standard vertical launch system (VLS) cells.
It’s worth stating that, at this point in time, the RAN and the Australian Department of Defence maintain that there will not be a capability gap between the phase-out of the Collins class and the introduction of whatever eventuates from AUKUS in the early 2040s. This claim has, however, been disputed by several experts who argue that the simple age of the Collins class places a limit on further modernisation.
Korea is hardly the only submarine manufacturer looking at the Australian situation and sensing a possible opportunity. Saab, who designed the Collins class, has been quite publicly spruiking their long-range A26 submarine to the RAN. Despite the collapse of the original Attack class program, French President Macron reportedly raised the prospect of building up to four such vessels for the RAN during a July meeting.