South Korea is expanding its maritime ambitions above and below the surface with news that it is moving ahead to build an aircraft carrier and the news that it test-fired a home-grown submarine launched ballistic missile. Both moves appear designed to counter the threat from North Korea and as a counterweight to China’s ambitions in the region.
The country announced in early September that Babcock International Group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hyundai Heavy Industries to develop South Korea’s CVX Aircraft Carrier Program. Babcock already has a substantial presences in the country through investment in an assembly, maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in Busan, where Babcock currently assembles equipment for a growing number of South Korean naval programs.
John Howie, Babcock group’s chief corporate affairs officer, signed the MoU on behalf of the company with Sam-Hyun Ka, CEO, Korean Shipbuilding and Offshore Engineering (KSOE), the holding company of HHI at the Babcock Korea Limited facility in Busan. “As a lead partner within the Aircraft Carrier Alliance that designed, built and delivered the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers for the UK, we are delighted to be able to sign this Memorandum of Understanding with HHI. Babcock has the proven capabilities to deliver large scale complex programmes and by affirming our already strong relationship with Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilder, our collaborative and complementary skills and expertise can deliver a cutting-edge sovereign Aircraft Carrier capability to the Republic of Korea,” Howie said. “Through our growing in-country business, continued long-term investment in our facility in Busan and collaboration with key partners both in Korea and internationally, Babcock is committed to supporting Korean industry in delivering the CVX Aircraft Carrier Programme for the Republic of Korea. We look forward to continuing to work closely with all stakeholders and partners involved in this effort.”
In June, Hyundai Heavy unveiled the latest model of the light aircraft carrier developed with Babcock. The model enhanced aircraft operational capabilities with a design of a ski jumping platform, while applying an integrated combat system using unmanned aircrafts and vessels. South Korea’s Navy has been pushing the CVX as a core project that was expected to cost about 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion) in total. The Navy is scheduled to complete the project by 2033 with a plan to order the basic design next year. Hyundai Heavy is competing with Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. for the project.
“Partnering with Babcock will facilitate the integration of advanced technology onto HHI’s aircraft carrier,” said William Davies, associate defence analyst at GlobalData, a data and analytics company. “Babcock was a lead partner within the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, which designed and built the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth-Class (QEC) carriers currently in service. There are two significant design similarities between the HHI potential design and the QEC – the notable ski jump and signature twin-island design. South Korea is likely to increase its spending in the coming years to counter a number of threats, and its acquisitions budget will be increasing significantly – allowing it to make large purchases including its forthcoming aircraft carrier. The development of an aircraft carrier and increase in overall military spending will enable (South Korea) to project greater regional power. While South Korea’s greatest threat has historically been North Korea, China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and increasing hostility between the US and China means that greater military capability will be needed.”
GlobalData said it expects South Korean defence expenditures to increase to US$60 billion by 2026 from the current US$43.7 billion.
Meanwhile, South Korea media reported Tuesday (7 September) that it had successfully test-fired a homegrown submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a new submarine to become the world’s eighth country to possess the weapon. The Agency for Defense Development (ADD) carried out underwater ejection tests of the SLBM from the Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine last week after successful launches from an underwater barge last month. The locally developed 3,000-ton class submarine is equipped with six vertical launch tubes. After a round of additional tests, the SLBM will be mass produced for deployment. The SLBM is believed to be a variant of the country’s Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, with a flight range of around 500 kilometres, and will be fitted with conventional warheads, according to the sources. The missile has reportedly been codenamed, Hyunmoo 4-4.
South Korea became the eighth country in the world to develop an SLBM after the United States, Russia, Britain, France, India, China and North Korea.
“South Korea has joined an elite league of nations to possess a SLBM, making it the eighth to officially do so,” said Mathew George, Ph.D., the aerospace and defence practice head at GlobalData. “While the country has not officially confirmed the development, news agencies from the country suggest that the country was able to successfully launch the SLBM from an underwater barge with a range of 500 kilometres. It is a natural progression for South Korea to follow after limits on its missile program were removed by the Biden administration. The country is now in the process of developing its technologies to maturity.
“South Korea has not shied away from investing its own military and defence technologies, and has now emerged as a serious defence exporter. However, the development of SLBMs by South Korea will not result in a renewed arms race in the region. Also, the increased spending is not aimed solely to counter the advances made by them. At the most, a likely test launch from the North Koreans can be witnessed as a message to South Korea. South Korea’s Ministry of Defense has reiterated the official position of securing advanced military assets to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula. We expect to see further reports of milestones in several programs presently under development in South Korea including those on autonomous unmanned systems and the KF-21 Boramae fighter aircraft.”