This image, provided by the defense ministry on Aug. 10, 2020, shows the envisioned light aircraft carrier South Korea is pushing to secure by 2033. (Ministry of Defense)
The military decided Wednesday to push for a project to acquire a light aircraft carrier in earnest in an effort to boost its defense capabilities, officials said, despite controversy over its effectiveness.
During the closed-door meeting presided over by Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Won In-choul, military leaders also discussed the need to introduce vertical landing jets, according to the officials.
The Navy has sought to build a 3,000 ton-class light aircraft carrier, stressing that the asset is needed to deal with growing threats from all directions in the future. The 2 trillion won ($1.74 billion) project calls for putting the ship into operation around 2033.
But critics and some lawmakers have raised questions about the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of the project, arguing that the deployment of a light aircraft carrier would not be very helpful in boosting the country's defensive capabilities against North Korea.
"The light aircraft carrier project has been one of the military's long-term plans. Upon today's decision, it has now become a mid-term plan and will proceed in earnest," a military official said.
Related agencies will begin to draw up basic strategies and carry out a feasibility test, he added.
Also on the table was the introduction of the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) jets for its envisioned light aircraft carrier.
"The attendees shared the need to acquire VTOL jets. The exact type of VTOL aircraft will be decided later during a related government meeting," another official said.
Wednesday's meeting was also attended by chiefs of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps.
Many say that South Korea's choice would be the F-35B aircraft, as it is the only model that meets the country's requirement. The number of the aircraft to be introduced is expected to hover around 20.
The acquisition of VTOL jets is likely to require an additional 2 trillion won.
Of the 52.8 trillion won defense budget for next year, South Korea earmarked 100 million won for research on the light aircraft carrier project. (Yonhap)