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Military undaunted as parliament suspends weapon project

An illustration of a carrier battle group (Navy)
An illustration of a carrier battle group (Navy)
The military is more committed than ever to building the first homegrown light aircraft carrier even though the National Assembly decided to cut the budget for a second straight year, saying more studies are needed to determine if the 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) project is worth the cost.

The Navy, which plans to roll out the seagoing air base by 2033 to supplement its air power against North Korea, asked for 10 billion won this year and 7 billion won next year, but was given 100 million and 500 million, respectively. The project practically ground to a halt.

But the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which is working with the Navy on the project, said the drastic cuts will not affect the program.

“It’s true that the cuts will in some way influence the way we lay the initial groundwork, but we won’t rewrite the time frame. The same goes for all the other smaller projects,” the arms procurement agency said Thursday, referring to efforts to localize key technologies while building the aircraft carrier.

The Navy was more blunt, saying it will do its best to keep the plan in place and use the 500 million won next year to prepare infrastructure and learn how to localize technologies. The Navy did not offer details.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the military is neither ready to oversee the project nor persuasive enough to convince critics who say the aircraft carrier is not a priority.

“Let’s say we really need it now. We’ll have to come up with a more accurate cost-benefit analysis,” Rep. Shin Won-sik of the main opposition People Power Party said. An independent analysis has already taken place but is discredited by some lawmakers.

Shin said he agreed that the weapon would elevate the military’s status, but that the project would be an irresponsible use of government resources since a seagoing air base would require a separate fleet of support vessels, which would incur additional costs to both make and run.

The military has dismissed the concern, saying it has a fleet lineup ready so it would not be draining the government’s finances in the years to come.

But even the ruling Democratic Party lawmakers were wary of the Navy’s proposal, with many saying it was not the best time to grant the military the billions of won it requested. But they did not elaborate on what the “right conditions” would be. 

Korea first discussed building its own aircraft carrier in 1996, but a decadeslong dispute has prevented the Navy from securing the budget. A military official said the Navy would not back down, adding that some money was better than none and that circumstances could change next year.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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