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Navy reaffirms commitment to aircraft carrier project

An illustration of a carrier battle group (Navy)
An illustration of a carrier battle group (Navy)
An aircraft carrier will strengthen South Korea’s naval power at a relatively affordable price, the Navy said Wednesday, amid controversy surrounding its 2 trillion-won ($1.8 billion) project to build the first aircraft carrier by 2033.

“The homegrown weapon will rein in North Korea’s aggression and will put us at advantage in the event of conflict. It will help advance our interests in peacetime,” a senior Navy official said at a briefing.

The official said Seoul needs the carrier because its air bases will be Pyongyang’s priority for attack should war break out. In that scenario, an aircraft carrier would supplement the South’s crippled air power, he said, adding the seagoing air base will have a better chance of survival from hostile fire at sea.

Critics have said a carrier battle group will not be able to help project air power because it will lack a sufficient number of advanced destroyers, attack submarines and frigates to protect the carrier.

The official downplayed the concern, saying the Navy maintains enough escort ships and that it is planning to introduce next-generation warships by mid-2030s that have radar-evading stealth properties.

The official also said the project would not drain the military’s budget, noting the costs would be spread out over the next decade so the Navy would not face fiscal constraints.

“Rather the project will help stimulate the defense industry because we’re building on local technologies,” he said, pointing to other weapons projects involving battle tanks and attack helicopters that cost about the same or more.

He added, “The maintenance costs will not be a high expense burden because it will make up less than 1 percent of the Navy’s annual budget.”

The Navy’s budget for this year is $7.1 billion.

The Navy said the aircraft carrier will not be nuclear-powered, though it said it will review that option after 2045. That will be when the Navy will discuss revamping its warship lineup, the official said.

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