South Korea’s Navy has requested permission to build three new Aegis destroyers, an unnamed military official told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.
“The Navy made a request for three additional Aegis ships to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) a year ago,” the source said, Yonhap reported. “The JCS will discuss the plan in a meeting slated for next month.”
The report said the ships were expected to cost 3 trillion won (US$2.8 billion). If the plan is approved, construction of the ships would begin between 2020 and 2025.
Yonhap went on to say that the South Korean Navy cited the threats from North Korea as well as the ongoing territorial dispute between Japan and China to justify the need for the ships.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy already operates three 7,600-ton Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers, the Sejong the Great Class (Sejongdaewang Class)/KDX-III. They were jointly produced by the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin and South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries. The first ship, Sejong the Great (DDG 991), was launched in May 2007. It was followed by Yulgok Yi I (DDG 992) in November 2008 and the Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (DDG 993) in June 2011.
In 2006 Lockeed and Hyundai Heavy Industries signed a memorandum of understanding to build mid-size warships equipped with Aegis for export. The MOU was not made public until 2009.
According to Naval Technology, the KDX-III is nearly identical in design to the Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, except for a longer hull. It is the largest surface ship in the world to carry the Aegis-system. The same source says that the KDX-III has an “overall length of 165m, beam of 21m and draft of 6m,” and is used in “conventional naval warfare, anti-submarine warfare and anti-air warfare operations.”
Arguably South Korea’s biggest need for the KDX-III is to counter the missile threat posed by North Korea. The Aegis system technically allows the ship to engage multiple missiles simultaneously and serves as an important part of Seoul’s evolving missile defense system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), against its northern neighbor.
According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report issued earlier this year, however, South Korea’s destroyers currently have Aegis radar tracking software but no interceptors. In June it was reported that the ROK Navy plans to outfit the destroyers with Raytheon’s Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) systems by 2016.
Last month Yonhap reported that South Korea is looking at upgrading the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-III capability it is pursuing by purchasing Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems.
South Korea has been under quiet but intense pressure from its U.S. ally to contribute to the U.S.-led missile defense system in the Asia-Pacific. It has resisted these efforts mainly out of concern that such a move would antagonize China, which is South Korea’s largest trading partner. Beijing fears that the U.S. missile defense system is aimed at negating its missile capabilities.
The ROK and U.S. have established a task force to review South Korea’s missile defense needs. A report on the task force's findings is expected in early 2014.