Conservative S. Korean lawmaker argues against Defense Ministry’s plan for acquiring light aircraft carriers

Posted on : 2020-08-26 17:49 KST Modified on : 2020-08-26 17:49 KST
Shin Won-sik of UFP calls project “waste of money”
A conceptual model of the light aircraft carrier the Ministry of National Defense plans on acquiring, released on Aug. 10. (provided by the South Korean Navy)
A conceptual model of the light aircraft carrier the Ministry of National Defense plans on acquiring, released on Aug. 10. (provided by the South Korean Navy)

A National Assembly member said on Aug. 25 that the recent plan announced by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to introduce a light aircraft carrier would “cost 30 to 40 trillion won [US$25.29-33.71 billion] in total composition and management,” arguing that it was a “waste of money to devote such a massive amount of funds to military equipment that is not directly related to South Korea’s national security threats.”

In a meeting of the National Assembly National Defense Committee that day, United Future Party (UFP) lawmaker Shin Won-sik emphasized the project’s enormous price tag.

“The light aircraft carrier alone would cost 5 trillion won [US$4.2 billion], including 1.8 trillion won [US$1.52 billion] to build the carrier and 3-4 trillion won [US$2.53-3.37 billion] to acquire aircraft for it,” he said. In its Aug. 10 announcement of an intermediate-term national defense plan for 2020-2025, the MND said it planned to “pursue a 30,000-ton light aircraft carrier project beginning next year.”

The MND reportedly plans to integrate the carrier -- which is to be capable of carrying around 10 aircraft on its deck -- by the early to mid-2030s.

Shin, a former army lieutenant general and chief of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained, “To put a light aircraft carrier to sea, you would need two or three Aegis-equipped destroyers and next-generation escort ships to protect it from enemy guided missile attacks.”

“You’d also need at least one nuclear-powered submarine capable of coordinated maneuvers with a fast-traveling light aircraft carrier fleet. All of those things together would cost 12 trillion won [US$10.1 billion] at the very least, if you add on management and maintenance costs it will cost 30-40 trillion won,” he predicted.

Aircraft carriers are unrelated to S. Korea’s immediate national security threats

“Our primary security threats are North Korean nuclear weapons, missiles, and long-range artillery. I’m not sure whether we need to be pouring such an enormous amount of money into something unrelated to our immediate security demands,” he said.

Responding to the MND’s argument that a light aircraft carrier is needed to “protect open sea maritime transportation routes,” Shin said, “Open sea maritime transportation routes are an issue to be resolved through diplomacy.”

Noting that “maritime transportation routes like the Strait of Malacca or Strait of Hormuz have never once been sealed off,” he argued that “the way to protect those open sea maritime routes is not through military force, but through the South Korea-US alliance and through diplomatic cooperation with our Asian neighbors.”

Shin stressed that “South Korea’s national security threats are neighboring countries and North Korea. It’s been that way for the 5,000-year history of the Korean people.”

“We might need an aircraft carrier fleet if we had security threats across the sea in places like India or Australia, but there’s no likelihood of that happening,” he added, urging the defense minister to “get beyond the requests of the different armed forces and re-examine these excessive security demands.”

In response, Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo explained, “A light aircraft carrier is military equipment to prepare for the next 30 to 50 years. We need to start preparing now.”

“If we proceed with the project, it could end up taking at least 13 to 15 years or longer, so the annual investment is something we can accommodate within the scope of our national defense budget,” he said.

By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer

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