South Korea could build its first aircraft carrier

South Korea could build its first aircraft carrier

military

Following the recent choice of Tokyo, Seoul would have decided in turn to acquire a light aircraft carrier capable of deploying the latest F-35B American fighters. This future ship, which would be put into service before the end of the 2020s, reflects the geopolitical tensions that plague the Asian continent.

South Korea is expected to join the small club of naval air forces by building by the end of the 2020s a ship capable of deploying fighter jets. The news, released Tuesday by the specialized website Defense News, came a few months after Japan’s decision to turn two of its helicopter carriers to allow them to board the American fighter F-35B. By acquiring such ships, Seoul and Tokyo, themselves suspicious of each other, show their muscles in a particularly tense regional context, against the backdrop of China’s military rise and latent nuclear crisis with China. North Korea.

Following the recent choice of Tokyo, Seoul would have decided in turn to acquire a light aircraft carrier capable of deploying the latest F-35B American fighters. This future ship, which would be put into service before the end of the 2020s, reflects the geopolitical tensions that plague the Asian continent.

South Korea is expected to join the small club of naval air forces by building by the end of the 2020s a ship capable of deploying fighter jets. The news, released Tuesday by the specialized website Defense News, came a few months after Japan’s decision to turn two of its helicopter carriers to allow them to board the American fighter F-35B. By acquiring such ships, Seoul and Tokyo, themselves suspicious of each other, show their muscles in a particularly tense regional context, against the backdrop of China’s military rise and latent nuclear crisis with China. North Korea.

“South Korea will launch a new version of a large-deck landing ship from which short take-off and vertical landing aircraft will be able to operate by the end of the 2020s,” writes Defense News. Behind this technical vocabulary, the specialized site refers to the two Dokdo-class helicopter carriers, which also serve as landing craft, already in service in the South Korean Navy. The future aircraft carrier will be an enlarged version (30,000 tons instead of 15,000 of displacement) and adapted from these ships so that it can deploy specific fighters capable of taking off on short runways and landing vertically. . To achieve this, this type of aircraft (called STOVL in English) is usually equipped with an additional reactor, steerable, assisted for takeoff by a springboard installed on the ship. This technique, used since the Cold War, on the other hand consumes kerosene, which reduces the range of action of aircraft and, generally, their ability to carry weapons.

To qualify ships carrying such aircraft, the military favors the name of “aircraft carrier”, that of “aircraft carrier” being reserved only for larger ships, equipped with catapults and strands of stop to deploy different types of aircraft – hunters but also “AWACS” dedicated to surveillance – offering better performance. In this strict sense, only the United States and France, with the Charles-de-Gaulle, actually own aircraft carriers. By extension, however, the term can be used as a more generic term, in which case other countries are part of the club (Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Russia, etc.).

All-out geopolitical tensions

Seoul’s decision to acquire a first aircraft carrier was taken at a senior-level meeting chaired by General Park Han-ki on July 12 as joint chief of staff. Defense News. The ship’s construction was included in a “long-term force building plan,” a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the South Korean equivalent of the state, told the US media on condition of anonymity. -Major of the Armies.

“It’s also a symbolic and significant step to improve the country’s naval capacity against the potential threats posed by Japan and China,” said Kim Dae-young, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Strategy Research. , based in Seoul. While it is widely known that China’s rise to power worries many of its neighbors, the historical dispute between South Korea and Japan, both of which are allied with the United States, is less noticeable in Europe. the opposition between Washington and Beijing is the privileged reading prism. Seoul believes that it has not been sufficiently compensated for Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, despite a treaty to normalize relations in 1965. Japan continues to claim some island territories controlled by Seoul, such as the islands. Dokdo. It is symbolic in this respect that they gave their name to South Korean helicopter carriers. In recent years, the memory and territorial dispute has doubled with trade tensions, with economic sanctions on both sides, and even military incidents. In December 2018, the two countries had accused each other of provocation after a South Korean destroyer had “locked” a Japanese patrol aircraft that was approaching.

Accelerating for several years the pace of modernization of its self-defense forces (officially, Japan has no army since 1945), Tokyo decided last December to transform by 2023 its two helicopter carriers Izumo class in light aircraft carriers and equip them with American fighter F-35B, the only STOVL aircraft currently available on the global arms market. This is the first time since the end of 1945 that the imperial power opposed to the United States during the Pacific War will regain a naval air component within its navy.

For its part, in Seoul in 2014, the United States signed a $ 6.75 billion contract for 40 F-35A (the basic, ground-based version of the fighter), the next weapons plan providing for an order twenty additional devices. Defense News estimates that two scenarios are now under consideration: either South Korea will replace this second order by as many F-35Bs, or the F-35B will be added to it, given that the future planes should allow to deploy 18 of these fighters.

The United States should be pleased to see that, in the future, the air combat effort in the Asian region will no longer rely solely on their own aircraft carriers. And all the more so that Washington is worried about the exponential development of the Chinese navy, which, in just four years, has received in tonnage the equivalent of the entire French Navy. Beijing builds a strong fleet of aircraft carriers. At its first Soviet aircraft carrier, Liaoning, commissioned in 2012, is complemented by a second, similar but modernized ship currently in testing. China is also building two other aircraft carriers, equipped with catapults and one of which could even have a nuclear propulsion, the Graal in naval air, which only Washington and Paris currently have.

This South Korean decision is in any case a clear sign of geopolitical tensions in Asia. While before 2012, no country on this continent (except India and, a bit anecdotal case, Thailand) had aircraft carriers, four of them – Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and New Delhi – could ‘here 2030 align a little dozen. It would be at least as much as those possessed by the four or five naval air forces in Europe. Figures still modest compared to the twenty American aircraft carriers (including ten gigantic nuclear “supercarriers”). It is not trivial either that the British, who will put into service within a few years their new Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, have already planned to deploy them in the South China Sea, dominated by Beijing. The “pivot to the East” described by US strategists since the 1990s is also observed on the seas.

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