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South Korean Naval Power Gets A New Assault Ship

August 10, 2021
Via South Korean media.

In late June the ROK Navy commissioned its newest landing platform helicopter designated LPH-6112. With a flight deck 199 meters long and 31 meters wide the second Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship supports as many as a dozen transport helicopters along with a full battalion of marines. Whether the ROK Navy expects a third and last Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship to join the fleet this decade is uncertain. Even with just two Dokdo-class ships Seoul will have achieved a credible naval deterrent whose assets can participate in multilateral operations beyond the Asia-Pacific. This marks a turning point in Korean history and is a strong indicator that South Korea itself is a regional power.

The amphibious assault ship LPH-6112 commissioned on June 28 and named the “Marado” has multiple improvements over its sibling the ROKS Dokdo. What hasn’t been confirmed is if it will later be repurposed as an aircraft carrier with its own vertical take off fighters, likely the F-35B. Japan’s naval branch took this approach on its Izumo-class “destroyer” that’s expected to receive some of the 42 F-35B’s the US is selling in a massive arms deal for stealth combat aircraft. Yet the ROKS Marado may not receive its full complement of aircraft yet; these are either Blackhawks or Seahawks whose deliveries need to be completed. There’s persistent chatter a few V-22 Ospreys are being offered to the ROK Navy for this ship. Being an amphibious transport, the ROKS Marado’s hull is large enough for up to a dozen AAVs that each carry 25 marines. The vehicles disembark through a ramp at the ship’s stern.

Like many aspects of its military South Korea’s naval strength tends to be overlooked. Its navy is the third largest in East Asia after China and Japan and overmatches North Korea’s maritime branch. The pride of the ROK Navy are its three Sejong the Great-class missile cruisers that ranked as Asia’s most heavily armed warships until China’s PLAN commissioned its Type 055 destroyers. Each of the ROK Navy’s missile cruisers are able to launch retaliatory strikes on North Korea should war break out in the peninsula. When this happens, the cruisers can sail to pre-determined locations beyond the range of North Korean coastal defenses and carry out attacks with their Hyunmoo cruise missiles.

The ROK Navy boast more than 200 surface vessels and 24 diesel-electric submarines. Since the 1990s there has been a deliberate turn away from near shore operations to a genuine blue water fleet with the capacity and range for operations outside the waters surrounding the country. An impressive aspect of the ROK Navy are its marine transports that include two landing platform docks or LPDs, four landing ship tanks or LSTs, and 22 various landing craft for bringing marines to shore. When either of the 14,500 ton Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships are brought into the picture the ROK Navy has the tonnage for sending two fully equipped marine brigades anywhere. By comparison, Japan’s defense ministry is struggling to organize a single brigade that can be sent into combat if an outlying island is threatened with invasion.

On paper, the North Korean naval branch looks impressive but the reality is it’s stuck with an abundance of smaller vessels categorized as either patrol boats or littoral combatants. These might carry impressive armaments such as anti-ship missiles and torpedoes but the vessels’ range inhibit their effectiveness. North Korea’s several dozen aging submarines are just as questionable. The ROK Navy, on the other hand, are large enough and diverse enough to bolster the US Navy should a crisis erupt in the peninsula and, if ordered to, assist in defeating any North Korean aggression.

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