South Korea Builds Out Its Aegis Fleet

By SLD Team

Given the South Korean decision to buy F-35s, another decision has been taken to add more Aegis ships.

If the South Koreans integrate the two, they can create what one might call the “long reach of Aegis.”

 As the Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, integrating it with Aegis will provide a powerful capability for the United States and its allies. Because significant numbers of our partners are in the Aegis-deployed fleet, several joint Aegis and F-35 allies are likely in the Pacific.

The administration of Barack Obama has placed a great deal of emphasis on continuing the upgrade path for the Aegis ballistic-missile-defense program. By canceling the George W. Bush–era missile-defense program in Europe, de facto the administration highlighted its commitment to Aegis as a key element for global missile defense. However, the program’s evolution depends on a continuing commitment of increasingly scarce resources to testing and applying the results to the concurrent development and manufacturing program.

Upcoming tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradable weapon systems. Combining Aegis with the F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. Together, the F-35 and Aegis greatly expand the defense of land and sea bases.

According to a December 11, 2013 South Korean press report, the South Koreans have decided to plus up the Aegis fleet.

Korea’s military approved a plan yesterday to double the number of its Aegis destroyers from three to six in order to bolster Korea’s Navy. The move comes on the heels of mounting regional security concerns.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yun-hee yesterday presided over a meeting, in which the military agreed to build three additional 7,600- ton Aegis destroyers, to be commissioned between 2023 and 2027.

The project is set to cost an estimated 4 trillion won ($3.8 trillion).

“The decision to increase our Aegis vessels by three was also influenced by a request from the defense committee at the National Assembly,” Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense, said yesterday at a briefing. “Additional Aegis vessels are needed in order to more effectively maneuver our mobile fleets and strengthen our military.”

Kim added that the Navy currently has three Aegis vessels, with one operational, one on stand-by and one under maintenance. That puts a great burden on the three ships, he said, making for “a very busy” operation schedule – a point considered in the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting.

Korea currently has three 7,600-ton KDX-III warships – Sejong the Great, the Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong and the Yulgok Yi I – built by Hyundai Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.

The new Aegis vessels would have upgraded antisubmarine capabilities to be able to detect and shoot down ballistic missiles, conduct accurate strikes and defend the region, said a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman. This takes “into consideration North Korea’s nuclear and missile weapons, enemy submarine attacks and other unexpected threats and local provocations.”

Over the past year, the military discussed expanding the number of its Aegis destroyers, but the plan became more urgent after China last month unilaterally declared its new East China Sea air defense identification zone, which incorporates areas claimed by Korea and Japan.

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