To better defend its interests overseas, the Republic of South Korea plans to build the first aircraft carrier in the history of its navy. The ship should be launched by the end of the decade.

Back in October 2019, a contract was awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) to build an “amphibious assault ship”, slightly larger than the already-existing two Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) ships of the Dokdo class. 

Since then, the South Korean Ministry of Defense seems to have scaled up its ambitions. In its 2021-25 defense plan, it presented the LPX-II, a project of “light aircraft carrier”, expected for 2033.

The change of mind is eerily similar to the Japanese decision to convert its two Izumo class helicopter carriers, the largest in the Japanese navy since the Second World War, in order for them to carry STVOL aircraft such as the carrier-capable Lockheed Martin F-35B.

On August 5, 2020, it was announced that the government started procedures for the procurement of STVOL aircraft. It seems highly likely that the Korean navy will also pick the F-35B, as the country’s air force already operates the aircraft in its conventional variant. Forty F-35As were ordered to replace the aging fleet of F-5 Tiger, for a contract valued at $6.5 billion. The ROKAF should receive them all by 2021.

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During an event marking the 71st anniversary of the South Korean Armed Forces, several F-15K fighter jets flew a patrol over the disputed islands of Dokdo (or Takeshima in Japan), causing an official protest from Japanese officials.