South Korean shipbuilders unveil competing carrier designs

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BUSAN, South Korea — Two shipbuilders have each displayed their conceptual designs for the South Korean Navy’s future light aircraft carrier, code-named CVX.

The South Korean companies unveiled their offerings at the four-day International Maritime Defense Industry Exhibition, a biennial naval defense show, which began June 9 in the southern port city of Busan.

The MADEX show is taking place four months after South Korea’s arms procurement agency announced the government tentatively earmarked about $2 billion to build a homemade 30,000-ton aircraft carrier to enter service by 2033. The Defense Ministry is conducting a feasibility study of the project for final approval by the National Assembly.

Hyundai Heavy Industries’ model

Hyundai Heavy Industries, which had won a contract for the conceptual design of the CVX last year, unveiled an offering that featured a modular, ski jump-styled takeoff ramp, a key feature akin to the British Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class.

The shipyard displayed a 1-to-400 scale model of its proposed carrier, which would be 270 meters long and 60 meters wide. The carrier, with its twin island superstructures, would have a displacement of 30,000-35,000 tons and a full-load displacement of 450,000-500,000 tons, according to an HHI spokesman.

“This new design suggests a flight deck 30 percent larger than the former design and an optional ski jump ramp over the bow with a view to improve operational capabilities of fighter jets onboard,” the spokesman told Defense News on June 11. “The modular ski jump could be removed and the flight deck could be modified to accept a catapult.”

The carrier would be able to carry up to 16 short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft on its flight deck and a further eight in its hanger, he said. The ski jump-styled takeoff ramp would permit jets without the STOVL capability to more easily launch from the ship. In addition, some 24 helicopters could be flown with the CVX.

The proposed model has an auxiliary deck at the stern for operating small rotary-wing drones and an adapted well deck from which to deploy unmanned surface vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles.

The spokesman revealed his company has a contract with U.K.-based Babcock International for consultancy services related to the basic design of the CVX. Babcock is a member of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, which built both the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth carriers.

HHI will need to rely on British industry once the CVX program progresses, he noted.

“What we have to know now is the technology and know-how for STOVL aircraft operations, but we have yet to have enough information,” he said, referring to the Lockheed Martin-built F-35Bs, which the South Korean military is considering buying. “Unless we get information and sources from the United States on the STOVL aircraft, we will have to get some help alternatively from the United Kingdom, the operator of air aircraft carriers with F-35Bs onboard.”

Information on heat-resistant materials, for instance, is one key area important to operating the F-35B, as the South Korean Navy has little expertise in this technology since neither of its Dokdo-class large-deck landing ships are capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft.

Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering’s model

Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering showcased a 1-to-125 scale model of its CVX proposal, which also features a twin-island arrangement but no ski jump ramp.

Hoping to compete to win a contract in the detailed design phase, DSME displayed a proposed model that has large similarities to the one suggested by the South Korean Navy.

According to the dockyard, the proposed carrier would be 263 meter longs and 46.6 meters wide. It has a full displacement of 45,000 tons with a maximum sailing speed of 27 knots. The carrier would be capable of carrying up to 16 STOVL fighter jets on its flight deck and 12 more in its hanger.

Unlike HHI’s proposed model, DSME offers a flight deck-based carrier featuring anti-drone defense systems, which the shipyard claims would meet maritime strategic needs and operational requirements of the South Korean Navy.

On the first day of MADEX, the shipbuilder signed a memorandum of understanding with Italy’s Fincantieri to assist with the conceptual design for the CVX project.

“Fincantieri will advise DSME based on the expertise gained with the construction of the LHD [landing helicopter dock] ‘Trieste,’ which will be delivered next year to the Italian Navy,” the Italian firm said in a statement, “With this agreement, Fincantieri strengthens its presence in the country, further boosting the relationship with the Republic of Korea.”

Several other companies attending the show also displayed systems related to the CVX.

Hanwha Systems and LIG Nex1, the country’s top two precision weapons makers, each displayed their newer variants of close-in weapon systems. The CIWS-II weapon type is to be installed on the CVX and other future vessels, such as the KDDX destroyer and FFX-III frigate.

Hanwha promoted its Korean Vertical Launcher System, or KVLS, for firing different types of guided weapons, including anti-submarine, anti-air and anti-surface missiles. The KVLS-II, an upgraded variant of the legacy system, is to be fitted aboard the CVX as well as the 6,000-ton KDDX “mini-Aegis” destroyers and 7,600-ton KDX-III Batch 2 destroyers. The system would launch newly developed guided missiles with land-attack and anti-ship capabilities.

General Electric highlighted its integrated, fully electric propulsion technology for the KDDX and the CVX, saying the offering for the KDDX is a first step as the South Korean Navy progresses to a scaled-up IFEP system on the larger CVX.

Rolls-Royce claims it’s the only manufacturer in the world that has provided naval marine gas turbine generators into front-line IFEP-powered destroyers and aircraft carriers. “The Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, due to visit South Korea later this year, combine two MT30 [36-megawatt] gas turbine alternators with four medium speed diesel generators delivering 112 MW of electrical power,” the company said in a statement.



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