The future South Korean aircraft carrier could be much larger than expected, and equipped with catapults

The least we can say is that the South Korean aircraft carrier program does not lack twists and turns. In October 2019, the South Korean Chief of Staff, General Park Han-ki, announced that the administration of President Moon Jae-In had approved the construction of two 30.000 ton aircraft carriers capable of operating F-35B combat aircraft, vertical or short take-off and landing version of the famous Lockheed-Martin aircraft, used in particular by the US Marines Corps but also the Royal Air Force, the Japanese air self-defense forces and the Italian naval aeronautics. A year later, in 2020, there was no longer any question of 2 aircraft carriers derived from the Dokdo class, but a single 40.000-ton aircraft carrier capable of carrying 16 F-35Bs and 8 helicopters. The program, designated CVX, then began to show itself in the form of models during the shows, while Seoul announced that the last tranche of 20 F-35s that the country had undertaken to acquire, would concern the ADAC/V F-35B version.

However, the program had no shortage of detractors, especially in the South Korean parliament. Several parliamentarians felt that the ship would be both very expensive ($2 billion) and very vulnerable to the many potential enemy anti-ship systems. In addition to the fact that these credits and human resources could turn out, according to them, to be more efficiently spent on other defense components such as ballistic missiles or anti-missile defense, the aircraft carrier did not meet the defense doctrine South Korea, based on rapid preventive strike capabilities aimed at decapitating the command, communications and strategic strike capabilities of the adversary, in this case North Korea. On the occasion of the change of administration in the spring of 2022, and the arrival of President Yoon Seok-youl at the Blue House, many factors tended to indicate that the aircraft carrier program no longer had the wind in its sails. Seoul, and was even directly threatened.

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Initially, the CVX program had to be equipped with a straight bridge, allowing only ADAC/V devices like the F-35B to be used.

Thus, at the beginning of July, the country's authorities announced that the order for the last 20 South Korean F-35s would not be on the B version capable of arming an aircraft carrier, but on the land-based version A, like the first 40 aircraft ordered. At the end of August, as part of the preparation of the 2023 Defense budget, it appeared that the CLC program had disappeared from the credit lines, suggesting that the Yoon Seok-youl administration had agreed with the opinions of critics of the program, while at the same time, this budget provides for a significant increase in defense investments, to reach $51,9 billion in 2023 against $48 billion in 2022. Eventually, in 2027, Seoul plans to increase its defense effort to $66 billion, or 3,3% of GDP, compared to 2,85% today. In fact, the fate of the CLC program then seemed well and truly sealed, including for the local press. But the declarations made by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Kim Seung-kyum, on September 19 during a press conference, reshuffle the cards. Indeed, the South Korean aircraft carrier program is by no means canceled. On the contrary, Seoul would wonder about the advisability of equipping itself with a more imposing aircraft carrier, and perhaps equipped with catapults.


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