Seoul OKs plan for three more Aegis destroyers

The USS Hopper, an Aegis-class destroyer, launches a missile and successfully intercepts a sub-scale short range ballistic missile, launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sans, Kauai, on July 31, 2009.

SEOUL — South Korea on Tuesday endorsed a plan to acquire three additional Aegis destroyers for deployment in the mid-2020s, amid intensifying regional competition to boost maritime defense.

The procurement project, expected to cost around $3.8 billion, was approved during a Joint Chiefs of Staff Council meeting presided over by JCS chairman Adm. Choi Yoon-hee.

Once the project is completed, the country will have a total of six Aegis destroyers, which will improve the Navy's deepwater and long-distance operations and help it cope with possible maritime contingencies with neighbouring states.

"Having additional destroyers will enhance the country's capability to detect and track ballistic missiles, along with its anti-submarine capabilities and its wartime capability to strike sea-based and land-based targets," the JCS said in a press release.

"They would also help improve our capability to respond to potential maritime threats from near the Korean Peninsula, so as to safeguard maritime sovereignty."

Seoul's push for more Aegis warships comes amid the long-festering territorial spat with Tokyo over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea and jurisdictional controversy with Beijing over Ieodo, a submerged rock in the East China Sea.

According to a government study, South Korea needs at least three maneuver combat groups to protect Ieodo and Dokdo. Each group will consist of two Aegis destroyers, two 4,200-ton destroyers, 16 helicopters, one transport vessel, two 3,000-ton submarines, three P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and one logistical support ship.

JCS chief Choi, the country's first naval officer to take the highest active-duty post, has long stressed that the navy should bolster its "blue-water" capabilities to take a more active, leading operational role. In the army-centered military, the navy is often expected to take a supporting role in the case of a peninsular emergency.

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