SEOUL, South Korea ― The South Korean Navy launched its second 14,500-ton Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship on May 14 as the landing vessel’s mission shifts more toward blue-water operations than countering North Korea, whose relations with the South has been improving following the April 27 cross-border summit.
Built by Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, the Landing Platform Helicopter, named after Marado ― South Korea’s southernmost island ― features improved design and defense systems compared to those aboard the Dokdo ship commissioned in 2007, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA.
“The Marado LPH reflects improvements that have been made through the operation of the Dokdo ship,” Moon Ki-jeong, head of the DAPA agency in charge of the ship acquisition program, said during the launching ceremony at the Hanjin shipyard in Busan, 450 kilometers south of Seoul. “In particular, the ship is fitted with advanced combat and defense systems as well as an improved radar using the country’s own technologies.”
Moon was likely referring to a navigation radar and a medium-range surface-to-air missile built by LIG Nex1, and combat systems developed by Hanwha Systems.
In addition, the 199-meter-long, 31-meter-wide LPH is to be equipped with a fixed-panel 3-D surveillance radar built by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, in place of the Thales SMART 3-D radar aboard the Dokdo.
Another major difference is that Marado’s flight deck has been adapted to accommodate two V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, while the Dokdo was able to carry one V-22, according to Navy officials. The ship is also fitted with two Phalanx close-in weapon systems, instead of the Goalkeeper CIWS installed in the Dokdo.
Defense Minister Song Young-moo said the LPH’s future role is to safeguard maritime security in northeast Asia and beyond. There was no mention of defense against North Korea.
“In order to preserve our maritime sovereignty at sea and play a role as a member of the international community, we have to move farther toward greater oceans,” the minister said. “I’m convinced that the Marado will bring honor to the Republic of Korea by contributing northeast Asian and global maritime security.”
The Dokdo-class LPH can carry up to 720 fully equipped marines, 10 tanks, 10 trucks, seven amphibious assault vehicles and three artillery systems. It can sail at a maximum speed of 41 kilometers with a crew of 300 aboard.
The well deck has a capacity for two landing craft. Below the deck hanger, 15 helicopters, including two V-22s, can fit while the flight deck can simultaneously accommodate up to five helicopters of all types, according to DAPA officials.
The Marado will be fully operational in 2020 after sea trials.
Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.