Korean navy helicopter carrier slated for upgrades

Dokdo-class vessels
Dokdo-class vessels

The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has awarded a ₩180.8 billion (US$136 million) contract to local shipbuilder HJ Shipbuilding and Construction (HJSC) to refurbish the Republic of Korea Navy’s (RoKN’s) lead Dokdo-class helicopter carrier, ROKS Dokdo.

The company was formerly known as Hanjin Heavy Industries (HHI), which originally built the vessel, and is expected to complete work by 2027.

According to DAPA, Dokdo faces possible performance deterioration due to ageing components. The agency added that upgrades carried out by HJSC will centre on five main areas: the ship’s combat system, air surveillance radar, navigation radar, infrared detection and tracking equipment, and air defence weapons.

At the same time, several foreign systems originally installed aboard Dokdo will be replaced by domestically produced equipment.

Dokdo is one of the two 200 metre-long helicopter carriers operated by the RoKN. The type can accommodate up to 12 helicopters as well as embarking up to 700 fully equipped troops and 10 main battle tanks. It can also deploy up to two LSF-II landing craft air cushion (LCAC) vehicles from its well deck.

Dokdo was commissioned in 2007 and serves as command ship for wartime operations but can be deployed for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) missions, including evacuation of overseas Korean citizens in emergencies.

In contrast, its sister ship, ROKS Marado, was commissioned only recently in 2021 and has been equipped with significantly higher indigenous content. These include its LIG Nex1 SPS-550K three-dimensional air- and surface-surveillance radar, as opposed to Dokdo’s Thales MW08 surveillance radar.

Besides a similar domestically produced radar, Dokdo’s current air defence system – which centres on the Raytheon Mk 49 guided-missile launcher armed with the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) – could be upgraded to LIG Nex1’s Korean Vertical Launching System (K-VLS) that can deploy the K-SAAM naval surface-to-air missile (SAM). However, this has not been confirmed by DAPA.

by Jr Ng