By Jung Sung-ki
The Navy plans to launch six 5,600-ton ``mini-Aegis'' destroyers between 2019 and 2026 in an effort to help facilitate coastal and blue-water operations, the service said Tuesday.
The plan was unveiled in a report submitted to a National Assembly inspection of the Navy at the Gyeryongdae military compound in South Chungcheong Province.
The medium-sized KDX-IIA destroyers equipped with SPY radar and close-in weapon systems will be a core part of the Navy's strategic mobile fleet led by 7,600-ton KDX-III destroyers, it said.
The mobile fleet is to consist of two KDX-III destroyer-led squadrons involving KDX-II or KDX-IIA ships, support vessels, new frigates and attack submarines. A new naval base to be built on the southern island of Jeju by 2014 will serve as homeport for the fleet.
The Navy has launched two of the planned three KDX-III ships and is set to receive one more before 2012. The lead ship, Sejong the Great, began service last December and the second ship, Yi I, is scheduled to be operational later this year after sea trials.
A need to deploy more Aegis destroyers has been raised frequently with the South Korean Navy seeking to boost its blue-water operational capability beyond coastal defense against potential North Korean invasion.
In March, South Korea deployed one of its six 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers to Somali waters on an anti-piracy mission, the first overseas mission for the South Korean Navy.
As the deployment is rotated every six months, a gap in the number of KDX-II destroyers for coastal defense and the planned strategic mobile fleet has emerged, Navy officials said.
``Given the need for overseas deployment, combined forces training and regular maintenance, we need more destroyers,'' Rep. Kim Jang-soo of the governing Grand National Party said. ``It's more urgent and effective to build three more KDX-II-class ships if the cost is the same as building a 1-trillion-won KDX-III destroyer.''
The Aegis combat system, built by Lockheed Martin of the United States, is the world's premier surface-to-air and fire-control system, capable of conducting simultaneous operations against aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, ships and submarines. Only a few countries, including the United States, Spain, Japan and Norway, deploy Aegis warships.
The KDX-III is one of the most advanced Aegis warships. Its SPY-1D radar can simultaneously track about 1,000 aircraft within a 500-kilometer radius, providing 360-degree coverage.
The 166-meter-long, 21-meter-wide ship can carry 128 anti-air, surface-to-surface and anti-submarine missiles in its vertical launch systems.