By Kang Seung-woo
The Navy has requested three more Aegis destroyers to strengthen the country's defense against North Korea and to cover territorial disputes in the region, a military official said, Wednesday.
"The Navy made a request for three additional Aegis ships to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) a year ago," the official said. "The JCS will discuss the plan in a meeting scheduled for early next month."
If the plan gets the go ahead, the ships will be built between 2020 and 2025, he noted.
Under a Navy buildup project started in 2004 to bolster defense against North Korea, South Korea began to build Aegis destroyers and currently has three 7,600-ton warships ― the King Sejong the Great, the Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong and the Yulgok Yi I.
However, the Navy has sought to increase its fleet to cope with rising regional tension in the wake of North Korea's third nuclear test conducted earlier this year and ongoing territorial disputes between China and Japan.
In addition, a growing arms race in the region is also behind the request.
China deployed its first aircraft carrier to the eastern port city of Qingdao in September last year, while Japan unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, the huge flat-top "destroyer" Izumo that can carry up to 14 helicopters, pushing the Korean Navy to come up with countermeasures.
The cost of the three ships is estimated at 3 trillion won ($2.8 billion), according to military officials.
A 166-meter-long Aegis destroyer is equipped with the latest radar system as well as missiles and torpedoes in vertical launch systems. With 300 crew members, it can also carry two mid-sized helicopters and sail at a top speed of 30 knots with a range of 1,000 kilometers.