South Korea is wrapping up plans for its first aircraft carrier, most obviously to expand its presence in the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), through which close to US$3.3 trillion in global trade passes each year, alongside other claimant countries like the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and China.
According to the Defense Ministry, they would be building a small 30,000-ton aircraft carrier with short takeoff and vertical landing capability, to be equipped with US-made F-35B fighter jets.
Reliable reports said the carrier being envisioned by South Korea is estimated to cost around $4 billion, excluding the state-of-the-art F-35s which are priced at $122 million per.
In acquiring these jets, SK joins the US, UK and Japan as the only countries with the modern stealth fighter (that can land vertically) in their arsenal.
With the carrier acting as a military base cum mobile airfield, analysts say South Korea will be able to operate farther from its shores than it does now, into the Indian Ocean and beyond.