South Korea is finalizing plans for new military assets after increasing its defense budget by 5.4% for 2021. File Photo by Yonhap
Dec. 30 (UPI) -- South Korea is signaling interest in acquiring a light-aircraft carrier and vertical takeoff and landing jets, as the country prepares to spend more next year on defense.
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff met Wednesday to discuss the acquisition of a 30,000-ton light-aircraft carrier that can be equipped with 20 vertical landing jets and 30 combat helicopters. Design could begin as early 2022, local newspaper Donga Ilbo reported.
According to the report, the military previously included light-aircraft carriers in its long-term defense plan. The meeting Wednesday confirmed the project has been moved to Seoul's medium-term plan.
The change means more attention is being paid to the potential project, and that the military has finalized the number of carriers it plans to acquire, according to the Donga.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul also discussed with the South's top military brass the need to introduce vertical landing aircraft. South Korea's military is not ruling out acquiring jets like the F-35B, a supersonic stealth aircraft with short takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities, the report said.
According to Yonhap, South Korea's Navy wants to build a light-aircraft carrier because of "growing threats from all directions." A ship in operation by about 2033 would cost the country $1.74 billion, the report said.
Reports of new military assets come after a South Korean decision to raise the defense budget. Earlier this month, Seoul's parliament approved military spending for 2021, reflecting a 5.4% increase to $48 billion.
South Korea's military budget primarily addresses threats from North Korea.
In September, Pyongyang's state media condemned the South for the budget increase, calling defense spending, "yet another military provocation."
"Whoever enjoys fire will be burned by fire," state media said in a warning to the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.