February 02, 2010 10:05
The Navy has mobilized its first fast-response combat unit composed of six destroyers, including the country's first Aegis combat destroyer King Sejong the Great. Since its inception in 1945, the operational radius of the South Korean Navy had been restricted to waters near the coast, due to the small number of aging vessels. But since 2002, the Navy has commissioned six 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers and the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer.
The high-mobility unit will be able to conduct operations against North Korean aggression and protect South Korea's key trade routes including the Straits of Malacca and support UN peacekeeping operations in major trouble spots. The unit will patrol South Korea's coastal waters on the lookout for possible provocations by North Korea and be capable of deployment anywhere around the world if the need arises.
Navy Chief of Staff Jung Ok-keun said, "The establishment of the high-mobility unit is a dream has come true. We believe the unit can effectively protect sea lanes and counteract possible threats from North Korea."
Moves by China and Japan since the mid-1990s to bolster their naval capabilities are said to have prompted South Korea to launch the unit. A Navy spokesman said the rapid-response unit is needed to deal with possible territorial spats involving the South's Ieo Island and Dokdo islets and to protect the country's crude oil, grain and raw materials shipments. Korea imports nearly all of its strategic materials by sea.
The Seventh High-Mobility Unit is composed of the King Sejong plus six 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers. They are the largest and most-powerful vessels in the Navy. The unit will be divided into two squadrons based at naval bases in Busan and Jinhae. When the second Aegis-class destroyer Yulgok Yi Yi is put into operation in August, each squadron will be composed of one Aegis destroyer and three 4,500-ton destroyers.
South Korea's third Aegis destroyer, which will be put into operation in 2012, as well as six "KDX-IIA" mini Aegis destroyers, measuring 5,600-tons in capacity, are said to be headed for the high-mobility combat units. When a new naval base is completed on Jeju Island in 2014, the high-mobility units will be based there and begin full-fledged deployments on long-distance operations.
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