At the end of 2018 the South Korean Navy put the last of four LST II class amphibious assault ships in to service. These are 7,100 ton vessels that can carry 300 hundred troops as well as 10-20 vehicles. There is a landing pad that can hold 2 helicopters. Two smaller landing craft that can run up on a beach are also carried. The ship is 126 meters (390 feet) long, 19 meters (59 feet) wide, and has a crew of 120. Top speed is 42 kilometers an hour. Cruising speed is 32 kilometers an hour, and at that speed the ship can stay at sea for 18 days. Weapons consist mostly of anti-missile systems plus a 76mm gun. The first ship entered service in 2015. The navy has four older (1990s) LST I class ships as well as two larger (18,000 ton) Dokdo class LPH (helicopter landing ships) that carry 720 marines and ten helicopters as well as 200 vehicles put ashore via landing craft or hovercraft (the navy has eight of these and four can operate from LPHs).
These LST II class ships are part of an expansion of South Korea amphibious forces. The South Korean Marine Corps is being expanded from 25,000 men to 29,000. The South Korean marines were initially organized into two divisions and a brigade. As part of the expansion, a new brigade and helicopter squadron were formed to help guard the North Korean border on the west coast. The aviation battalion uses 30 of the new KUHs (Korean Utility Helicopter). Nicknamed "Surion," KUH carries 2 pilots and 11 passengers. It can be armed with 7.62mm machine-guns. Some 60 percent of the components are made in South Korea. The 8.7 ton KUH can hover at up to 3,000 meters and has a top speed of 240 kilometers an hour.
Currently, the South Korea marines are equipped with 60 LVTP-7 amphibious vehicles, 42 AAV-7A1s (a modified version of the U.S. LVTP-7), and 60 K-1 tanks. This force is officially under the control of the South Korean Navy but usually operates under command of the army. Currently, about 5,000 marines are stationed on the west coast, including nearby islands. The new brigade will expand this force.
In 2016 the marines were ordered to form a special rapid deployment brigade called “Spartan 3000”. This unit has 3,000 marines assigned and is trained and ready to move anywhere in the Korean peninsula within 24 hours. Marines rotate into and out of Spartan 3000 because the work is particularly demanding. Spartan 3000 is meant to quickly respond to any North Korean attack by defeating any North Korean special operations forces that get into South Korea and also go after key targets in North Korea. To assist with that there are about another thousand South Korean special operations troops involved.
The South Korean marines are considered an elite force, even though many of the troops are draftees. But all the marines are volunteers and the training is tough. It's considered an honor to be a marine, and their original mentors, the U.S. Marine Corps, have long acknowledged that their Korean counterparts learned their lessons well.