South Korea has quietly canceled plans to build one or more aircraft carriers for its F-35B stealth fighters. Three years ago, a 30,000-ton modified LPX II “amphibious ship” was added to the 2021-25 defense spending plan. Now called CVX, it would be similar but superior to the Japanese DDH “F-35B carrier” and would be able to carry up to 20 F-35Bs. While the designation LPX II indicates a larger amphibious ship, the LPX II will be built as a CVX aircraft carrier, without facilities for carrying marines and their equipment. For several years South Korean defense officials have discussed building one or more 30,000-ton ships that look like the Japanese DDH (destroyer helicopter carrier) and are modified to handle a dozen or more F-35Bs.
South Korean plans became more obvious when the second Dokdo class LPH (Landing Platform Helicopter) entered sea trials in 2020. As of 2020 South Korea now had two 19,500-ton Dokdo class large amphibious ships. These South Korea LPHs are similar in appearance and operation to the larger American amphibious ships. The LPH flight deck can handle helicopters, as well as vertical takeoff jets like the F-35B. Until recently Korea denied that Dokdos would be used with these jets, but the capability was there. The LPH normally carries 720 combat troops and their heavy equipment. Dokdos also carry fifteen aircraft; two V-22 vertical takeoff transports and 13 helicopters. Marado, the second Dokdo, has a redesigned flight deck that can handle two V-22s at once instead of just one. In addition to a more powerful 3-D surveillance radar for tracking aircraft, Marado has a Phalanx anti-missile system. Marado was apparently modified so it could more effectively handle six or more F-35Bs.
The Dokdo had a crew of 330 plus the ability to carry 720 marines. The ship’s crew includes pilots and maintainers for the helicopters. In contrast, the LPX/CVX II was to have a crew of over 500, including aviation personnel (pilots, planners and maintainers). The CVX was simply removed from the naval budget. South Korea changed its F-35 order from F-35Bs to the land-based F-35As. The South Korean Navy is putting more money into new submarines, as these are more useful against Chinese subs and surface ships.