Hyundai Heavy Industries' conceptual design bidding for South Korea's first light aircraft carrier
Seoul CNN  — 

South Korea’s planned aircraft carrier could have a distinctly British flavor. In fact, it could be a mini version of the Queen Elizabeth.

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) this week signed a memorandum of understanding with top British defense contractor, Babcock International, to work together to design and build the new CVX, South Korea’s light aircraft carrier.

“This partnership is to collate the core technologies of the two companies to win an order for the basic design of a light aircraft carrier and to build a ship. Hyundai Heavy Industries and Babcock had successfully completed the conceptual design, the first stage of ship design, last year,” a statement from Hyundai said.

The UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth conducts a joint drill with the South Korean Navy in waters off the Korean Peninsula this week.

Babcock designed and built the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers for the UK and has its operation in Busan, South Korea’s southern harbor city. The company assembles equipment for South Korea’s naval programs, according to the company’s statement.

Since starting the special ship project in 1975, Hyundai has designed and built a total of 90 warships and submarines, including South Korea’s first Aegis guided-missile destroyer, the Sejong, and the next-generation frigate, Incheon, HHI said.

The deal does not mean the pair will get the contract with the South Korean military. The country’s industrial giant Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) is still in the hunt.

Hyundai’s concept design of the ship, first revealed at an exposition earlier this summer, displays an uncanny resemblance to the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The company’s animated promotion video of the ship design shows a ski jump take-off ramp for F-35 stealth fighter jets, twin islands and two aircraft elevators on either side of the flight deck.

There’s also an auxiliary deck area at the very rear of the ship for operating small drones and to deploy unmanned surface vehicles, as well as unmanned midget submarines.

The company said it “can be equipped with vertical take-off and landing fighters, helicopters for amphibious maneuvers and attacks, and latest technologies such as fighter sortie support technology, air armament transfer system, and integrated combat system are also applied.”

The ship’s design, with its twin islands and ski-jump ramp, resembles the UK’s new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, although it is smaller in size.

Hyundai says the 30,000-ton level ship would be 260 meters (850 feet) long and 57 meters (187 feet) wide. By comparison, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class is 65,000 tons, 920 feet long and has a beam of 240 feet.

The Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth came to the waters of South Korea on August 30 for a three-day at-sea defense engagement near Busan, as part of its maiden Asia-Pacific deployment. The ship was originally planned to dock at the Busan harbor, but it was changed due to coronavirus precautionary measures.

An F-35 jet takes off from the ski-jump ramp on the UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during exercises off South Korea this week.

A rival design to the Hyundai carrier comes from DSME. It also utilizes a twin-island arrangement but without a ski jump take-off ramp. Its flight deck is more in common with the US Navy’s amphibious assault ships.

According to the company’s statement, the vessel would have a flat deck without ski jumps, and the total length is 263 meters (860 feet). It also has two elevators on the starboard side to move those aircraft between decks.

DSME also says its carrier would be able to place 16 aircraft and six armed helicopters on the flight deck, with 12 fighters placed under the deck to create a space for repair and maintenance. The company said its design focused on the “sortie generation rate,” which refers to the number of possible take-off of fighters within a certain period.

DSME signed a technical cooperation research contract with Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri to bid for the design project of the CVX program, it said in a statement. The Fincantieri shipyard recently built and is now testing a 30,000-ton light aircraft carrier for the Italian navy, according to the statement.

South Korea is expected to decide on which company will build its new aircraft carrier next year, and have it in operation by about 2033.