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Navy to bloster presence on Ulleung, move seen to protect Dokdo islets

The Navy has decided to expand a helicopter landing facility on Ulleung Island and dispatch two more military helicopters to it, according to a lawmaker.

The move comes as Seoul seeks to bolster its capabilities to defend the easternmost islets of Dokdo over which Japan has been persistently making sovereignty claims.

Rep. Song Young-sun of the minority Future Hope Alliance party said that the Navy signed a construction contract in June to expand the size of the landing facility from the current 1,860 square meters to 5,040 square meters by April 2013.

For the expansion work, it has earmarked a budget of around 9.4 billion won ($8.8 million).

After the expansion, the Navy reportedly plans to dispatch a Lynx antisubmarine helicopter and an UH-60 Blackhawk multi-purpose helicopter to the island. The addition brings the total number of military aircraft on the island to four including one maritime helicopter.

The distance between Ulleung Island and Dokdo Islets is about 90 kilometers. Military officials said that it takes about half an hour by the Lynx helicopter and a shorter time by the Blackhawk.

It currently takes a naval warship more than four hours to reach Dokdo Islets from a port off the east coast while it takes less than three hours for a Japanese warship to reach them from the Japanese island of Ohki.

The Seoul government was also reported to be considering deploying a 2,300-ton frigate ― currently being built under the Frigate Experimental program.

The program is aimed at replacing aging frigates and corvettes with more advanced warships. The Navy is scheduled to receive 20 2,300-ton or 2,500-ton frigates by 2018.

The new frigates are to be equipped with anti-ship guided missiles, antisubmarine weapons and other state-of-the-art weapons systems.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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