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The ambush that delayed passing the budget is a light carrier… Push the original draft that had agreed to cut

In the National Assembly on the 3rd, lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Korea are taking pictures of the main meeting hall with their cell phones. On the same day, the ruling party enforced the next year’s budget of 607.7 trillion won. / National Assembly Photo Correspondents

The ‘ambush’ that caused the next year’s budget bill to pass the National Assembly one day past the legal deadline was a light aircraft carrier, not a compensation for small business losses or local currency. The ruling Democratic Party suddenly insisted that the budget for light aircraft carriers, which had been drastically cut by the ruling and opposition parties, should be increased again by the relevant standing committee. The fact that the light aircraft carrier was President Moon Jae-in’s long-cherished project at the end of his term is believed to have worked.

The National Assembly held a plenary session on the 3rd to process the budget for next year’s 607.7 trillion won and confirmed the budget related to the introduction of Korean light aircraft carriers as the original government submitted (7.2 billion won).

The ambush that delayed passing the budget is a light carrier…  Pushing forward the old 'original plan' that agreed to cut

Carriers are classified into light carriers (10,000 to 30,000 tons), medium carriers (40,000 to 70,000 tons), and large carriers (80,000 to 100,000 tons) according to displacement. The Korean light carrier introduction project aims to build a 30,000-ton-class carrier with a total displacement of 2.6 trillion won by 2033.

Since the 1990s, the Navy has been promoting the introduction of light aircraft carriers under the banner of ‘Ocean Navy’. A Navy official emphasized the need, saying, “The light carrier is a ‘game changer’ that can change the aspect of warfare as it is equipped with 10 or more (up to 20 according to experts estimate) air force fighters.

The government’s defense budget for next year, which the government submitted to the National Assembly in September, included 6,241 million won for the basic design, 848 million won for aircraft data and technical support, and 99 million won for overhead costs for the light aircraft carrier project.

The budget review of the light aircraft carrier by the National Assembly Defense Committee was conducted by a budget review subcommittee consisting of seven members. The Budget Subcommittee is made up of 4 members of the Democratic Party and 3 members of the People’s Power. The chairperson of the subcommittee is Dong-min Dong, a member of the Democratic Party of Korea. In the budget debate, the ruling party has the upper hand.

However, when the budget review began on the 12th of last month, lawmaker Shin Won-sik, a former lieutenant general of the Army, strongly opposed, saying, “The light aircraft carrier is nothing more than a ‘money-eating hippo’ with no real benefit in terms of military strategy and operations.” The so-called members of the ruling party, middle-class lawmakers, also seemed to agree with this. Seol-hoon, a fifth-term lawmaker, said, “I respect the position of the Navy, but it is not something that should be done in a hurry.” Even the fourth-term lawmaker Hong Young-pyo, who is considered the key to pro-munism (pro-munjae-in), pointed out that “I acknowledge the need for a light carrier, but I am opposed to using the F-35B as a carrier.”

In response, Rep. Ki decided to cut the budget, saying, “As the Navy, I hoped that the budget would be reflected, but with this amount, we can get a big direction.” Rep. Ahn Gyu-baek, who is a ‘pro-Gyeonghang-mo’ in the ruling party, did not belong to the budget subcommittee and did not have an opinion. In the end, the National Defense Commission held a plenary meeting on the 16th of last month and cut the remaining 6.7 billion won (93%) from this budget, leaving only 500 million won in overhead costs.

In the political circles, it was said that “a significant cut is unusual given that President Moon has been actively supporting the introduction of light aircraft carriers.” At a ceremony to commemorate the Day of Protection of the West Sea in March, President Moon expressed his expectations, saying, “The 30,000-ton light carrier that will be unveiled in 2033 will be built with our shipbuilding technology.”

The ruling party leadership also raised concerns that “a significant cut in the light aircraft carrier budget, which is President Moon’s pledge, could be seen as a setback of the pledge.” It is reported that the office of the ruling party member of the National Defense Commission was flooded with protest calls. In the end, a ‘hotline’ between the Blue House government affairs line and the ruling party leadership moved to restore the light aircraft carrier budget.

When the Democratic Party tried to overturn the agreement with the National Defense Commission, the people’s power strongly opposed it, saying, “The government with less than three months left is trying to nail the nail.” In the end, as the opposition and opposition parties failed to come up with an agreement, the budget for the light aircraft carrier was reflected in next year’s budget as it was in the government’s original budget (7.2 billion won).

Reporter Hyung-Joo Oh/Hye-Jeong Moon ohj@hankyung.com

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