The South Korean shipbuilding company, Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), launched its Chungnam frigate (FFX) on 10 April 2023 at its shipyard in the city of Ulsan, South Korea.

The Chungnam is the first of six vessels that comprise the Ulsan-class FFX Batch III, which will be inducted into the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy.

The ROK announced its intention for the production of the FFX Batch III on its official Twitter account, stating: “The Chungnam ship is the first ship of the Ulsan-class Batch III that replaces the old frigates and patrol combat corvette (PCC) in operation in the Navy”.

The incorporation of these FFX vessels into the South Korean navy is noteworthy as they will contribute to the ROK’s greater maritime presence across the Indo-Pacific, as part of its Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region.

Shared naval strategy for Indo-Pacific

It is intended that the new FFX Batch III will operate with formidable weapon capabilities to deter any violation of the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

HHI’s FFX production appears to follow the same strategy as its ally, the United States. Their shared production strategy has seen the US Navy (USN) build frigates in order to lower overall costs but keep flexibility and firepower in the fleet, rather than focus efforts on greater, but slower and costly destroyer (DDG) production for example, albeit the USN’s DDG(X) investment will continue.

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The two countries also reiterate their shared political values on a regular basis in joint statements made by the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the ROK this year, with the latest statement issued two days after the unveiling of the Chungnam at Ulsan.

“The [two countries] affirmed the shared US and ROK commitment to maintaining peace and stability, lawful unimpeded commerce, and international norms such as freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful use of the seas in the Indo-Pacific region — including the South China Sea and beyond” the latest statement asserts. “The two leaders also reinforced the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and pledged to continue promoting defense and security cooperation throughout the region.”

ROK navy spending

GlobalData provides a wealth of data into the Global Naval Vessels and Surface Combatant Market 2023-2033, which details key ROK spending priorities as their naval expansion grows to match the demands of their maritime policy.

The firm reports that the FFX is the second largest naval expense, for which the country is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of 6.52%.

However, ROK FFX expansion does not end there. GlobalData also tells us that plans are in the making for the country’s next-generation FFX Batch IV vessels. The data firm expects the ROK will plan to spend $266m starting in 2024 on the enterprise, which willl increase to $359m by 2033.

FFX production in the ROK navy budget is significant. It is a testament to the ROK’s emulation of the USN frigate and firepower strategy and the country’s commitment to the wider security climate across the Indo-Pacific region.