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[From the Scene] HD Hyundai to expand military vessel business

Global No.1 shipbuilder looks to score defense exports with warships, submarines

Nov. 22, 2023 - 15:33 By Kan Hyeong-woo
South Korean Navy's Jeongjo the Great, an Aegis-equipped destroyer, is tied to a pier at HD Hyundai Heavy Industries' Ulsan shipyard on Monday. (HD Hyundai)

ULSAN -- The docks of HD Hyundai Heavy Industries at the shipbuilder’s Ulsan shipyard were filled with ships being built and bustling with workers on Monday morning.

Covering 6.35 square kilometers, the Ulsan shipyard is known for having the most dry docks in the world. Building on top of its global in the merchant ship sector, the world's biggest shipbuilder is now looking to expand its naval and special vessel business with state-of-the-art military vessels.

“HD Hyundai Heavy Industries first joined the defense industry as it began research and development for the Ulsan-class frigate, Korea’s first warship, in 1975,” said Joo Won-ho, chief operating officer of HD HHI Naval & Special Ship Business Unit.

“HD Hyundai Heavy Industries have built about 100 warships for both in and out of the country. Based on the export logs of 14 warships, we are expanding the warship export market beyond Asia to the Middle Eastern and South American regions.”

After passing by the huge docks, each with 109-meter "Goliath" cranes the height of a 36-story building, two ships were already in the water: Jeongjo the Great, the Korean Navy’s latest Aegis-equipped destroyer, and a Chungnam-class frigate.

The country’s fourth Aegis destroyer, measured at a length of 170 meters, a width of 21 meters and a height of 50 meters, was getting ready to go on a test sail later in the afternoon. HD HHI secured the order for the ship in 2019. It began construction in 2021 and launched it in July last year.

According to an HD HHI official, the ship must undergo an assessment period of about two years, during which approximately 500 aspects of the vessel are reviewed by officials from the Navy and the Defense Agency for Technology and Quality.

Considered a next-generation Aegis destroyer due to its longer detection range, antimissile abilities and sea-to-land weapons systems, Jeongjo the Great is expected to be delivered to the Korean Navy at the end of 2024.

“Keeping the best quality control is the most important factor in the shipbuilding industry,” an HD HHI official said.

“As we conduct the tests and assess reviews, it’s crucial to reflect on them while maintaining the highest quality of the ship and we are the best at it.”

HD HHI’s Naval & Special Ship Business Unit operates two dry docks and a facility and a pier to build submarines. As for its annual capacity, the shipbuilder can build three frigates and 0.5 submarines with 350 engineers and researchers specializing in battleships.

The Korean shipbuilder secured orders from the Philippine government to build 10 warships in 2016. Last year, the company won the contract for maintenance, repair and overhaul for the two frigates it had delivered to the Philippines in 2020 and 2021. HD HHI is scheduled to launch two more naval vessels for the Philippines next year.

Having developed the country’s first power supply technology for submarines using a lithium-ion polymer, HD HHI also began developing sub-3,000-ton submarines with a goal to score export orders for the underwater vessels starting next year.

“Although we are the No. 1 company in the world merchant ship sector, we are outside the global top 10 in military vessels,” said Choi, Tae-bok, director of strategic communication at HD HHI Naval & Special Ship Business Unit.

“Looking at the world leaders, we are preparing our portfolio accordingly. The competitiveness of US and European shipyards is declining. We believe many more opportunities are coming our way.”

South Korean Navy's Jeongjo the Great (Bottom), an Aegis-equipped destroyer, and Chungnam frigate are tied to a pier at HD Hyundai Heavy Industries' Ulsan shipyard on Monday. (HD Hyundai)