Late last week, the South Korean Navy officially welcomed its newest frigate bearing the namesake of a smaller warship allegedly torpedoed by North Korea in 2010.

Named ROKS Cheonan (FFG-826), the country’s seventh 2,800-ton Daegu-class frigate had its commissioning ceremony last Friday held at a major naval base in Changwon, southeast of Seoul.

ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, the official name of South Korea, in contrast to DPRK, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of the North.

Allegedly Sunken by the North

According to Yonhap News Agency, the service specifically chose the name and ceremony location to honor its previous namesake bearer, the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772), where the DPRK midget submarine allegedly sunk the vessel. This decision came as the South’s way of firmly telling its North counterpart that it is yet to forget the attack nor back down from its commitment to defend its territory.

Moreover, the commissioning of the new Cheonan came at a time of heightened tensions between the ROK and DPRK, making it even more symbolic.

On that fateful night of March 26, 2010, the 1,200-ton Pohang-class Corvette was on patrol in the Yellow Sea at the de facto inter-Korean border when it got hit by an alleged North Korean torpedo. The sinking killed 46 sailors aboard and injured 58 others, and caused a major escalation in tensions between the two Koreas.

A collage of photos showing the damage to the ROKS Cheonan (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

DPRK has since denied involvement in the sinking, but ROK and its allies imposed sanctions on the North in response, further straining its already deteriorating relations.

Former crew members of the Corvette attended the commissioning ceremony, including the warship’s captain Choi Won-il and the family members of the fallen sailors.

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice Admiral Kim Myung-soo, commander of the ROK Navy Fleet, highlighted the significance of the revival of Cheonan, which contained the patriotism of the sunken Corvette’s fallen sailors.

“The revived Cheonan will perfectly conduct operations to protect our seas as a core asset of the [ROK] Navy,” he added.

While the North has vehemently denied the allegation, investigations conducted over recovered wrecks suggested otherwise.

Furthermore, a report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) published in 2010 discussed that the investigation into the sinking found that the blast impact originated from outside the vessel, nor was it not caused by a floating mine leftover from the Korean War. Thus, the attack must have been calculated and deliberate. Most officials involved in the investigation and the majority of the South Korean public believe it was a planned assault from North Korea, the Washington-based think tank said. After all, the tension between the two Koreas has yet to settle on a peace treaty and is technically still at war, despite an armistice signed in 1953 that seized the military confrontation.

Honoring the Fallen 46

The sinking of the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) became the South’s most significant military setback since the end of the Korean War and has since served as a reminder of the ongoing threat the North continues to pose.

The new Cheonan is the seventh of the eight Daegu-class guided missile frigates under its Future Frigate Experiment (FFGX) program, co-manufactured by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Hyundai Heavy Industries to replace the aging Incheon class. It shares a similar hull design with its predecessor. However, the ship class’ superstructure has been overhauled to cater to the advanced modification of its weapon system. It features anti-ship and ship-to-ground missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, and hull-mounted and towed array sonar systems. As for its gun system, it consists of a 127mm Mk. 45 Mod 4 naval gun and Raytheon’s Phalanx Block 1B Close-In Weapon System for self-defense.

The overhaul also included the enlargement of its hangar and helicopter deck, now capable of supporting up to a 10-ton aircraft, making it more capable and powerful than the Incheon-class frigates.

The class’s lead ship, ROKS Daegu (FFG-818), was initially commissioned in March 2017, while the most recent, Cheonan (FFG-826), was launched to sea in November 2021.

It measures about 400 feet (122 meters) in length and 45.9 ft (14 m) in width, with a displacement of about 2,800 tons when fully loaded. In addition, it is the first ROK ship to outfit a combined diesel-electric or gas propulsion system featuring a Rolls Royce MT30 turbine engine that generates a maximum speed of 30 knots (35 miles/hour) and a range of 4,500 nautical miles (5,200 miles).

With its arrival in the service, the Cheonan frigate will fill in a multi-role, expected to perform various missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and maritime patrol. It is a valuable asset for the ROK Navy and its allies, particularly with the escalating tension that has been going on in the Korean Peninsula and its neighboring region in recent years.

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