Seoul: South Korea's Navy is expanding its Naval airbase on the island of Ulleung, building a heliport and a hangar, as part of plans to boost the defense of nearby isles claimed by Japan, reported Chinese daily on Wednesday.

"The operational value of Ulleung Island as an intermediate base for the defense of Dokdo will improve once the air base is expanded and the new berthing facilities completed by 2017," a Navy officer was quoted as saying.

Dokdo, consisting of two small islets and numerous reefs, has been held by South Korea for at least half a century and administered as part of Ulleungdo County, North Gyeongsang Province. Japan calls the territory Takeshima and insists it is part of its Shimane Prefecture.

A lawmaker on the National Assembly's Defense Committee was quoted as saying the navy signed a contract in June to expand the airbase on Ulleung from 1,860 to 5,040 square meters.

Once the project is complete, the navy will operate a total of four helicopters there, including UH-60 Black Hawk and Lynx helicopters, the report said.

It said the Navy has already completed new refueling facilities on the island, which is located in the Sea of Japan, known as Koreans the East Sea.

The 70-square-kilometer island located about 120 km east of the Korean Peninsula and some 80 km west of the rocky outcrops disputed with Japan, The daily reported that South Korea will spend 9.6 billion won (about USD 9 million) to enlarge the heliport on Ulleung from 1,500 to 3,540 square meters andthe hangar from a single-story building measuring 360 square meters to a 2,480-square-meter, three-storey structure by April 2013.

It said military experts have called for Ulleung to be turned into an operations base in view of Japan's persistent territorial claims to the Dokdo islets. (Kyodo)