South Korea Becoming a Submarine Superpower, U.S. Military Expert Says
South Korea’s Submarine Advancements
Changbogo III Batch-II 3rd Ship
Analysis by U.S. Military Expert
Peter Suciu, a military expert in the United States, has offered an analysis suggesting that South Korea is gradually emerging as a submarine superpower. Suciu’s assessment was published in an article in the military security specialist publication ‘National Interest’ on the 25th (local time).
He pointed out that the South Korean Navy, which primarily operated small submarines, embarked on a Korean-style attack submarine (KSS) program in the early 1990s. This program aimed to suppress enemy submarines and surface ships, protect friendly naval bases and coastal communications, and carry out reconnaissance missions.
Overview of South Korea’s KSS-I, KSS-II, and KSS-III Submarines
Under this program, the South Korean Navy introduced nine 1200-ton Changbogo-class (KSS-I) submarines in 2001, followed by the introduction of nine 1800-ton Son Won-il-class (KSS-II) submarines equipped with an air-independent propulsion system (AIP). The AIP system enables these submarines to operate without requiring access to atmospheric air and allows them to launch cruise missiles.
Suciu further reported that South Korea has constructed two of the nine 3000~4000-ton Dosan Ahn Chang-ho-class submarines (Changbogo-III) capable of launching submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as part of the third phase of the KSS-III project.
The KSS-III submarines are notably larger and possess greater displacement compared to the KSS-II and 214-type submarines designed by Germany. Despite their size, these submarines continue to utilize diesel-electric propulsion with the addition of an auxiliary AIP function. According to Suciu, they can conduct submerged operations for up to 20 days at a maximum speed of 20 knots.
Submarines’ Capability to Launch Ground-Attack SLBMs
According to information from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Dosan Ahn Chang-ho-class submarines can be equipped with six ground-attack SLBMs by installing an innovative vertical launch system (VLS) on the conning tower. In a significant development, these submarines successfully test-fired the Hyunmoo 4-4, a non-nuclear SLBM with a range of 270 nautical miles, in September 2021.
Peter Suciu also highlighted that Hanwha Ocean, a South Korean defense company, recently entered into a research and development service contract with the Agency for Defense Development. This contract aims to develop new submarine components, specifically focusing on “stealth submarines.” The primary objective is to design new equipment components that can reduce the magnetic signature of submarines, making them less detectable by enemy sensors and improving their stealth capabilities.
A representative from Hanwha Ocean emphasized that submarines have traditionally received less attention regarding stealth technology than fighter jets because they operate underwater. However, there is significant potential for growth in this area, and the goal is to develop submarines equipped with world-class stealth technology. This advancement is expected to strengthen South Korea’s global marine defense market position, including the United States and Europe.
The Importance and Challenges of South Korea Possessing Nuclear Submarines
Moreover, Peter Suciu pointed out the importance of South Korea possessing nuclear submarines. The Korea-U.S. nuclear agreement imposes restrictions that challenge the country’s ability to secure a long-term nuclear fuel supply for a potential nuclear submarine fleet. Despite this, nuclear submarines are deemed crucial for monitoring and deterring North Korea’s suspicious submarine activities.
Kim Myung Soo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the necessity of nuclear propulsion submarines during a National Assembly confirmation hearing on the 15th of last month. However, he acknowledged the limitations in securing the required nuclear fuel for military use due to the restrictions above on nuclear materials.
By. Man Joo Ha