Submarines: South Korea Becomes a Potential Threat To China


May 16, 2015: In February 2015 South Korea created a new Submarine Command. This was in recognition of the growing South Korean submarine fleet (nine Type 209 and four Type 214) and the five additional Type 214s being delivered by the end of the decade. The main purpose of the new Submarine Command is to develop better anti-submarine capabilities against North Korea or even China.

Another reason for the Submarine Command was to make it easier to curb the procurement corruption that has developed in the navy. Several senior navy officers and officials have recently been prosecuted for this sort of misbehavior. Since the submarine service is rather elite and much more sensitive to getting the most for their money the Submarine Command, run by submarine officers, is expected to be more resistant to corruption. That is important because South Korea is putting a lot more money into submarines. North Korea currently has 70 subs, but most (over 70 percent) of them are very small (and often elderly) coastal types. There are twenty larger (1,800 ton) Romeo type boats but these are also very old, noisy and easy for other subs to detect under water.

South Korea has been upgrading its submarine force for some time now. In 2014 South Korea launched the fifth KSS-2 class (Type 214) submarine. This one enters service in late 2015. The last two KSS-2s were built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. These KSS 2 class subs are armed with South Korean made Haeseong-3 cruise missiles and torpedoes. The Haeseong-3 is like the torpedo tube launched American Tomahawk. Haeseong-3 has a range of 1,500 kilometers and can reach any target within North Korea.

The first three KSS-2s were built (from German components) by Hyundai Heavy Industries. Much to the chagrin of the South Koreans, who are trying to develop their own submarine building capability, the first three Type 214s had quality problems. Mostly it was because of defective components and poor construction techniques that left the three boats noisy and easier to detect. The first three Type 214 subs were out of action for most of 2010 because of these problems. This was very embarrassing, as these subs were built in South Korea and that was a big deal for South Koreans. Building submarines is a very specialized and exacting type of manufacturing and South Korea has only been doing it only since 2000. The first subs built in South Korea were these three German Type 214s, and the first of those entered service in 2008. The boats were built using licensed technology from the German developer (HDW) and many of the components were manufactured in South Korea as well. But then in 2006 metal bolts in the Type 214s began coming loose or breaking. The problem was traced to the South Korean supplier of the bolts which were not, it turned out, manufactured to the German specification. Eventually, German specialists were called in, and by 2011 the problem had been fixed.

South Korea went ahead with plans to build six additional Type 214 subs over the next 12 years. South Korea already had nine 1,100 ton Type 209 subs, designed and built in Germany. The Type 214 boats use fuel cells, enabling them to stay underwater for up to two weeks, which is ten times longer than the Type 209s. The Type 214 is a 1,700 ton, 65 meter (202 foot) long boat, with a crew of 27. It has four torpedo tubes and a top submerged speed of 35 kilometers an hour. Maximum diving depth is over 400 meters (1,220 feet).

AIP boats go for up to a billion dollars each. The second batch of South Korean 214s will have an improved AIP system, which is apparently more reliable and provides a small increase in time underwater. South Korea will probably become a supplier of AIP systems as well because they now have the industrial expertise for this sort of high tech. The latest Type 214 boat is important because if it proves to be flawless it will make South Korea a contender in the international submarine market.





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