S. Korean Navy pursuing acquisition of nuclear-powered submarine

Posted on : 2019-10-11 15:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Nuclear submarine plan is not underway but under review by Naval task force
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim Seung-seob before a National Assembly National Defense Committee parliamentary audit in Gyeryong
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim Seung-seob before a National Assembly National Defense Committee parliamentary audit in Gyeryong

The South Korean Navy is working to acquire a nuclear submarine powered by atomic energy and is operating a task force to pursue the plan from a long-term perspective, it announced on Oct. 10.

The Navy shared its plan during a National Assembly National Defense Committee parliamentary audit that day, adding that the acquisition would “be decided in accordance with state policy” and that “cooperation with the Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters will be pursued going forward.” The message was taken as meaning that the nuclear submarine development plan is not currently underway, but that the Navy is reviewing the need for one. The task force is led by a Navy commander and holds meetings once per quarter, the Navy said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim Seung-seob explained, “Because a nuclear-powered submarine is capable of long underwater operations, we anticipate it would be most useful in tracking and destroying North Korean missile-carrying submarines on an ongoing basis.”

“We recognize the utility and necessity of a nuclear-powered submarine in terms of its being a useful deterrent capable of responding simultaneously to North Korea and other neighboring countries,” he stressed.

Choi Jae-sung, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, previously remarked, “A study commissioned by the Navy found the nuclear-powered submarine to have markedly superior operational capabilities to the diesel submarine and said it would be the most useful form of military strength on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Navy also announced that it will begin exploratory development of a 6,000-ton next-generation KDDX-class destroyer before the end of the year. This destroyer is being described as a “mini Aegis destroyer” because it is larger than the 4,200-ton KDX-II destroyer (six currently in operation) but smaller than the 7,600-ton KDX-III Aegis destroyer that is the workhorse of the Navy’s task forces. The KDDX will be the first vessel equipped with a combat system built entirely on domestic technology.

In addition, the Navy said it was planning to enter the detailed blueprint and system development phase for the new KDX-III AEGIS destroyer (second batch) this year and to deploy the ship by the mid-2020s. “The deployment of the new Aegis destroyer will coincide with our development of ballistic missile interception capability,” the Navy said. The army is currently reviewing the option of equipping the new Aegis destroyers with the SM-3 air defense system with its enhanced ballistic missile interception ability.

Additional plans for large transport ship

The navy is also pursuing plans to acquire a large transport ship, the LPX-II, that could service aircraft with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities, along with an arsenal ship that could carry out missions in concert with task forces. The LPX-II, which is currently in the conceptual design phase, is slated to enter service in 2030.

Construction is currently underway on additional frigates in the Daegu-class (FFX, second batch), with two already complete. The first ship in this class, known as the ROKS Daegu, was launched in August 2018, but its operations were halted after its propulsion system experienced problems. The ROKS Daegu will soon return to active service.

The second ship in this class is the ROKS Gyeongnam, which was launched in June, and the third ship is supposed to be launched later next month. The Navy also plans to acquire a third and fourth batch of frigates with enhanced performance.

In terms of South Korea’s submarine force, the 3,000-ton ROKS Dosan Ahn Changho (lead vessel of its class and part of the first batch of KSS-III) has already been launched, with more submarines scheduled for deployment by the mid-2020s. The basic plans for higher performance submarines (in the second batch of KSS-III) were completed last year, with preparations now underway for system development.

The Navy announced that, in order to strengthen its antisubmarine capabilities, it will be acquiring more maritime patrol planes and helicopters for maritime operations and seeking to upgrade the performance of its current maritime helicopter, the Lynx. It explained that it will also be working to accommodate demand for unmanned surface vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles so as to enhance the interoperability of manned and unmanned military assets.

By Yoo Kang-moon, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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