February 22, 2012

South Korean Submarines KSS-II, KSS-IIIs and Nuclear "KSSX-N" Option

Simplified cutaway of Germany's HDW U-214 AIP (designated KSS-II by South Korea). South Korea has announced it will order/build a new batch of 6 AIP KSS-IIs.

Please connect with Submarine Matters latest South Korea update South Korean Submarines, 3,000 Ton KSS-III, Nuclear Potential of April 15, 2015

The following Submarine Matters article was originally drafted in September 2009. 

South Korea (hereinafter called "Korea") is planning a large future conventional submarine, known as KSS-III and/or "Jangbogo III" displacing 3,000 tons (submerged). 
Korea plans to design and build the KSS-III locally. The KSS-III will involve some advanced design and Korean production solutions of particular interest. The first KSS-III will also be built (launch date perhaps 2022) slightly ahead of Australia's future submarine (likely launch date 2027).
The increased tonnage of the future KSS-III suggests that Korea is looking at a larger AIP system,  much longer range or a vertical launch system (VLS) (for first or second strike against North Korea using Hyanmoo III missiles) or a combination of the three.
Korea's main submarine opponent is almost certainly North Korea. As North Korea is a nuclear and conventional threat to Korea and a constant infiltrator South Korea's main submarine task would probably constant intelligence gathering - including monitoring of intruding North Korean submarines. Korea also considers China a threat and (less likely) Japan or Russia.
Korea's advanced nuclear power industry and the announcement that France is to assist Brazil in creating a nuclear powered Scorpene raises the possibility that Korea might consider nuclear propulsion in the distant future. Only a nuclear powered submarine has the sustained speed to chase/shadow one of China's emerging SSBNs or SSNs. Cooperative tactics with US SSNs would therefore be essential.

Background on KSS-III Development

From The Korea Times, May 10, 2009 reports:

"The Ministry of National Defense plans to deploy 3,000-ton [surfaced, 3,500 ton submerged] attack submarines after 2020, a two-year delay from the original Defense Reform 2020 initiative, a report said Sunday. ...The development of an [indigenous] 3,000 ton KSS-III submarine is a key part of the Navy's modernization programs. The KSS-III sub is to be fitted with domestically built submarine combat systems aimed at automating target detection, tracking, threat assessment and weapon control, according to Navy officials. The 1-trillion-won heavy attack submarine will also be armed with indigenous ship-to-ground cruise missiles and be capable of underwater operations for up to 50 days with an advanced Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, they said. The AIP system has improved the submarine's underwater performance and gives it stealth capability." full article

On South Korea's past consideration of a 4,000 ton nuclear propelled submarine (various names including "KSSX-N") option see this globalsecurity.com report