May 20, 2015

North Korean Submarines - Useful Stratfor Analysis and Diagram

The following Stratfor analysis of May 19, 2015 North Korea's Submarine Problem is republished with permission of Stratfor.

"North Korea recently [claimed it] tested its new KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile, part of a program to develop weapons technology beyond ground-based systems.
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles would give North Korea two distinct advantages. First, they would extend the reach of North Korea's missile systems, theoretically enabling it to strike targets outside of ground-based missile range. Second, submarine-launched missiles, because they are offshore and mobile, would give North Korea a second-strike capability, allowing it to retaliate against attacks on its land-based nuclear bases and launch pads.
These benefits assume, however, that North Korean submarines have two important characteristics: sufficient size to carry ballistic missiles and an adequate level of endurance, or the amount of time a vessel can remain at sea unsupported.
The smallest submarine to ever carry a submarine-launched ballistic missile is the Soviet Zulu IV-class. It displaces approximately 2,000 metric tons of water carrying its one to two nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also heavier than the Type 033, currently North Korea's largest model. Pyongyang will need bigger vessels in the future to carry one to two missiles in an operational capacity. To carry more would require a new and entirely different class of submarine.
Submarines would also need to be able to continue without support long enough to reach targets beyond the range of land-based missiles. In order to fulfill a second-strike role, vessels would need to be deployed for months far from vulnerable ports and be ready for counterattack. Even with modifications, North Korea's Type 033 submarines cannot meet these endurance requirements.
Without an adequate submarine, the resources Pyongyang is investing in new missile technology will not improve the capability of its existing land-based missile program, and a suitable ballistic missile submarine would take several years to complete. Until then, the missiles under development will not provide the major benefits associated with a submarine-launched system."

I agree with most of the above. However some countries are developing miniature ballistic missiles and supersonic cruise missiles that can perform the role of the tradition large (Polaris and larger) SLBM. This miniaturisation can potentially allows submarines smaller than 2,000 tons to fire supersonic missiles (though not necessarily ballistic missiles). For example India is developing the mini K-15 ballistic missile for submarine. This is in addition to the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile and Klub cruise missile. The Klub is supersonic and torpedo tube launched.

It may not be essential for a submarine to be "deployed for months". If a submarine has evaded enemy sensors it might be a threat after 4 days travel - in which time an SSK might have arrived at a desired launch point 1,000 nautical miles from port.



Anonymous said...

You are right. The Amur 950 on paper has 10 VLS for Klub. It is only 1000 tons.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes the Amur 950 (export version of the Lada) will, on paper, have 10 VLS for BrahMos or Klub

10 VLS would, of course, be a lot to squeeze into a 1,000 ton (surfaced) sub. The paper Amur 950's four torpedo tubes may therefore be only one shot.