August 24, 2015

Mystery of the Disappering North Korea Mini-submarines

One of North Korea's 40 (or so) 300 ton Sangeo class mini-submarines. The 40 Sangeos represent more than half of North Korea's submarine force of 70. The photo is of one that ran aground in 1996. (Photo and description courtesy Globalsecurity)

North Korea may have built 10 x 130 ton Yeoneo class submarines. Note one of its two outside strapped torpedos is shown. It may have been a Yeoneo that sank South Korean corvette ROKS Cheonan in 2010.

Update August 26, 2015

UPI reported along the lines that it is unclear how many North Korean submarines have re-emerged. "Seoul's military said the latest North Korea buildup provided new insight into how Pyongyang would launch an attack on South Korean territory. [North Korean] Submarines would be used to deploy Special Operations personnel to lay mines in South Korean port cities like Busan and Ulsan in order detonate nuclear power plants and other facilities.

"[North Korea's] deployment of a large fleet of submarines could be seen as a way of creating a distraction when launching a simultaneous attack against major ports and facilities in South Korea," said Moon Geun-sik, a former South Korean Navy captain."

On August 24, 2015

News that 70% of North Korea's submarines have submerged and cannot be detected may or may not be significant. North Korea is estimated to have:

-  40  x  300-ton Sangeo-class mini-submarines N Korea's largest known domestically built submarine. The 40 Sangeos represent more than half of North Korea's submarine force of 70. 

-  10  x  130-ton Yeoneo-class mini-subs and

-  20  x 1,800 ton 1950s vintage Romeo-class which would probably be only semi-functional .  

-  1 SINPO class submarine (up to 1,800-tons) which may be one of the Romeos with one or two vertical launch tubes fitted for future missile use.

If all 50 of the Sangeo + Yeoneo mini-submarines have submerged/disappeared then that is 71%. So perhaps none of the Romeo's, requiring much larger crews, have submerged?

The mini-submarines have only a limited endurance (perhaps 1 week or 2?) so they will need to resurface soon.


Shin Hyon-hee of the The Korean Herald reported late on August 23, 2015

N.K. beefs up frontline forces

The Koreas’ cross-border standoff showed more signs of flaring up on Sunday as the North Korean military sharply beefed up its frontline artillery forces and [allegedly] forward-deployed a majority of its submarines and other offensive assets despite the high-level talks over the weekend. 

...The South’s military was also unable to locate about 50 undersea vehicles, or 70 percent of the North’s submarine fleet, which have left their bases. 

...In particular, the movement of North Korean submarines is a critical indicator of provocation that Seoul closely keep tabs on at all times, he noted. 

...“It’s around 10 times the usual. We have not seen in decades that many submarines that are simultaneously out of their bases,” the official said. 

“This is the level where we can expect something really worrying to happen ― we don’t know what kind of operations they are and will be undertaking where.” 

...The heavily militarized [North Korea] is believed to run more than 70 submersibles including 20  1,800-ton Romeo-class, 40  300-ton Sangeo [or Sang O] class and 10  130-ton Yeoneo [or Yang O] class vessels. Albeit old and equipped with outdated weapons, they outnumber the South’s fleet. 

...To head off any unanticipated provocation, the South Korean military is maintaining full readiness and mobilizing more antisubmarine assets such as destroyers, P-3C patrol planes and Lynx antisubmarine helicopters, the official added. 

The South Korean Navy operates a 13-submarine fleet, consisting of nine 1,200-ton 209-class and four 1,800-ton 214-class. It is pushing to add five 214-class submarines by 2019 and nine 3,000-ton submarines carrying vertical launchers for submarine-to-ground missiles. It launched a submarine force command last February to better counter North Korean threats and carry out underwater operations, training and education, and maintenance...." 




Anonymous said...

North Korea's 50 Missing Submarines Have Apparently Reappeared Following Truce:

Well, they're back now.

Now all the armchair Admirals can speculate on how much damage they could've done
if the balloon had gone up.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks for the link.

I would say the South Koreans would have had a better idea where those North Korean submarines had gone than S Korea admits.

Still one should always worry about Kim III's actions. Even if he couldn't miniaturise a nuclear warhead for a submarine missile/torpedo he may wire in a device making a mobile submarine-Bomb.



Vigilis said...

Hi Pete

I must agree with you for a very obvious reason:

In the early days of the 1900s, subs and surface ships alike "disappeared" after leaving port. Foreign "spotters" resident near navy ports would simply record comings and goings of fleet individual units observed with binoculars or telescopes and provide such timely information to their homelands.

Obviously, basic methods are still in use, but followed up, when indicated, with today's sophisticated tracking methodologies. Missing in news accounts of the alleged "disappearance" of dozens of DPRK's subs, is when and where they were before allegedly disappearing and reappearing. Submerged out of sight could possibly be a legitimate answer for some but not all of the subs. Were they laying on the seabed at various locations (and somewhat doubtfully undetectable by magnetic anomoly means)? Gee, who has MAD capabilities?

Were some simply hiding in coastal sea caves, like China has built for some of its fleet?

Were some hiding in the holds of converted tankers (as China will use to thwart the Sea Web)?

While not exhaustive, all of the above or any combination are certainly in contention and already known far and wide to organizations like MI-6. Yes, neighobring South Korea is undoubtedly in a wider intelligence loop.

Disappeared my a$$!



Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

I imagine South Korea and the US detected the absence of N Koran subs by using satellite imagery. Then may have tracked where some of the NK subs went.

An added issue is why S Korea publicised NK sub activity - something normally confidential? Maybe it was an SK message to NK and China that NK was over-escalating this latest NK-SK confrontation.

Yes "some simply hiding in coastal sea caves" is possible.

"some hiding in the holds of converted tankers (as China will use to thwart the Sea Web)" is intriguing. This may evade some SeaWeb detection but also complicate NK and/or Chinese submarine ops.

I agree that US and other intel orgs (SK's and Japan's included) would be across these issues and tactics. Even though the NK Kim Kingdom is a pauper state the efforts NK goes to pursue its brinkmanship certainly surprises.