A ROK Navy Type 209 "Changbogo" Class Submarine (한국해군 209급 잠수함 장보고함), part of the first phase of South Korea's Attack Submarine Fleet modernization (Source: military-today.com)

A ROK Navy Type 209 "Changbogo" Class Submarine (한국해군 209급 잠수함 장보고함), part of the first phase of South Korea's Attack Submarine Fleet modernization (Source: military-today.com)

This is part two in our look at Kormarine Expo 2011 (마린위크는 국제 조선 및 해양산업전),  held in Busan, South Korea from October 26-29. This series specifically focuses on the technologies seen at the Naval & Defense Show (국제 해양방위 산업전) and what those mean for the future of the ROK military.

In part one of this series, we delved into the current generation of ROK antisubmarine missile systems being deployed on South Korean destroyers for eliminating DPRK submarines. Today we’ll dive (pun intended) into the realm of ROK naval submarines, as they move from foreign-procured technologies and designs, to indigenously created models.

The Republic of Korea’s navy has been rapidly modernizing their submarine forces since the 1980s. Their submarine fleet currently comprises of the following (In descending order of modernity):

  • 2 “Dolgorae” Class Submarines (한국해군 잠수함 돌고래급): Based on Italian “Cosmos” class, midget submarines built in 1980s and early 1990s, three built originally, one now decommissioned.
  • 9 Type 209 Changbogo” Class Submarines (한국해군 209급 잠수함 장보고함): German-designed export class, originally German-built, now built domestically
  • 3 Type 214 “Sohn Wonyil” Class Submarines (한국해군 214급 잠수함 손원일함): German-designed export class, all built in Korea, three currently under construction, three more planned to equal a total of nine by 2018

The ROK Navy is in the process of winding down phase two of their Korean Attack Submarine Program, the first of which comprised of the procurement and implementation of Type 209s, the second phase being the current construction and deployment of Type 214s, and the third (and final) phase, involving the complete domestic creation of attack submarines.

While the public has yet to lay eyes on designs for this third-phase Korean attack submarine (planned for deployment sometime around 2018) the Kormarine Expo 2011 Naval & Defense Show did preview what’s currently brewing in South Korea’s submarine development world, namely the KS 500A Submarine, a domestically designed and produced replacement for the aging Dolgorae midget submarines:

A three dimensional cross section of the ROK Navy's next generation mini-submarine for littoral operations with dimensions and armament data (Source: MilitaryPhotos.net )

A three dimensional cross section of the ROK Navy's next generation mini-submarine, the KSS 500A, for littoral operations (Source: MilitaryPhotos.net )

The KSS 500A will fill a similar mission profile to the Dolgorae Class, tabbed for special operations within littorl/coastal regions. It’s larger than the Dolgorae (37m length/510ton surface displacement, compared to the Dolgorae’s 25m length/150 tons), though still significantly smaller than the ROK Navy’s attack submarines. The KSS 500A will be far quieter than the obsolete Dolgorae, and with its new lithium-ion battery engine systems, should be able to reduce indiscretion rates compared to many current diesel-battery configurations.

The submarine can operate with a minimum crew of five, although ten will be standard for continual operation via shifts. It will have deployment capabilities for seven or more special operations forces, likely deployable without need for surfacing. This is seen as an important asset in conducting surveillance and insertion missions against North Korea in the shallow coastal regions of the Yellow Sea. The KSS 500A will also have a weapons compliment consisting of up to two heavy torpedoes, four light torpedoes, mines and/or vertically launched missiles.

The submarine is a believed test bed for the ROKN’s final phase in their attack submarine program, as many of the technologies planned for these submarines will likely see larger-scale integration on their phase three attack submarines. Current plans are for five to be produced, with construction set to begin next year.

As the ROK Navy begins shopping around their older submarines (in both building new type 209s for other countries, or potentially selling their oldest 209s), it will be interesting to see South Korea’s plans for it’s modern submarine fleet continue to evolve and grow. The introduction of the KSS-500A gives a good template for where the ROK Navy’s currently heading with their technology and hull designs.

We eagerly await seeing how the KSS 500A stacks up against similar submarines in its class, as well as learning more about how its success/failure will impact the third phase of attack sub development.

In part three of this series, we’ll be tackling drones by land, sea, and air. It shall be interesting, stay tuned…

(Special thanks to the wealth of information and leads provided by the folks on the forums at militaryphotos.net, as well as a very interesting debate into the nature of the KSS 500A’s stern design, which shows that Koreans may be copying more than just iPads ;-p )

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch