2015-01-11 By Yi Whan-woo -- koreatimes.co.kr
The Navy will inaugurate its first submarine command early next month in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province, the Ministry of National Defense said Sunday.
The command's fleet will be composed of under 2,000-ton submarines to begin with, but will be expanded to vessels displacing 3,000 tons.
"Feb. 2 is the date for the launch," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said, refusing to give other details.
The inauguration of the command comes at a time when North Korea maintains a significant numerical superiority with its fleet of 70 subs, about 20 of them being of the 1,800-ton Romeo class. Recent reports have said the North is putting finish touches on an upgraded version of the Soviet-designed Romeo that it has converted into being vertical missile launch capable.
The Navy currently operates nine 1,200-ton submarines and four 1,800-ton ones under its Ninth Submarine Flotilla in the port city of Jinhae.
The fleet, led by a rear-admiral (lower half), is one of the Navy units. They include three commands that are led by rear-admirals (upper half).
According to Navy sources, the submarine command will acquire five additional 1,800-ton submarines by 2018, increasing the military's total number of submarines from the current 13 to 18.
"A conventional submarine can remain underwater without recharging for longer if its weight is heavier," a Navy source said. "A 1,200-ton submarine can operate for three consecutive days while a 1,800-ton one can travel for about 15 days."
A rear-admiral (upper half) will also lead the newly-established unit, according to the source.
The defense military's announcement was made in accordance with the Defense Reform Plan (DRP) initiated in 2005.
The DRP seeks to enhance the Armed Forces' war capabilities, while enhancing its security alliance with the U.S. military by 2020 to deter North Korea's provocations.
The announcement also came amid growing the importance of strengthening Seoul's anti-submarine capabilities in the wake of North Korea's deadly torpedo attack on the Navy frigate Cheonan in March 2010 that killed 46 South Korean sailors. A multinational investigation concluded the North was the perpetrator, although it has denied it.
Under the submarine command, the Navy plans to put six 3,000-ton ballistic missile submarines into operation starting 2020.
The total number of the submarines, however, will be kept at 18 because six 1,200-ton ones will be scrapped by then, according to the Navy source.
A military expert turned down speculation that the submarine command could add fuel to ongoing controversy over a military arms race in Northeast Asia.
"Our neighboring countries, including the U.S., China and Japan, are familiar with DRP and they have not been against it," said Shin In-kyun, the president of the Korea Defense Network. "Moreover, the number of our submarines by 2020 will be still less than those owned by our neighbors."
He cited that North Korea and China operate some 70 submarines each, while Japan has 22.
Among Pyongyang's submarines, 20 of them displace 1,800 tons; 40 others, 325 tons; and the rest, 130 tons, according to Shin.
The Stalinist state is said to be building a 2,500-ton sub, which will be capable of carrying nuclear ballistic missiles, he said.
"By setting up a submarine command, we'll be able to lay the groundwork for military deterrence underwater," Shin said.
In December last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stressed "maneuvering skills of submarines" to enhance the combat capability of Pyongyang's naval forces.
In August 2014, U.S. intelligence agencies speculated that the nuclear-armed regime has developed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). They pointed out that Pyongyang secretly acquired several SS-N-6s, a type of SLBM, from Russia some time ago.