September 3, 2013: Strategy Page
South Korea recently launched the first of a second batch of six Type 214 submarines. This one was built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. The first three were built (from German components) by Hyundai Heavy Industries. Much to the chagrin of the South Koreans, who are trying to develop their own submarine building capability, the first three Type 214s had quality problems. Mostly it was defective components and poor construction techniques that left the three boats noisy and easier to detect.
The first three Type 214 subs were out of action for most of 2010 because of these problems. This was very embarrassing, as these subs were built in South Korea and that was a big deal in South Korea. Building submarines is a very specialized and exacting type of manufacturing, and South Korea has only been doing it for less than a decade. The first subs built in South Korea were these three German Type 214s, and the first of those entered service five years ago. The boats were built using licensed technology from the German developer (HDW) and many of the components were manufactured in South Korea as well. But then metal bolts in the Type 214s began coming loose or breaking seven years ago. The problem was traced to the South Korean supplier of the bolts which were not, it turned out, manufactured to the German specification. Eventually, German specialists were called in, and by 2011 the problem had been fixed.
South Korea went ahead with plans to build six additional Type 214 subs over the next 12 years. South Korea already had nine 1,100 ton Type 209 subs, designed and built in Germany. The Type 214 boats use fuel cells, enabling them to stay underwater for up to two weeks. The Type 214 is a 1,700 ton, 65 meter (202 foot) long boat, with a crew of 27. It has four torpedo tubes and a top submerged speed of 35 kilometers an hour. Maximum diving depth is over 400 meters (1,220 feet).
AIP boats go for up to a billion dollars each. The second batch of South Korean 214s will have an improved AIP system, which is apparently more reliable and provides a small increase in time underwater. South Korea will probably become a supplier of AIP systems as well because they now have the industrial expertise for this sort of high tech. The latest Type 214 boat is important because if it proves to be flawless it will make South Korea a contender in the international submarine market.