SS Romeo Class
Most of the submarines employed by the DPRK are of a 1940s or 1950s Soviet Union design. By the mid-1990s they included 21 or 22 ships of the Chinese version of the Soviet Romeo class and four Soviet Whiskey class diesel attack submarines. In addition to these submarines, the DPRK reportedly hds nine new SANG-O class coastal submarines and between 48 and 67 midget submarines.
After transfer of four Romeo class submarines from China in 1973 and 1974, North Korea began to produce its own Romeos. As of 1994, it was still producing these submarines at a rate of one every two years. Although these are generally similar to the late 1950s Soviet version, those more recently produced are likely to have numerous changes in equipment, possibly with a significant performance improvement over earlier versions. It is also significant to note that almost all of these submarines are less than 20 years old, which means most should be in a condition to at least get underway and conduct basic submerged operations.
In the shallow littoral water, a submarine crew will be able to take advantage of the geography, topography, oceanography, environmental factors and heavy shipping volume that combine to pose a significant technical and tactical ASW problem. In a Korean MRC, the DPRK submarine force will have an advantage because of its familiarity with the regional environment. In addition, even a Romeo class diesel is quiet and provides little Doppler effect when operating slowly on the battery.
In the early 1990s North Korea bought a total of 40 Russian submarines for scrap, apparently including roughly 30 Soviet-era Romeo-class submarines. Spare parts from these submarines could be used in North Korea's own obsolete Romeo class submarines.
The threat of the North Korean submarine force, with its obsolete submarines, may easily be dismissed by a capable navy. For the Joint Task Force (JTF) Commander in a major regional conflict (MRC) involving North Korea, however, this submarine force could affect many operational level decisions. The Falkland Islands War showed that a Small, tactically ineffective submarine force could impact the operational commander's decisions just by being at sea and unlocated. In a Korean MRC, the North Koreans could do the same, except the North Korean submarine force is several times larger.
From open source literature on U.S. Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) methods and littoral ASW problems, the North Koreans can learn how to best keep the submarines unlocated. Using these lessons, the North Koreans can develop a submarine employment plan that can impact the JTF Commander's decisions involving operational design and operational function, such as movement, maneuver, protection, and logistics. In a worst case, the North Korean submarine threat could make all maritime operations so risky as to virtually suspend use of the seas in the Korean region until the threat is eliminated. The only effective way to counter this threat is to neutralize the submarines before they leave port. Failing in this, it becomes a time consuming and asset intensive operation to regain control of the sea or to provide protection for those ships in threatened areas.
|Maximum Speed||16 kts surfaced
13 kts submerged
|Torpedoes||53cm; 8 tubes (6 bow, 2 stern)|
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|