Sept. 27 (UPI) — North Korea retains far more submarines in its fleet than South Korea, and the underwater vehicles could be deadly when mounted with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
According to South Korean analyst Park Yong-han, a military expert once affiliated with the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, North Korea has 80 submarines, while South Korea retains 18.
Writing for local newspaper JoongAng Daily, Park said the North Korean submarine that poses the greatest threat is the 2,000-ton Sinpo or Gorae-class sub, which it developed by reverse engineering Russia-made Golf-class submarines.
The Sinpo-class vehicles are dangerous because they are capable of carrying SLBMs and are being built “continuously,” according to South Korea’s defense ministry in 2014.
North Korea’s SLBM launches began to be made public in May 2015.
Pyongyang also claimed it successfully launched a SLBM, the Pukguksong-1, in April 2016.
While the Sinpo-class submarines present the greatest challenge, Park writes it is North Korea’s Romeo-class submarines that serve as its main line.
North Korea introduced the subs to its fleet in 1976, and though they are relatively obsolete, was included in a photograph of leader Kim Jong Un in 2014, where he appeared to be directing the submarine and providing field guidance to the navy.
The Romeo-class submarine has a displacement of 1,800 tons and can carry a crew of 50, according to Park.
North Korea also has a history of using submarines to infiltrate South Korean waters.
In 1996, a 325-ton North Korean Shark-class submarine ran aground near the South Korean city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province.
In 1998 a midget Yugo-class submarine was caught in a South Korean fishing net while returning home from a surveillance mission, Park writes.
The South Korean analyst also states North Korea retains about 10 submarine bases.