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Koreas Clash at Sea

November 10, 2009

Heated naval combat occurred yesterday after a North Korean provocation, according to the Korea Times:

At around 10:30 a.m., the North Korean boat crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), and ignoring repeated warnings, he said.

In response to a South Korean patrol boat firing warning shots ― in accordance to the rules of engagement ― at 10:36 a.m. the North returned fire directly at the vessel, said JCS spokesman Kim Young-chul.

Kim said some 15 rounds hit the side of the South Korean boat without causing any serious damage or causalities.

The South fired back, causing the North Korean vessel to retreat toward northern waters at 10:40 a.m. badly damaged and engulfed in flames, he said.

The latest incident came amid expectations that Pyongyang and Washington may soon engage in direct talks.

There were no S Korean casualties, but we are assuming there were in the heavily damaged Northern boat.

The DailyNK has further details:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters in a press briefing this afternoon that the North Korean patrol vessel crossed the NLL at 11:27AM at a point 11.3 kilometers off the east coast of Daecheong Island, which lies in South Korean territorial waters just 2.2 kilometers from North Korea on the west side of the peninsula.

According to the briefing, the South Koreans broadcast two warning messages between 11:22 and 11:25. However, the North’s vessel continued to advance southwards and so, between 11:28 and 11:31, two more messages were sent, instructing the North Koreans that, “Your vessel is continuing to violate our border despite our warnings, and this is causing tensions to rise. If you do not change course, we will open fire.”

The North Korean vessel apparently did not change direction, so at 11:36 the South Korean naval vessel fired warning shots across its bow.

At 11:37, the North fired approximately 50 shots at the South Korean vessel, and the South simultaneously returned fire with around 100 shots from a 40mm cannon.

The battle lasted for approximately two minutes, until the North Korean patrol vessel went back across the NLL at 11:40 after suffering “considerable” damage.

The two Koreas have engaged in bloodier clashes, the last in 2002 where 19 died on both sides. A Navy source also revealed “About 15 holes were found on the South Korean patrol boat that engaged in a skirmish with a North Korean vessel on Tuesday“.

According to Global Firepower, the North Korean Navy is the third largest in the world in terms of numbers, including about 500 small coastal craft, nearly 100 submarines and 100 other vessels. The South Koreans possess 75 coastal craft but also several powerful surface combatants and large amphibious ships.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 13, 2009 4:57 am

    elgatoso-Your idea might work if we can get the EFV to work. A troublesome weapon! The Marines deserve better, even if its something less radical.

  2. elgatoso permalink
    November 13, 2009 2:07 am

    This could be a reaally stupid idea ,but what about a EFV used like a patrol boat with a mother ship like a base?

  3. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 12, 2009 2:48 am

    Chuck, D.E.,

    I like the way you think! It’s not so hard to upgrade the armament on a small patrol boat for killing pirates. A couple RCWS stations with a 30 mm & light missile arrays (this part may be overkill, really) would do the trick. Another option would be to field a 21st century Q-ship with similar weapons. It’s not as daffy as it might sounds, really. Somali pirates might get cold feet if a significant fraction of cargo vessels was a well-armed Q-ship. And it’s easier to conceal the guns then it was in WWI. Might have some drug interdiction value, too. Just a thought.

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 12, 2009 12:18 am


    Now, you’re catching on! More and bigger guns are just about always better.

    I viewed a video of the South Korean 20 mm Sea Vulcan Gatling gun firing in short bursts. Wicked! It’s not a Vulcan Phalanx CIWS, but for close-range surface actions it certainly does seem to have an interesting degree of impact.

    While the ROK Navy PKM class usually carries a mix of single barrel 40 mm Bofors and Sea Vulcan gun mounts, the new (and larger) PKX class of FACs (or small patrol corvettes [PCs]) will mount both a 76 mm Oto Melara cannon and a twin 40 mm mount. Some of the new class will carry four AShM missiles for the strike mission (in addition to the guns). Others will be configured with just the guns (no missiles) for duties more similar to traditional OPV or coast guard functions.

    I do think that several of the ROK Navy Chamsuri-class PKMs might prove to be useful in a place like the littorals of the Somali coast. They possess lots of RADAR and visually directed guns. What better to use when dealing with RPG-wielding pirates sailing aboard steel-hulled mother-ships?

  5. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 11, 2009 11:52 pm

    Of course it would be a good idea to augment the armament. 2 30 mm chain guns should do nicely.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 11, 2009 11:51 pm

    The 110 ft cutters have 25 mm and crew served .50 cal. Even the 87 foot cutters have two .50 cals that can be brought to bear in any direction.

    In Viet Nam the 82 ft cutters regularly sank steel hull trawlers that were much better armed and trained than the Somali mother ships.

    My point is that the resources are available if we made it a priority.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 11, 2009 10:49 pm


    Perhaps the Chinese PLAN would be willing to contribute some patrol boats. They certainly have the numbers and should be able to spare a small number of them for an overseas deployment. They are expressing a great deal of concern regarding the threat represented by the Somali pirates. If any maritime nation has concerns regarding this problem, then it should be China.

    Now, if there are only three pirate ports / havens to cover, then only a small set of deployments could embargo those towns along the Somali coast. Four to six sets of patrol boats (three or four boats per section) would allow for an adequate rotation of frontline assets, with those drawn away from actively blockading the ports could be allowed time in nearby ports for repairs and upkeep.

    For basing, establish three support vessels offshore and over the horizon from those pirate ports. Have the patrol boats cycle back and forth between the coast and the support ships lying further out to sea. As for supplying the support ships, have naval replenishment ships operate out of Djibouti and Mombasa in support of the operation. Rotate the support ships as the patrol boat sections are rotated into and out of operational areas.

    I believe that patrol boats featuring armaments along the lines of the PKMs (or slightly smaller classes) might be necessary for dealing with what might develop along the coast of Somalia. Recall that Eritrea has been supporting some Islamist factions in Somalia. And, Iran has been basing naval assets in Eritrea and assisting them in building infrastructure. What do we really know of what sorts of weapons may be filtering down to the Somali pirates? If a Somali pirate mothership suddenly pulls a reverse Q-ship routine with 14.5 mm heavy machine-guns and rocket / missile launchers, then I would prefer to see something like the 40 mm Bofors and / or 20 mm Sea Vulcan weapons mounts (as deployed on ROK Navy PKMs and smaller patrol boats) available to deal with such threats to the deployed forces.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 11, 2009 9:58 pm

    D.E.Reddick, “Now, where do we find two or three other navies with patrol boats akin to the PKMs of the ROK Navy? Almost certainly not with the USN (well, Cyclone-class PCs would work – but, there are less than ten of them still in commission and they are already overworked). It’s just something to think about…”

    Don’t need anything as large or sophisticated as the PKMs. The US Coast Guard could provide the US contribution, although they are also very busy right now. The new Fast Response Cutter would be ideal, but 110 and 87 foot patrol boats could do it now with proper support.

    Basing might be problematic.

  9. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 11, 2009 8:28 pm

    Given the effectiveness of South Korea’s smallish patrol boat flotilla, perhaps a unit of them could be utilized as a blockade force off the coast of a Somali pirate port. Spain is now -formally- calling for such a blockade of three Somali pirate ports. The ROK Navy does seem to know how to deal with aggressive opponents. Four of their patrol boats cycling through deployments offshore from one of the several Somali pirate havens should be able to shut down pirate operations from such a port. All that the PKMs would need is a mothership base from which to replenish and perhaps a frigate to provide some helicopter backup. Or, just a nice big support ship (with frigate-class weaponry & helos) like the Danish Absalom-class. Now, where do we find two or three other navies with patrol boats akin to the PKMs of the ROK Navy? Almost certainly not with the USN (well, Cyclone-class PCs would work – but, there are less than ten of them still in commission and they are already overworked). It’s just something to think about…


    Spain calls for blockade of Somali pirate ports

    MADRID — Spain wants EU naval forces to blockade three Somali ports used to launch pirate attacks against ships in the Indian Ocean, Defence Minister Carme Chacon said Wednesday.

    She said Spain will call on European Union foreign and defence ministers to concentrate military efforts on blockading the ports at a meeting next Monday and Tuesday.

    “We know that it is from these three ports that most, if not all, ‘mother ships’ used by pirates reach up to one thousand miles away from the coast — as they did yesterday — and carry out kidnappings far from the coast,” she told RNE public radio.

  10. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 11, 2009 3:22 pm

    South Korea has some of the best ship-building yards in the world & obviously they have a technological advantage–nobody, not even China, trusts North Korea. North Korea would be a tough nut to crack in an area-denial scenario but South Korea clearly has the advantage when fighting with roughly equal numbers in open waters.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 11, 2009 5:17 am

    Thanks for the link DE!

    BW-Often the better equipped military isn’t always on the victorious side, neither can numbers always be a safe factor. Recall (using a land analogy) the better armed French in WW 2, with the most number of heavy tanks easily falling prey to the German élan and training in 1940. In a reverse scenario, you had the woefully armed and armored American Shermans in France years later taking on and prevailing over the most powerful tanks of the war, Tigers and Panthers, and winning!

    Back to the Koreas, note also these are very small skirmishes with very few ships actually involved from both sides. Who knows how things would turn out in a full scale fight? Still, my money would be on the better led and equipped South. But anything can happen in war.

  12. B.Walthrop permalink
    November 10, 2009 11:29 pm

    It is good that we agree on one aspect of this particular engagement.


  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 10, 2009 8:17 pm

    Go down to posting #45 (at the bottom of page 3) of this thread about the naval battles between North Korean and South Korean naval forces. It’s short but tells the tales of those battles. Good and bad ROE have both enabled and hampered the ROK Navy’s ability to engage the North Korean naval forces.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 10, 2009 3:56 pm

    “the smaller (in terms of vessel numbers) more technologically advanced navy in this engagement is the one that dealt a crippling blow to the other guys?”

    BW, I place much of the credit on training constantly with the world’s most expereince Navy, the USN.

  15. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 10, 2009 2:47 pm


    It was the South Korean patrol boat Chamsuri 325 which is armed with a 40 mm Bofors cannon mounted forward. There are pictures of Chamsuri 325 ramming a North Korean patrol boat during the 1999 battle between the two naval forces (see link below). The earliest reports that I read had indicated that a newer corvette had been the vessel engaging the North Koreans earlier today.

    The North Korean vessels are often armed with older Soviet-style weapons like 85 mm and 35 mm guns.

    The South Korean Chamsuri-class of PKMs is described in the following wiki page.

    First Battle of Yeonpyeong (1999)

    Second Battle of Yeonpyeong (2002)

  16. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 10, 2009 2:45 pm

    A while back I made a quick and dirty study of the effects of naval weapons and came to the conclusion that on average (with various modifications for chance/where the hit etc.) that a ship of 10X tons would sink when hit by X pounds of projectiles (hits below the waterline would double the effectiveness).

    weights of projectiles are roughly
    caliber pounds
    40mm 2
    57mm 6
    3″ 12
    5″ 54-70
    6″ 110
    8″ 260

    So a 100 ton patrol boat would probably sink if hit by 5 40 mm rounds. 15 rounds for a 300 ton vessel.

  17. Matthew S permalink
    November 10, 2009 2:13 pm

    Wow an actual naval surface armed confrontation. I wonder which South Korean ships were involved. Article stated the North Koreans fired 40mm, I wonder what kind of damage that can do?

  18. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 10, 2009 1:36 pm

    I’ve been following a discussion of this incident (plus the 1999 & 2002 battles) over at The most succinct comment asked what we should expect when one naval force utilizes 1950s Soviet naval weaponry versus a modern naval service.

  19. B. Walthrop permalink
    November 10, 2009 12:48 pm

    Do you find any irony in the fact that the smaller (in terms of vessel numbers) more technologically advanced navy in this engagement is the one that dealt a crippling blow to the other guys?


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