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South Korean Naval Plight Our Own

May 25, 2010

South Korea navy amphibious ship, ROKS Dokdo.

This might be considered a continuation of the post we did the other day titled “Lessons of the Cheonan Sinking“. A new article “Navy to get new course after loss of Cheonan” from the JoongAng Daily, details how the South Koreans dropped the ball when looking too far from home for an enemy:

But under the Defense Reform plan (2005), the Navy adopted the grandiose goal of becoming a Blue Water Navy, capable of operating across the seas and oceans. Under the reform, the Navy would add advanced destroyers using sophisticated weapons systems.

In that process, Korea may have neglected its own coastal defenses.

“Because of the Blue Water Navy plan, the focus shifted away from the North Korean Navy,” said Kim Hee-sang, former head of the now-defunct National Emergency Planning Commission, which handled national crisis management. It was later integrated with the Ministry of Public Administration.

This next statement is extremely shocking:

“Retired Navy admirals say the Navy may be the weakest link of our military in wartime,” Kim added.

Here is a fleet undergoing major modification, that includes warships which are second to none anywhere in the world, the KDX series of missiles destroyers and frigates, plus small amphibious aircraft carriers and home-built subs. The Aegis ship Sejong the Great is the most heavily armed ship in the world, even more so (in terms of weapons-load) than American and Japanese vessels. Yet, here all this concentrated firepower is considered a “weak link” helpless before a simple fleet of coastal submarines and speedboats.

There’s also a budget issue. In 2009, the Navy’s budget was set at 29.6 trillion won, about 10 percent of the overall defense budget. Critics said the Navy was stretched thin trying to develop a Blue Water force.

The discrepancy in numbers between the two fleets is not balanced by the Souths technical superiority:

According to the most recent South Korean Defense White Paper published in 2008, South Korea had 68,000 Navy and Marine Corps troops with 170 vessels, mostly large destroyers. North Korea had 60,000 troops and operated 810 vessels, mostly small, including underwater destroyers, guided-missile destroyers and torpedo boats. These are the types of crafts that North Korea can use in guerrilla-type warfare.

In the last Korean sea fight, in 2009, when the South sank an enemy patrol boat, ( an incident which may have instigated the North’s retribution on the Cheonan), New Wars posted the following:

While yours truly is all for having the best equipment, it is disturbing that the wrong conclusions might be given to justify a certain end, with little doubt the South is investing heavily in new Blue Water programs for possible rivalry with China and Japan. Meanwhile, as we see here, the threat of the North isn’t going away or even subsiding:

North Korea vastly outnumbers South Korea in gunboats. But South Korea has the edge when it comes to the size and capability. The South has around 120 battleships and the North around 420, but the North has only three of more than 1,000 tons while the South has 10, including the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer King Sejong and others in the 3,000 ton or higher class.


It’s not just the Koreans who are preparing for the wrong war, heavily investing in conventional Blue Water assets, leaving their fleets starved of the more useful and desperately required patrol vessels, and often the readiness of the ships they have–India who should know better after the horrendous Mumbai attacks were launched from the sea, America and her ongoing investment in a shrinking number of Blue Water assets, Britain with her smallest fleet in centuries, Canada threatening to tie up needed coastal warships in order to maintain her fleet of frigates and submarines. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, the essential sea control which the West depends on for the free passage of oil tankers and foodstuffs are at risk because the established navies are seeking to refight World War 3. There is hope however, coming from an unlikely source–fiscal reality. With defense budgets either stagnate or shrinking everywhere, it is forcing many to prioritize their spending, most noticeably of late in the US, but their are signs of sanity returning to other countries.

Budgetary concerns may come into play, too. Defense Reform 2020 was built on the premise that defense spending would increase by almost 10 percent annually between 2005 and 2010. But this year’s budget went up by just 3.6 percent from a year ago.

Now here with the South Koreans, we see a change in strategy to meet the most prevalent and imminent threat from the North. Would it leave her unprepared for a future conventional fight with the Chinese? Perhaps, but if she loses the fight facing her at home, it means she will be unable to manage the future obscure threat also, since you can’t have readiness without experience.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    May 25, 2010 5:54 pm

    South Korea is a wealthy Asian Tiger, and naturally, like China, possibly for similar reasons, reaches far beyond its coastal waters. It participates with the naval powers in hunting Somali pirates, sort of like joining an exclusive gentleman’s club in times past, shooting big game from the elephant.

    It maintains 100+ coastal patrol boats and corvettes, and develops new classes of the same. And, as Jed suggests, its blue water ships can defend the mainland against ballistic attack. So I don’t think they are quite in the same boat with us vis-a-vie a lopsided HI-lo imbalance.

    One of N. Korea’s ironies is that it cannot defend its merchant ships loaded with arms for foreign buyers because of the UN arms shipping embargo. It relies on stealth, which doesn’t seem to work much of the time.

  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 25, 2010 5:35 pm


    The King Sejong the Great class (DDX-III) destroyers carry more than just the Mk-41 VLS. They also employ the Korean VLS (K-VLS) for missiles other than the Standard missile family. Still, their 80 cells of the two Mk-41 VLS systems installed deploy the SM-2 Block IIIB/IV SAM rather than the SM-3 ABM system. Thus, as presently constituted they are not capable of employing Anti-Ballistic Missile defensive systems.

    Displacement: 8,500 tons standard displacement; 11,000 tons FULL LOAD (they are the largest and most heavily armed DDGs in the world).

    Armament: One x 5 inch (127mm/L62) Mk-45 Mod 4 naval gun;
    One x 30 mm Goalkeeper CIWS;
    One x RIM-116 Block 1 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) SAM launcher (21 missiles);
    80 cells Mk 41 VLS SM-2 Block IIIB/IV SAM;
    Four x 4 SSM-700K Hae Sung long-range anti-ship missile (similar to Harpoon);
    32 x Hyunmoo III land attack missiles (similar to TLAM, fitted in K-VLS);
    16 x Hong Sang Eo (Red Shark) rocket-based torpedo (K-ASROC in K-VLS);
    Two x 3 K745 LW Blue Shark torpedoes.

    Aircraft carried: Two Westland Lynx Mk.99 ASW helicopters.

    That makes for 128 missiles loaded into VLS cells. Then, there are those 16 Harpoon-equivalent AShMs (in four quad cannister launchers) plus 21 RIM-116 RAM short-range SAMs. That’s a total of 165 missile war-shots carried aboard one AEGIS-equipped DDG.

    If ballistic missile defense was desired, then reload 16 to 24 Mk-41 VLS cells with SM-3 ABM war-shots. Also, to make up for the loss of that same number of SM-2 Block IIIB/IV SAMs, then install quad-packed ESSM in eight to sixteen of the remaining Mk-41 VLS cells. Of course, the installed AN/SPY-1D(V5) RADAR and AEGIS system would require modification to handle two additional types of missiles.

  3. Jed permalink
    May 25, 2010 4:25 pm

    Who are we to second guess Korea’s admirals ? Who says building Aegis ships is to do with blue water projection rather than focusing on North Korea ? I will tell you what, those air-defence destroyers with thier Aegis Systems and lots of MK41 VLS might be the only system that the south has that could shoot down the North’s intermediate range ballistic missiles. They would certainly add to the nations SAM defences !

    This is more to do with shallow water ASW, and the best vehicle for that is a helicopter with an active dipping sonar. If the Cheonan had active or passive sonar, as others have noted, they may not have had to time to detect an incoming torpedo in the horrible acoustic environment suggested by the talk of shallows, strong tides and currents etc.

    If the North is looking to cause trouble, they will find a way !

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 25, 2010 4:04 pm

    Phil Ewing at Scoop Deck earlier reported on this item from Asia Times. Much like Phil, I had never known that RADAR could detect subsurface torpedoes… |;-( …Also note the name of the author and from where he ‘reports’.

    South Korea in the line of friendly fire
    By Kim Myong Chol

    “A South Korean sister paper of the Washington Times, Segye Ilbo, on March 29 quoted a military source as saying: “The radar of the CIC on the corvette Cheonan is capable of easily detecting any torpedo within any radius of 20-30 kilometers but on that fateful day it detected no sign of a torpedo attack or naval firing by North Korea.”

    You’ve got to read this whole propaganda spiel to get the entire import of what is being suggested by North Korea’s preeminent ‘unofficial’ propagandist.

    “Kim Myong Chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean, Japanese and English on North Korea, including Kim Jong-il’s Strategy for Reunification. He has a PhD from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an “unofficial” spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea.”

    (Copyright 2010 Kim Myong Chol.)

  5. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 25, 2010 3:54 pm

    Not surprised that their “radar” did not detect the torpedo (or sub).

    Assuming they meant sonar, only 2 km doesn’t cut it against guided weapons with a range of over 20 km anyway, although they might have gotten hydrophone effect just before the hit.

  6. Joe permalink
    May 25, 2010 3:05 pm

    No matter what course they follow, if the the following article is accurate, an additional, important lesson to be learned is not to focus solely on building new ships while disregarding the quality of systems on older ones.


    Apr 19, 2010: A lingering question is why the Cheonan’s radar system was unable to detect a torpedo attack, if that was indeed the cause of the sinking. The Defense Ministry says the sonar aboard a South Korean warship like the Cheonan has a 70-percent chance of detecting submarines or semi-submersibles around a 2 km radius. But retired naval commanders say the chances are actually only 50 percent, so sonar officers could have been unaware of an approaching torpedo.

  7. Hudson permalink
    May 25, 2010 2:15 pm

    One potential bright spot in the otherwise gloomy picture on the Korean Penninsula, is that the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan is a clear violation of the 1953 Armistice Agreement between North and South Korea, if previous naval clashes were not flagrantly so.

    This means that any negotiations of the matter will go to the root issue, the armistice itself, with the potential of an actual peace agreement and eventual reunification of the two countries.

    It could be that the elderly N. Korean leader Kim Il Jong wants to make that his legacy to his son to continue the family dynasty, and that is what this brinksmanship is mainly about. All out war, of course, will shatter that dream.

    The North has expelled SK’s government officials from the industrial park the two sides operate north of the border, but not the 800 middle managers and workers–for now. The world waits and watches.

  8. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 25, 2010 12:44 pm

    Another immediate response to the Cheonan sinking is an ASW exercise scheduled to start on Thursday. USN warships will join ROKN warships in the Yellow Sea (western sea) off the west coast of South Korea.

    Yonhap News Agency: S. Korea to hold anti-submarine drill against North this week

    By Kim Deok-hyun
    SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s Navy said Tuesday it will hold an anti-submarine drill this week in waters off the west coast in its first show of military force after the North’s torpedo attack on a Seoul warship, while the North threatened “practical military measures” against the South’s warships.

    The naval drill by the South slated for Thursday follows Seoul’s announcement earlier this week of a series of military measures to punish the North for sinking the Cheonan patrol boat on March 26 and killing 46 crew members.

    A total of 10 warships, including a 3,500-ton class destroyer and three patrol ships, will participate in the exercise to be held in waters off the county of Taean, about 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul, according to officials Tuesday.

    Yonhap News Agency: U.S. to assume significant role in naval drills against North

    By Kim Deok-hyun
    SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) — The U.S. navy pledged Tuesday to take on a significant role in planned joint naval drills with South Korea, one of the anti-North measures Seoul will undertake following the deadly sinking of a warship in March.

    The navies of the two countries will also cooperate closely in Seoul’s military response to the sinking, the South Korean Navy said in a statement.

    Rear Adm. Peter Gumataotao, commander of the U.S. navy in Korea, was quoted as saying the U.S will assume a role to support South Korea’s measures against the North.

    The U.S. official had met earlier on Tuesday with Vice Adm. Kim Sung-chan, South Korea’s naval chief of staff.

    Seoul’s military officials said they asked the U.S. 7th Fleet in Japan to send its warships to participate in the anti-submarine exercises with South Korea.

    That would bring a fleet of a U.S. aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered submarine and Aegis destroyer to the Yellow Sea, according to the officials.

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