North_Korean_Submarines

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The new GORAE Class ballistic missile submarine returns from a test launch in 2016.

Guide to the North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

Flag With approximately 70 boats North Korea has the second or third largest fleet of submarines in the world, after only the United States and possibly China. And while the submarines themselves may be small or antiquated, the men who man them have a proven track record of loyalty, discipline, basic naval competence and aggressive leadership. Under the regime of Kim Jong-Il (1997-2011) they were involved in a series of operations in South Korean waters and 26th March 2010 one of them attacked and sunk the South Korean corvette Cheonan. It is unclear how much of these qualities remains under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un but there seems little reason to presume that it has significantly altered.

Considering that most of its submarines rarely put to sea and only operate on short exercises, the fleet has demonstrated surprisingly high levels of readiness. According to South Korean media reports some 50 North Korean submarines (70% of the fleet) left their bases on 23rd August 2015 in a move which surprised analysts, and the South. Apparently, the exercise was undetected by the South. as many as 70% of North Koreas submarine operate undetected by the South.

Original artwork. CLICK for high-resolution image.

Indigenous submarine program

North Korea had started an indigenous midget-submarine in the early 1960s with a crude two-man being captured by the South in 1965. Its crew had abandoned it after it was caught out by the receding tide in the Han River. It was just 5.7m (19 ft) long. The design does not appear to have been pursued.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The captured midget submarine, 1965

According to declassified CIA documents North Korea imported six 16 meter long midget submarines from Yugoslavia in 1973-74. (Note that I have been unable to substantiate this, or tie down the design. Yugoslavia did have a submarine building capability but was not producing midget submarines for its own use at this time.) At about the same time they received ROMEO Class attack submarines from China and started local production. By the early 1980s several classes of midget submarines were under construction, possibly based on the Yugoslav design and/or technology.

The early designs were 18 meter and 21 meter midget submarines (known by their length, and possibly by the codename YUGO Class). At least 29 of the 18m and 7 of the 21m designs were built at Sinpo on the East Coast. These were likely indigenous designs but based on the Yugoslavian boats. No confirmed images exist in the public domain.

A 32 meter midget submarine with two external torpedo tubes was launched in 1984 at Najin on the East Coast. No photos exist but it the below sketch is based on a description in the CIA briefing:
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

A single 41 meter submarine was constructed around the same time (possibly earlier). This also had a cutting bow like the 32m type and may have been a dedicated Special Forces transport submarine (SSLP). No photos and very little information exists in the public domain.


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YUGO Class
P-4 Midget Submarine (SM)
Very few if any of the original 18m and 21m YUGO Class boats remain in service. However a 24m version, sometimes known as the P-4 type is in service. It has also been exported to Vietnam.

This is a neatly laid out design with streamlined bow and clean lines, except for an unusual stern configuration with the hydroplanes and dual rudders beneath the hull. This configuration is reminiscent of the German Type-205 submarine. Unlike the Russian/Chinese ROMEO Class submarines constructed in North Korea the YUGO P-4 is a single-hull design, which removes any serious suggestion that it is a Russian design.

Unlike earlier designs it has two 533mm (21”) torpedo tubes within the hull. These take up most of the forward half of the submarine but there is room for a lock-out chamber for divers about mid-way between the bow and the sail. This exits out of the top of the casing. A modest sonar and sensor fit allows this boat to operate as both an inshore ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) platform, including Special Forces or agent operations, or as an attack submarine. Its range and sea keeping limit it to littoral operations however.

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
A P-4 submarine was captured by South Korean forces in 1998 after it became entangled in fishing nets. The crew committed suicide and scuttled the boat but it was raised and put into limited service by the South Korean Navy. It is now retired and displayed at the Submarine Base at Busan (35.133723° N, 128.619805° E).

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
Vietnam operates two YUGO Class boats imported from North Korea. Although rarely photographed these provide valuable insights into the type.

Specification
Displacement: 90t submerged
Length: 24 meters
Beam: 3.1 meters
Power: 1 diesel engine, 1 electric motor
Speed Est. 10 knots surfaced, 4 knots submerged
Range: TBC
Max Depth: TBC
Crew: 5 + 2-6 Special Forces / agents
Armament: 2 x 533-mm torpedoes with no reloads (some sources say 406mm torpedoes)

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The captured North Korean example had an unusual five-blade screwback propeller with a second smaller propeller behind it. Both rotate in the same direction.

SANG-O Class
상어급 잠수함 - 35 meter Midget Submarine (SM)
The SANG-O (Shark) is larger and more capable than the YUGO Class. It is the most numerous North Korean type and as many as 40 boats may be in service.

At 35 meters in length it is somewhere between a true midget submarine and a small coastal submarine like the German Type-206. Like midget submarines however its torpedo armament is limited to what is in the tubes with no space for reloads inside the boat. This limits its combat persistence in the anti-shipping role.

Construction of the class began at Sinpo on the East Coast in 1991. Most seem to have been built from 1991-1997, including some on the West Coast (possibly at Nampo).
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
A Sang-O damaged during an infiltration mission off South Korea on 8th September 1996. It had landed 3 agents on 15th September and was attempting pick them up when its propeller was damaged. 25 crew and commandos escaped and fought a series of skirmishes with South Korean troops while attempting to flee to the border. One was captured and the rest were killed, ten by their own commander who appears to have committed suicide. 11 South Korean soldiers and 6 civilians were also killed.

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The captured Sang-O is now on display at the Tongil Park in South Korea. Its propeller, which is shrouded, is conspicuously absent in this image. It was sheared off and is displayed next to the boat. Photo Mark Snape (www.flickr.com/photos/marksnape/)

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The Special Forces / infiltration version has no torpedo tubes but a diver lock-out on the lower starboard side.

Specification
Displacement: 277t surfaced, 370t submerged
Length: 35 meters
Beam: 3.8 meters
Height: 6.7 meters overall
Power: 1 diesel engine, 1 electric motor
Speed 7.2 knots surfaced, 8.8 knots submerged
Range: 1500 nautical miles
Max Depth: 150 meters
Crew: 15
Armament (attack sub): 2 x 533-mm torpedoes with no reloads
Armament (Special Forces /infiltration version): None. 5 infiltrators and 6 KWP Reconnaissance Bureau Cadre as passengers

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

YONO Class
MS-29 Midget Submarine (SM)
The YONO Class (also Romanized YONEO, meaning Salmon) is a direct successor of the YUGO Class. Bearing a strong outward resemblance to the earlier design, it is longer with a larger diameter hull. Conditions inside remain cramped with no reloads for the twin torpedo tubes.

Fleet estimates are difficult but some sources cite 10 units. A YONO Class boat was reported as involved in the Cheonan sinking in 2010, and one was reported lost in 2016.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

Specification
Displacement: 130t submerged
Length: 29 meters
Beam: 2.75 meters
Power: 1 diesel engine, 1 electric motor. 1 retractable outboard electric thruster
Speed Est. 10 knots surfaced, 4 knots submerged
Range: TBC
Max Depth: TBC
Crew: Est. 7 + 2-6 Special Forces / Agents
Armament: 2 x 533-mm torpedoes with no reloads

Much of what we know about the YONO comes from a licensed copy of the design produced in large numbers in Iran. Iran originally received four YONO Class submarines from North Korea in the early 2000s and then produced its own copy as the IS-120 Ghadir Class. The Ghadir differs in some details such as the protruding attack sonar on the bow and small diver stores locker mounted externally in front of the sail.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

SANG-O II Class
39 meter Midget Submarine (SM)
At least two enlarged SANG-O boats were produced. These are 39m long and have a redesigned sail. Exact modifications are unclear but the increased length may allow for torpedo reloads.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

Specification
Displacement: 350t surfaced, Est. 440t submerged
Length: 39 meters
Beam: 3.8 meters
Height: 6.7 meters overall
Power: 1 diesel engine, 1 electric motor
Speed TBC
Range: TBC
Max Depth: 150 meters
Crew: TBC
Armament (attack sub): 2 x 533-mm torpedo tubes, possibly up to 4 reloads.

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

GORAE Class (aka SINPO Class)
신포급 잠수함 - Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSB)
Nuclear armed ballistic missile submarines are an exclusive club. Only US, UK, France, Russia, China and India have them. With the GORAE Class (initially labelled the SINPO Class by some analysts) North Korea is poised to join the club, bringing more distant targets within range.

The GORAE Class is however much smaller and less capable than other ballistic missile submarines. I am cautious to suggest that it will be conducting deterrence patrols off the West Coast of US any time soon, but it does present a launch platform which is not restricted to Korea's confined landmass. And whatever the submarine's sea-keeping and endurance relative to proper SSBNs, regional targets such as Japan, Guam and even Hawaii may be within range.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

Main article

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
The GORAE Class carries a single NK-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1 = 'North Star-1' = 'Polaris-1') Submarine launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) in the sail. The configuration is similar to the Soviet GOLF Class ballistic missile submarine, some of which were scrapped in North Korea, but the similarities end there.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

Missile Specification
Length: 9.3m
Diameter: 1.5m
Weight: 14 metric tons
Warhead: Single nuclear weapon
Propulsion: Solid fueled rocket (oiginally a Liquid fueled rocket motor)
Launch: Submerged, ignited (not ejected)
Range: TBC

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities

ROMEO Class
Project-633 / Type-033 Attack Submarine (SS)
More modern than the WHISKEY Class (which appears completely retired), the ROMEO Class are the largest submarines in North Korean inventory. 7 boats were imported from China in 1973 and then construction of the first 11 local versions took place with Chinese assistance at Sinpo shipyard on the East Coast from 1974 to 1979. Production resumed, probably without Chinese help, from 1985 to 1996. As many as 20 are reported in service although numbers are likely declining over time.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
Originally designed in the 1950s, the Russian ROMEO Class represents a modest anti-shipping threat in the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan (aka East Sea). Their operational range would allow patrols in the East China Sea and Western Pacific but this appears operationally ambitious for the North Korean Navy.
North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visiting a ROMEO Class submarine, 2014

Although it is probable that some have received some upgrades, overall the equipment standard is likely to be extremely basic and/or vintage.

Specification
Displacement: 1,328 tons surfaced, 1,712 tons submerged
Length: 76.68 m (251 ft)
Beam: 6.72 m (22 ft)
Speed: 15.31 knots surfaced, 13.18 knots submerged
Operating depth: 724 meters (2,375 ft)
Crew: 64
Endurance: 3,820 nautical miles @ 9 knot with snorkel (normal fuel load), 260 nautical miles submerged on batteries (economocal speed)
Armament: 8 × 533mm (21in) torpedo tubes (6 forward, 2 aft) with 14 torpedoes

North Korean Navy's submarine capabilities


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