South Korea debating making a nuclear submarine in response to North Korea’s submarine launched nuclear missile

South Korea has renewed calls to deploy nuclear-powered submarines on the battlefront, refueling debate about using the advanced weapons against North Korean ballistic missile threats.

The communist state marked its first successful firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile last week, undermining South Korea’s resolve to neutralize threats via land-based missile defense systems.

“The SLBM launch is a grave threat not only to South Korea, but also to the security of Northeast Asia,” said Rep. Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party.

“(The danger from the SLBM) is even more severe than that of a land-based missile launch, because it is more difficult to detect where it has been launched from.”

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Monday it has no plans to introduce nuclear-powered submarines, despite calls by lawmakers to do so following a recent test of a submarine-launched missile by rival North Korea.

The ballistic missile traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles), the greatest distance achieved by North Korea for such a weapon. Last week’s test caused jitters among many South Koreans because submarine-based missiles are harder to detect before launch than land-based ones

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January, some conservative lawmakers and scholars demanded that South Korea develop its own nuclear weapons, but the government dismissed the request.

A total of nine 3,000-ton KSS-III submarines are expected to be built in South Korea with indigenous technologies (i.e. not going under license as the previous KSS-I and KSS-II submarines)

South Korean shipbuilder, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), has laid down the country’s first KSS-III submarine

DSME was contracted by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) to construct the first two 3,000-tonne submarines for the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) in late 2012. The KSS-III platform will be the largest submarines in the RoKN inventory once the first-of-class comes into service around 2020.

According to specifications provided by the company, the KSS-III submarine features an overall length of about 83.5 m, an overall breadth of 7.7 m and a height of 14.7 m. The platform has a maximum speed of about 20 kt, a cruising range of 10,000 n miles and can accommodate a crew of 50.

The KSS-III submarines will be equipped with the Series 30 non-hull penetrating optronic search mast system from Sagem that can accommodate up to four electro-optical (EO) payloads and electronic warfare and GPS antennas.

The platform will also be fitted with six-cell vertical launching system (VLS) that can deploy the Cheon Ryong land-attack cruise missile that has a range of up to 1,500 km. The submarine will be equipped with a weapon handling and launch system from Babcock that features a programmable firing valve launch system, similar to the ones in use on the Royal Navy’s Astute-class boats.

DSME is scheduled to deliver the second KSS-III submarine by 2022. The RoKN is expected to operate a fleet of up to nine vessels in the class.

In April, 2016 South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has launched the Republic of Korea Navy’s (RoKN’s) seventh KSS 2-class (Type 214) diesel-electric air-independent propulsion submarine. The 1,800-tonne Hong Beom-do was launched at HHI’s Ulsan shipyard.

Saenuri’s Rep. Won Yoo-chul, one of the more vocal proponents of nuclear-armed defense against Pyongyang, echoed Chung’s comments by saying a nuclear submarine is needed for continuous monitoring against North Korea.

Submarines powered by a nuclear reactor holds an operational edge over their conventional diesel-electric counterparts. Its air-independent and nuclear propulsion allows it to operate for months and at a high speed without having to resurface.

Last week’s SLBM launch, while assessed to be a step away from an actual deployment phase, indicated that the communist state may be closer to completing its SLBM program than South Korean ministry’s initial estimate of 3-4 years.

In a report to the National Assembly on Monday, the Defense Ministry said that the North’s SLBM can be deployed for use within the next 1-3 years. It assessed that it will be a threat to not only South Korea, but also the US mainland.

North Korea reportedly only has one 2,000-ton Sinpo-class submarine from which an SLBM launch is possible. Military believes it will take some time for it to develop larger submarines.

South Korea’s Navy 2015-2030 plan has centered on acquiring a “qualitative edge” over Pyongyang, essentially having bigger and better ships and submarines than simply having more.

The number of operational vessels is expected to fall, but the accumulative tonnage of the vessels will be raised from 45,000 to 70,000 tons.

This includes replacing the current PKM patrol boats with larger and more advanced patrol ships via PKX projects, and deploying 2,300-ton and 2,800-ton frigates to substitute the smaller 1,500-ton vessels. A comprehensive upgrade in detection and attack capacity is also slated to take place.

SOURCES- Korea Herald, Wikipedia, IHS Janes