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Will North Korean Subs Attack U.S?
4/15/2013 12:40:48 PM
Are North Korean submarines, armed with nuclear torpedoes, preparing to attack U.S. western seaports? U.S. government and military officials have focused our attention on land-based ballistic missiles, and have offered assurances that North Korea is not yet capable of accurately hitting western targets. While this may be true, these sources have been strangely silent about the ability of the Korean People's Navy (KPN) to arm submarines with nuclear torpedoes.
In early April, Russia's Ministry of Defense issued an Urgent Action bulletin to all Strategic Missile Forces to prepare for a potential nuclear strike, but not from land-based launchers. Intelligence reports confirm that on February 12, the KPN conducted another underground nuclear test, its third within seven years. Shortly thereafter, Russian defense analysts raised concerns about several highly suspicious transfers of unknown materials from the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, located in Mantapsan, about a mile west of the Hwasong concentration camp where North Korea disposes of its political prisoners. The “unknown material” is believed to be highly enriched uranium, or plutonium 239, derived from a 5 MWe nuclear reactor. What’s interesting is that the “material” was transferred to the heavily-protected submarine base located on the east coast island of Mayang Do. This base is where the PLAN parks its ten Yono-class miniature submarines.
While many Americans believe that the U.S. military can easily vanquish the KPN, this is simply wishful thinking. North Korea’s military is one of the largest in the world, with the ability to deploy almost one million active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. KPN has 5,400 tanks and the DPRK can scramble over 800 combat aircraft. With more than 700 vessels, the North Korean navy is now the world’s third largest. They have almost eighty submarines, including twenty-two Chinese-made Romeo-class (1,800 tons), forty Sang-O class (300 tons) and ten Yono-class midget subs (130 tons).
A Yono-class submarine is blamed for the torpedo attack on March 26, 2010 that sank the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean Pohang-class corvette. Forty-six sailors lost their lives in the attack. Evidence recovered at the site points to a CHT-02D torpedo. Experts believe that the North Koreans may have outfitted several of these torpedoes with nuclear warheads and loaded them into five or more Yono subs. While these mini-subs have only a five hundred nautical mile range, and so are not typically used for long-range missions, it is possible that the North Koreans have created a number of underwater refueling areas scattered across the Pacific Ocean. They may also be using fuel-laden vessels disguised as fishing trawlers. Lastly, the Yonos may be decoys for the larger Sang-O class subs, which have a 1,500 nm range.
Yono, Sang-O and Romeo subs run on diesel-electric power. They can operate on batteries for around two or three days, and then must surface or snorkel and use a diesel engine to charge the batteries and recirculate the air. When running on battery power, they are near-silent and very difficult to find by Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) forces. Even the sophisticated sonar used by the U.S. Navy’s most advanced Virginia-class submarines have a hard time locating these subs. Furthermore, the navy has de-emphasized ASW technologies and training since the Cold War, and many officials lament that recent budget cuts have severely crippled the navy’s ASW capabilities.
Validation of this fact may have occurred on April 5, 2013. The Urgent Action bulletin issued that day warned that up to five Yono subs had evaded U.S. and South Korean ASW forces and could not be located. Russian military analysts fear that Yono or Sang-O subs may be headed toward South Korea’s port of Busan or Japan’s port of Yokohama, and perhaps a few are using hidden re-fueling points to reach the west coast of the United States. If so, they are likely targeting the shipping ports at Seattle, Oakland and Long Beach.
A day before the Urgent Action bulletin was released, North Korea’s state news agency broadcasted a stern warning from Pyongyang: “Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, (our) revolutionary armed forces... will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.”
In my book, Red November, I documented how four Soviet Foxtrot submarines successfully evaded U.S. forces during the Cuban Missile Crisis. All four were carrying nuclear torpedoes and all came within moments of firing on the U.S. fleet, which would have triggered World War III. Shipping trade represents 90% of the world’s total. If only one North Korean submarine reaches a U.S. or allied shipping port and explodes just one nuclear-tipped torpedo, the entire world could be plunged into an economic nightmare unseen since the Great Depression.
William Craig Reed is a former Navy Diver, submariner and the New York Times bestselling author of Red November, Inside the U.S. – Soviet Submarine War (HarperCollins, 2010) and The Eagle and the Snake: A SEAL Team Six Interactive Thriller (Diversion, 2012). Reed is currently writing Ice Wars, a non-fiction book about potential submarine conflicts over natural resources that may soon occur between the U.S. and other navies, including North Korea.
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Will North Korean Subs Attack U.S? - Monday, April 15, 2013
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Intelligent Design or Darwin's Evolution? - Monday, April 14, 2008