The Chosun Ilbo reported today that the South Korean military has been put on alert in response to increased submarine drills by the North:

From: N.Korea Steps Up Submarine Drills

“The North has been staging drills by mobilizing five or six subs including new Shark-class ones from naval bases on the east and west coasts,” a South Korean government source said Wednesday. “The North used to stage sub drills every March in the past, but the scale is a little greater than in previous years, so we’re watching their movements closely.”

The North is testing the adaptability and performance of the subs in preparation for an infiltration rather than making actual moves to invade, the South Korean military speculates. That belief is based on the fact that the subs are rarely long gone from their bases but return after a couple of days. If they tried to infiltrate South Korean waters they would be gone at least three days, it believes.

Shark-class submarine stranded off Gangneung, 18 September 1996

Shark-class submarine stranded off Gangneung, 18 September 1996 (via Global Security)

The Shark-class is the Western designation for North Korea’s Sang-O-class, a small submarine designed for the covert infiltration of special forces – available in two variants, torpedo-carrying and mine-deploying. The 35m 325-ton submarine has been in construction since 1991, and in 1996 one was stranded off Gangneung carrying a crew of 25 armed North Korean spies. The class has also been accused as being the source of the torpedo that sank the ROKS Cheonan last year.

The class is currently fielding a new model coming in at 40m and an underwater cruising speed some 10km/h faster than earlier models.

With tension still high following the peninsula’s turbulent year in 2010, South Korea has every right to be cautious – not to mention that the recent anniversary of the Cheonan incident has only just passed (26th March 2010). It is also a chance for South Koreans to learn more about the covert subs. We sit in wait.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch