January 8, 2010:
A South Korean firm is building the ESM (Electronic Support Measures) equipment for the six new Type 214 submarines their navy is buying. The ESM suite is designed by a Swedish company, but is subcontracting the construction of the equipment to South Korea's LIG Nex1. This brings home the fact that South Korea has become an electronics superpower over the last three decades. In terms of electronics items manufactured, South Korea is fourth behind the U.S., Japan and China. This has led to the establishment of specialized firms, like LIG Nex1, which do precision, and specialized work, like ESM systems. South Korea has been a growing manufacturer of military electronics, mainly in support of their local production of warships, armored vehicles and high tech weapons.
South Korea also builds submarines, also a very specialized field. A decade ago, South Korea ordered three German 214s, and the first of those entered service two years ago. The boats were built in South Korea, using licensed technology from the German developer (HDW).
Four years ago, the South Koreans dropped plans to built several large, 3,000 ton, diesel-electric subs. But now, this plan has been revived. But first, the six additional 1,600 ton Type 214 subs will be built over the next 14 years, in addition to the three already planned. South Korea already has nine 1,100 ton Type 209 subs, designed and built in Germany.
The Type 214 boats use fuel cells, enabling them to stay underwater for up to two weeks. The South Koreans like their 209s, but looked at a competing offer for the French Scorpene. The Type 214 is a 1,700 ton, 202 foot long boat, with a crew of 27. It has four torpedo tubes and a top submerged speed of 35 kilometers an hour. Maximum diving depth is over 1,200 feet.
The two designs are similar, with the Scorpene being more recent (and the result of cooperation between a French and a Spanish firm.) The Scorpene is a little heavier (1700 tons), has a larger crew (32) and is a little faster (37 kilometers an hour). It has six 21 inch torpedo tubes, and carries 18 torpedoes and/or missiles. Both models are usually equipped with an AIP (air independent propulsion) system. This enables the sub to stay under longer, thus making the sub harder to find.
With well trained crews, 214s and Scorpenes can get close to just about any surface ship, no matter how good the defenders anti-submarine defenses are. But it's the AIP boats that are the real killers. Without AIP, subs spend most of their time just below surface, using their diesel engines (via a snorkel device that breaks the surface to take in air, and get rid of the engine exhaust.) Snorkels can be spotted by modern maritime patrol aircraft, and many nations are getting more of these.
European built AIP boats go for about half a billion dollars each. The second batch of South Korean 214s will have an improved AIP system, which is apparently more reliable, and provides a small increase in time underwater. South Korea will probably become a supplier AIP systems as well, because they now have the industrial expertise for this sort of high tech.