Submarines: South Korea Climbs The Learning Curve

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July 23, 2014: South Korea recently launched the fifth of six KSS-2 class (Type 214) submarines. This one will be ready for service in about a year, which is typical for this kind of project. The last two KSS-2s were built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. These KSS 2 class subs are armed with South Korean made Haeseong-3 cruise missiles and torpedoes. The Haeseong-3 is like the torpedo tube launched American Tomahawk. Haeseong-3 has a range of 1,500 kilometers and can reach any target within North Korea.

The first three KSS-2s were built (from German components) by Hyundai Heavy Industries. Much to the chagrin of the South Koreans, who are trying to develop their own submarine building capability, the first three Type 214s had quality problems. Mostly it was because of defective components and poor construction techniques that left the three boats noisy and easier to detect.

The first three Type 214 subs were out of action for most of 2010 because of these problems. This was very embarrassing, as these subs were built in South Korea and that was a big deal for South Koreans. Building submarines is a very specialized and exacting type of manufacturing and South Korea has only been doing it only since 2000. The first subs built in South Korea were these three German Type 214s, and the first of those entered service in 2008. The boats were built using licensed technology from the German developer (HDW) and many of the components were manufactured in South Korea as well. But then in 2006 metal bolts in the Type 214s began coming loose or breaking. The problem was traced to the South Korean supplier of the bolts which were not, it turned out, manufactured to the German specification. Eventually, German specialists were called in, and by 2011 the problem had been fixed.

South Korea went ahead with plans to build six additional Type 214 subs over the next 12 years. South Korea already had 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, which is ten times longer than the Type 209s. The Type 214 is a 1,700 ton, 65 meter (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 400 meters (1,220 feet).

AIP boats go for up to 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 of AIP systems as well because they now have the industrial expertise for this sort of high tech. The latest Type 214 boat is important because if it proves to be flawless it will make South Korea a contender in the international submarine market. To that end South Korea has already announced plans to begin building 3,000 ton subs by 2018.

 


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