Sunday, June 11, 2006
Korea launched a stealthier and more powerful submarine on Friday. The 214 class Sohn Won-il was launched from Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan in what experts say is a major step from Korea’s existing subs in terms of operational capability and power. While the sub is not quite up to the level of the large nuclear submarines of China, Russia and the U.S., among diesel and electricity-propelled craft, the Sohn Won-il is as powerful as they come and extends the potential scope of operations for the South Korean Navy to the Philippines and the island of Hainan, China. A nuclear-powered submarine can theoretically stay below the surface for months at a time, but older conventional submarines -- the 209-type, North Korea’s Romio-class submarines, and the Oyashio-class and Harushio class submarines of Japan -- must surface at least once a day to replenish the air supply.
The Sohn Won-il, The nation's first 1,800-ton class submarine equipped with advanced missile systemsWhen the vessel makes these runs, it is vulnerable to being spotted by aircraft or showing up on enemy radar. But 214 class submarines can go without snorkeling for two or three weeks, thanks to an Air Independent Propulsion System (AIPS) which works, as the name suggests, without air. That is why they are appraised as having six times stronger fighting power than the old 209s. Korea has become the first country to launch an AIPS submarine in Northeast Asia. Japan, a submarine powerhouse, is in the middle of building a 3,000-ton class submarine, the 16SS, which is larger than the 214s and equipped with AIPS. It will be ready by around 2008. Elsewhere, Germany, Sweden, Greece, Italy and Russia either have or are developing AIPS subs. The Shon Won-il accommodates a crew of 40. To operate underwater for a long time, they need to be very patient, staying cooped-up in a confined space 65.3 m long and 6.3 m wide. The 214 comes with a whopping W350 billion (US$350 million) price tag, and the Navy plans to acquire nine of them by around 2020. The launch was attended by President Roh Moo-hyun, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Lee Sang-hee and other top brass.