How S.Korea Beat Back N.Korean Gunboat

      November 12, 2009 09:56

      Arms experts and military officers say it was technological superiority that allowed South Korea to send a North Korean patrol boat scuttling back trailing a cloud of smoke across the Northern Limit Line after an incursion Monday.

      South Korea's 150-ton Chamsuri 325 speed boats and North Korea's 131-ton Shanghai class patrol boats are similar in size, and there are no major differences in their armament capacities. The Chamsuri is armed with 40 mm and 20 mm cannon and 12.7 mm K-6 machine guns. The main armaments of the North Korean patrol boat are 37 mm and 25 mm cannon. But the decisive factor is the ships' ability to deliver accurate fire.

      The cannon mounted on the Chamsuri are computer-controlled and capable of delivering accurate fire even when the boats are bobbing on choppy waters. The 40 mm cannon were made by Italian arms manufacturer Breda. The 20 mm Sea Vulcan gun is capable of firing between 2,700 and 3,300 rounds per minute on its targets. In contrast, North Korea's Shanghai class patrol boats were manufactured in the 1960s and their guns must be fired manually. That makes it difficult to focus fire on a single target while the vessels are bobbing up and down. The naval clash on Tuesday occurred amid 2 m waves and at a distance of 3.2 km. Experts say the computer-controlled armaments of the South Korean boat was probably able to sustain concentrated fire more accurately than the North Korean boat.

      Luck may also have played a role in the fact that no South Korean sailors were killed even though the Chamsuri was hit by around 15 rounds. But Navy officers say strengthened armaments, which were added since 2002, appear to have been the main reason. During the second naval clash in the West Sea in 2002, six South Korean sailors were killed, prompting the Navy to bolster the armor of Chamsuri boats.

      Another factor was the state-of-the-art "C4I" command and control system that serves as the nerve center of the Navy. The Second Naval Fleet Command operates the Korea Navy Tactical Data System, which enabled central command to assess and lead the engagement as if they were at the scene. The equipment used by North is believed to be at least a decade behind South Korea's.

      North Korea vastly outnumbers South Korea in gunboats. But South Korea has the edge when it comes to the size and capability. The South has around 120 battleships and the North around 420, but the North has only three of more than 1,000 tons while the South has 10, including the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer King Sejong and others in the 3,000 ton or higher class.

      But experts warn against complacency. The South Korean vessel is believed to have fired between 1,000 to 2,000 rounds at the North Korean patrol boat on Tuesday, which sustained heavy damage but did not sink, while the South Korean vessel was shot around 15 times. "Four South Korean vessels are said to have focused their attacks on one North Korean patrol boat, and it will take more analysis to determine whether effective offensive and response measures were taken," said Kim Sung-man, a former commander of operations at the South Korean Navy.

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