China, S.Korea Flex Naval Muscle as U.S. Wanes

China and South Korea are expanding their submarine fleets as the U.S. Navy shrinks its own. The conservative Heritage Foundation in a report last Tuesday said that by 2025 the number of U.S. submarines in the Pacific Ocean will fall from 30 to 27 while China will have 78 submarines and South Korea 26.

Mackenzie Eaglen and Jon Rodeback, who prepared the report titled "Submarine Arms Race in the Pacific" among a flurry of such papers issuing from the think tank, said the military strength of the U.S. and Russia is waning while China and South Korea's capabilities are rising and India and Australia also aspire to bolster their naval capabilities. In an attempt to dominate in the Pacific, these countries are increasing the numbers of diesel-electric attack, nuclear-powered attack, guided-missile and ballistic missile submarines.

China's growth is especially noteworthy. The Financial Times says that China's naval forces are already world class with 255,000 sailors, 26 destroyers, 49 frigates and 58 amphibious landing vessels. Since 1995, China has focused on submarine construction and built 31 new models by 2005. China presently has 60 submarines including six nuclear and 50 diesel-powered ones.

The South Korean Navy has also bolstered its submarine fleet. Since the 1,300-ton submarine Jangbogo was commissioned in 1993, a total of 12 submarines are in use, including the 1,800-ton Ahn Jung Geun commissioned last year. From 2012 to 2018, South Korea plans to manufacture six 1,800-ton submarines and nine 3,000-ton submarines to become Asia's second largest power after China in terms of the number of submarines.

Australia and India feel they have no choice but to bolster their own naval warfare capabilities. Australia plans to boost the number of its submarines from six to 12 and India from 17 to 24. Meanwhile, Russia is struggling to just maintain its existing level of military capability. Pacifist Japan and North Korea with its fleet of rusting vessels are unlikely to flex much naval muscle in the region.

In the 2010 edition of its Quadrennial Defense Review, the U.S. announced it would continue to "project" its naval forces across a broad region. This would require the U.S. Navy to base submarines in Guam and Hawaii, bolster cooperation with allies in mounting operations and develop anti-submarine weapons, the Heritage Foundation said.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 08, 2010 11:13 KST