S.Korea, U.S. Mull Defense Against Sub-Launched Missiles

  • By Yu Yong-weon, Yang Seung-sik

    May 13, 2015 11:00

    Korea and the U.S. are eyeing the development of an underwater preemptive defense against North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missiles in their initial stages of ignition.

    The move comes after the North test-fired an SLBM that could one day be deployed on submarines.

    Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yoon-hee met with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Curtis Scaparrotti on Tuesday to discuss a response to the new threat. The response they are eyeing could make use of U.S. spy satellites and Aegis destroyers.

    An underwater version of the so-called "kill chain," whereby the military can detect signs of an impending missile launch and preemptively destroy it, could consist of three parts. One would be to strike North Korean submarines either when they are in port or immediately after they leave port. The second would be to detect and strike them underwater, and the third to detect and intercept missiles immediately after they have fired from submarines.

    Military officers believe the most effective measure would be to knock out submarines while they are still moored since it is difficult to detect them underwater. South Korea could fire cruise missiles from destroyers or submarines, or mobilize F-15K fighter jets armed with long-range air-to-surface missiles.

    But once North Korea sends a submarine on its way, South Korea's 214-class attack submarines or U.S. nuclear-powered submarines based with the 7th Fleet in the Pacific could be tasked with hunting it down.

    If a North Korean sub moves into South Korean waters, the South's P-3C anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft, Lynx helicopters and both U.S. and South Korean Aegis destroyers could track it down and attack it with torpedoes.

    If it still manages to launch a missile, South Korea and the U.S. would detect it using radars on Aegis destroyers with a 1,000 km range or land-based Green Pine radars with a 750 km range.

    Seoul is considering the purchase of one more Green Pine radar from Israel to broaden the area of detection. Once a North Korean SLBM is detected, the U.S. Navy's SM-3 missiles mounted on Aegis destroyers could intercept it.

    But critics say these measures are pie-in-the-sky. They point out that North Korean submarines are deployed surreptitiously, making any preemptive strike extremely difficult, while it would be equally difficult for South Korean or U.S. submarines to wait around near North Korean ports for a chance to strike.

    "The East Sea is deep, which makes it difficult to track down North Korean submarines underwater, and it is not realistic to deploy Aegis destroyers around-the-clock on the East Sea," an officer here said.

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