Wednesday, December 6, 2023

S. Korean Navy Takes Expanded Strategic Role Amid Evolving North Korean Nuclear Threat

Faced with the arrival of new North Korean nuclear vectors, the South Korean Navy is equipping itself with first strike capabilities towards land in order to fully take its place in the 3-axis doctrine ensuring strategic balance against Pyongyang.

Until the end of the 2010s, the threat posed by North Korea's strategic systems was essentially composed of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with nuclear capability, with short-range systems from the SCUD family, then, from the start in the 2000s, the appearance of purely national systems, such as the Hwasong-7 or Nodong-1 medium-range ballistic missile .

From the second half of the 2010s, new high-performance indigenous systems have been tested by Pyongyang, whether ballistic missiles with a semi-ballistic trajectory like the KN-17 , intercontinental missiles like the Hwasong- 14, and even medium-changing ballistic missiles and missiles with KN-23 hypersonic gliders , as well as new models of cruise missiles .

At the same time, the North Korean Navy undertook to equip itself with a new class of submarines derived from the Soviet Romeo class and designated Sinpo class , capable of implementing SLBM ballistic missiles with medium change, weighing a new threat to its neighbor, and above all to undermine the “3-axes” doctrine implemented by Seoul.

Indeed, to face the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, the South Korean armed forces have developed a doctrine capable of containing it, structured around three complementary components: the use of preventive strikes against South Korea's nuclear sites and capabilities. North, as soon as the threat of nuclear strike is considered imminent, the interception of nuclear vectors thanks to a large network of detection and interception systems with anti-ballistic capability, and a set of massive conventional strikes to decapitate the capabilities command, communications and logistics of the adversary.

In this context, the appearance of new threats, in particular North Korean submarines capable of implementing nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, has naturally transformed the topology of the threat, to which the profound transformation affecting the South Korean Navy, in particular by giving it a new role in the “3-axes” doctrine.

The South Korean Navy has acquired ships equipped with anti-ballistic missiles to strengthen the country's anti-missile shield
Launch of the destroyer Jeongjo the Great in July 2022, first ship of the second batch of the KDX program, equipped with anti-ballistic capabilities with the SM-3 Block1B missile and the SPY-1D(v) radar

To achieve this, the South Korean Navy has begun a major effort to acquire a vast fleet of autonomous systems, including surface and underwater naval drones, as well as aerial drones.

Thus, if today autonomous systems, such as the ASWUUV underwater anti-submarine warfare drone in development since 2017, represent only 1% of the equipment aligned by the country's Navy, the objective now announced is to reach 9% by 2025, almost 30% by 2030 and a final objective of around 45% by the early 2040s.

Their function will be precisely to keep North Korean naval capabilities under permanent control, and in particular to be able to track and therefore destroy, with short notice, ships and submarines equipped with nuclear-capable systems, which these are submarines armed with SLBM missiles or corvettes and frigates potentially equipped with cruise missiles, and thus satisfy the first of the aspects of the doctrine. But the role of the South Korean navy will not stop there.

Indeed, it will soon receive, during the coming year, the first of three destroyers of the Jeongjo the Great class, an evolution of the large anti-aircraft destroyer of the Sejong the Great class, specially designed to meet the second part of the “3 axes” doctrine.

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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