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Lt-Cdr. Kim got his Ph.D. degree at the University of Hull, England in the United Kingdom. Curren1ly, he is serving at the Naval Combat Development Command at the ROK Navy Headquar-ers in Taejon. Commander Kim has published several articles, including The Modernisation at China’s Submarine Forces, THE SUBMARINE REVIEW (1997), and a forthcoming publication is The Qijnese Nayy (in Korean). 1he views expressed in this paper are strictly those of the author.

During the past decade, the proliferation of advanced, diesel-electric powered submarines and ASW forces has been nowhere more apparent than in Northeast Asia. Although the increases cannot be ascribed to any single type of ship, modern surface combatants accounted for most of them.

China has made a definite decision to acquire a new version of SSBN and SSGN by the early 21″ century. Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) has already acquired a new 8,900 ton U.S. Iwo Jima type LPD (landing platform, dock), with a full-length flight deck and island superstructure capable of carrying large helicopters, which are capable of ASW and surface warfare. Other new major surface combatants in the region include China’s Luda class destroyers and Japan’s Kongo class Aegis destroyers.

An increase in modern submarine forces is also taking place. Japan continues to build Harushio class submarines, while South Korea is trying to acquire improved Type 209s and Taiwan is seeking to acquire 6- J 0 submarines in the region. In spite of the fact that the Asia-Pacific countries have curtailed their submarine building and procurement programs because of the serious economic problems from the end of 1997, most Northeast Asian countries, except for the two Koreas, will continuously push for the modernization of submarines and ASW forces in the next decade. This paper examines that effort in China, Japan, Taiwan, and the two Koreas.

The Chinese Navy

In recent years the Chinese have attempted to upgrade their equipment with imported technology and have begun to produce missiles and electronic systems of a relatively modern design. Recently, China has sought to benefit from economic hardship in Russia by buying Russian weapons and technology, such as Kilo-class submarines and Sovremenny class destroyers, at bargain-basement prices. Despite its economic immaturity, China has been pressing forward with a vigorous plan to modernize its naval forces, allocating a huge amount of money for military spending. In fact, China is the country that has made the greatest leap in a naval arms buildup in the post-Cold War era. It is significant that China has been engaged in such an arms buildup in view of the relative decline in the military threat.

Modernisation of Submarine Forces The Xia class SSBN was launched in 1981, three years after the keel was laid. The missile launching system apparently gave trouble for several years. Two of the class may have been built, with one lost in an accident in 1985. Only one remains and rarely goes far from port.1 A new Type 094 SSBN is under development and due to start building soon but its construction may be delayed because of concentration on SSNs. It will be some time before China has an SSBN force even like that of Britain and France and she will continue to rely on land-based missiles. Russian advisers are helping design a new Type 093 SSN based on the Russian Victor III-the first of which is expected to be launched in 1999 for completion in 2001. Chinese submarine construction has not been without difficulty. The Ming class diesel-electric submarines developed so slowly that foreign experts suspected technical problems as construction was suspended, then resumed. The last was launched in 1996 and 13 are in service. They were replaced in production by the Song class (Type 039) the first of which was running trials in 1997. In 1995, China acquired four Russian Kilos-the the last pair being the newer Type 636.2 There is a single modified Romeo class (type ESSG) submarine with C-801 anti-ship cruise missiles. This system is also fitted to some of the Hans for surface launch. A new version. capable of underwater launch from torpedo tubes. is under development. (See table 1.)

Table 1. Current Submarine Forces and Acquisition Programs in Northeast Asia

Nations Submarine Capabilities Modernisation Programs
China 5 Han class (SSN) Nuclear powered attack submarincs. These were commissioned from 1974 to 1991.
Type 094 SSBN This class is developing to be delivered by 2000.
Type 093 SSGN This class is similar to Russian Victor Ill. It will be delivered by 2002.
1x 2 Song class The first of which WU launched in May 1994. Two more will be built.
13 Ming class Five improved Mings arc included.
3 x 1 Kilo class These were ordered from Russia in 1993. The lint two were Type 877. The third is Type 636. A fourth is expected to be delivered in 1998.
Japan 0 x 3 Improved Harushio class The lint of a new class approved in 1993. It will be delivered from March 1998 to 2000.
7 Harushio class These were built in 1990-97.
1 Uzuzhio class Built in March 1978. Being re-placed progressively by Yuushio and Harushio vessels.
10 Yuushio class Built in February 1976-May 1989.

ASW Capabilities. Recently, the Luhu and Luda class destroyers, and the Jiangwei class frigate, all entered fleet service in the Chinese Navy. During Chinese Premier Li Peng’s visit to Moscow in December 1996, Russia agreed to deliver two Sovremenny class destroyers which will give the Navy improved ASW and surface strike capabilities.3 Even though the major surface ships, such as destroyers and frigates, are capable of ASW, only Luhu and Luda class destroyers and Jiangwei class frigates can carry ASW helicopters. The other surface forces which run ASW are Haijui and Hainan class patrol vessels. Even though Haijuis and Hainan’s have Thompson SS 12 VOS sonar, they have only depth charges as ASW weapons.

Moreover, the naval air force which runs ASW is relatively weak. Currently, the number of Harbin SH-5, which entered into service in 1989, is being increased to a total of about 30. A maritime patrol version of the Y-8 transport, which first flew in 1985, is to replace four Be-6 Madges. The Zhi-8 Super Frelon, which was built in China in late 1991, supplements the Aerospatiale SA-321 G which was delivered from France. Zhi-8’s are equipped with French Thompson-CSF Sintra HS-12 dipping sonar and locally built Whitehead A244 torpedoes. The production of Harbin Zhi-9As (Dauphin 2), which are equipped with HS-12 dipping sonar and Whitehead A244 torpedoes, as main shipboard aircraft, is ongoing. Currently, China has agreed with Russia to obtain 12 Kamov Ka-28s, which will be deployed aboard some Luhu class destroyers and Jiangwei class frigates, to improve ASW capabilities.4 The navy has 18 destroyers, 34 frigates, about 100 patrol vessels, and 64 helicopters (9 SA-321Gs, 5 Zhi-8s, and 50 Zhi-9As) and 15 land-based maritime aircraft: (4 Be-6 Madges, 8 Y-8s, and 10 SH-Ss) for ASW. (See table 2.)

Table 2. A Comparison of ASW Capability Forces in Northeast Asia

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defence force

Japan has already expanded into the world’s third-largest surface fleet in response to regional insecurities and the draw-down of U .S . forces. Any change in U.S. strategy in the Pacific region could generate profound changes in Japanese maritime strategy. Since 1994, in the scale of the defense budget, Japan became the world’s second-largest country in military spending, Recently, Japan’s ruling party called for an increase of 4 .5 percent in defense spending for the first time since the current budget ceiling system was introduced in 1982.5 Japanese policies regarding the post-Cold War situation in Asia can be represented in part by the open expression of its intention to expand its international role in the military sector. Japan’s SDF, for constitutional reasons, is not composed of armed forces organized for the purpose of carrying our forward force projection. But they have grown into one of the most powerful military forces in the Asia-Asia Pacific region.

The characteristics of Japanese military capabilities can be noted in the modernization of its naval forces. The military threat posed by Japanese military power comes not only from its nuclear weapons potential but also from the growth of its naval capabilities. Japan’s reinforcement of its ground and air forces is designed to enhance its defensive capabilities, but the strengthening of its naval forces attracts world attention because it represents the expansion of Japan’s projection of power. It is already involved in maritime operations out to 1,000 nautical miles, which makes it almost as far south as the Philippines. In regional terms, Japan already has a substantial and very modem naval force, including some 100 maritime combat aircraft and 64 major surface combatants.

Modernization of Submarine Forces. Currently, the most effective element in Japan’s Navy is its modem submarine force. The MSDF has 16 submarines in two flotillas. There are seven submarines of the Harushio class (of 2, 750 tons submerged), the first built-in 1990 and the last delivered in March 1997. Nine older Yushios are being replaced by a new Oyashio class from 1998. The Oyashio is the first of a new class of SSKs. It is anticipated that there will eventually be six of this class. Japan is not looking to NATO models, apparently preferring to develop its own technology and to acquire U.S. Harpoon missiles and mines. In the wake of Japan’s recession, future naval plans have been scaled down, but the planned procurement of five submarines by the end of the century remains unchanged. Development is pursued with discretion, particularly in high tech areas, but since July 1994 a technology management group has facilitated the bilateral exchange of military technology in which there are still gaps, especially in the area of command and control. A Japanese submarine squadron takes part in RIMPAC, the multinational exercise around the Hawaiian Islands, that takes place every two years involving the United States and Canada, as well as South Korea. (See table 1.)

Modernisation or ASW Forces. The MSOF is currently building several Kongo class (9,485 tons) destroyers equipped with the Aegis system and Murasame class larger ASW destroyers that would be capable of operating in high threat areas. Kongo class destroyers were commissioned in 1993, 1995, and 1996. These ships have SQS-53B bow-mounted active search and attack sonar and towed array, and are equipped with six 324mm torpedoes, and 90 Standard and ASROC weapons-29 cells forward and 61 cells afterward. They can carry SH-00.J Seahawks. The first of the Murasame class destroyers was commissioned in March 1996 and the second of this class, HARUSAME, was commissioned in March 1997. A further five ships in this cl~ are planned to be in service by March 2001. Most of the destroyers have Nee OQS4 or 5 sonar, and are equipped with torpedoes and ASROC launchers. They can carry Seahawk or Sea King helicopters. The navy has 10 destroyers and 48 frigates, including 24 FFHs and 24 FFs, for ASW missions. Even though the frigates have sonar and torpedoes, they do not have ASROC launchers and helicopter platforms.

Long-range surveillance duties are primarily the responsibility of maritime patrol aircraft, while the separately controlled Mari-time Safety Agency carries out Coast Guard duties. As there are no aircraft carriers or major amphibious ships to escort, and the whole navy is still confined to within 1,000 miles of the coastline, this leaves the large destroyer and frigate force somewhat short of obvious employment except when it joins up with the U.S. Navy, which retains a carrier group based at Yokosuka, largely paid for by Japan. The navy’s ASW air forces are about 100 P-3 land-based maritime aircraft, six land-based helicopter squadrons consisting of about 60 SH-3A Sea Kings, and four shipboard helicopter squadrons consisting of about 50 SH-601 Seahawks.

Two Korean Navles

South Korea is placing greater emphasis on its long-range air and naval capabilities, procuring hundreds of new combat planes from the United States and building dozens of new frigates and destroyers. North Korea is unable to compete with South Korea in high-tech conventional arms due to its financial problems and appears to have placed greater emphasis on the development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Without Russian logistics assistance, however, it is questionable whether North Korea’s many Russian systems will remain workable. In late 1993, North Korea bought some 40 aging attack submarines from Russia, ostensibly for scrap metal. The boats will probably be used for spare parts for North Korea’s own obsolescent Romeo class submarines-basic attack vessels with virtually no ASW 98 potential. Furthermore, the North Korean Navy is badly affected by the economic catastrophe overwhelming the country.

Modernization of Submarine Forces. South Korea’s program for nine Type 20CJ submarines is picking up speed with the first of the class, CHANG BOGO, commissioned in 1993. The class is due for completion in 2001. Only one of the nine is German-made, and all of the others are being built in South Korea. The original plans for a total of 18 submarines are unlikely to be funded, 7 but current programs aim at nine.8 Compared with Chinese and Japanese submarines, the two Korean forces are very weak. South Korea’s new submarine project, which will upgrade the existing Type 20CJ-1200 submarines for a batch of six 1,500 ton submarines with air-independent (AIP), might be delayed for several years by its economic problems. 9 North Korea has brought only 16 coastal submarines of the Sang-0 class into operational service since the beginning of the 1990s. 10 (See table 1.)

Modernization or ASW Forces. South Korea is building Korean Destroyer Program (KDX) class (King Kwanggaeto class) destroyers; the first of which was launched in October 1996 for delivery in 1998, with the second and third scheduled for hand-over in 1999. While the First KDX is still being built, the South Korean government approved the first three ships under the improved multi-purpose destroyer (KDX-2) program in April 1996. According to the program, the KDX-2 has a full load displacement of nearly 5,000 tons, with the prototype due for delivery in 2001.

This ship is superior to the KDX in terms of endurance, sea-keeping, and combat capability. The core enhancement is an improved weapons system for anti-ship and anti-air missiles. Systems considered for the KDX-2 include Harpoon anti-ship missile, MK-41 Vertical Launch System for firing standard SM-2MR Block Ill/IV ASROC, and a five-inch main gun. 12 Even though the navy’s next-generation KDX-3 class destroyer, which will be much larger than KDX-2, w~ on the drawing board, KDX-3 programs were delayed for several years by the economic crisis. The other two main shipbuilding programs are Ulsan class ASW frigates and Po Hang class large patrol corvettes.

The major forces for ASW in the ROK Navy are ex-U.S. destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. The destroyers have sonar and torpedoes, but the frigates do not have ASROC launchers and helicopter platforms. Nevertheless, the North Korean Navy has just three frigates~ne Soho and two Najins-and six Hainan class patrol vessels for ASW roles, and does not have naval air forces. Naval air forces of the ROK Navy with ASW capability consist of two land-based ASW squadrons-15 S-2E and eight P-3Cs-and one shipboard helicopter unit, which has eight Alouettes and 12 Lynxes. (See table 2.)

The Taiwanese Navy

Lessons learned from the Gulf War have resulted in the Taiwanese government adopting a strategy of acquiring high technology weapons systems to upgrade its fleet. Utilizing its own impressive industrial and high technology base to build ships in Taiwan and to develop indigenous technology so as to neutralize Beijing’s blockade attempts is another priority. Naturally, changing circumstance has been followed by new procurement choices. Even though Taiwan’s emphasis on amphibious warfare, for instance, has slowly declined, ASW concern is still increasing.

The less modernized component of Taiwan’s substantial, but aging, destroyer fleet is also starting to be phased out, while the frigate fleet, which runs ASW and surface warfare, is expanding. Taiwan has been able to concentrate on a plan aimed at upgrading all three branches of the armed forces. In August. 1991, Defence Minister Chen Li-An pronounced 11modemisation of weapons” as the 11key task”, and, according to one report, Taiwan plans to spend $40 billion on arms over the next decade. 14 The PRC Navy is improving its naval blockade capability around Taiwan through the purchases of a potentially large number of Kilo-class submarines, two Sovremenny class destroyers, and the production of additional large surface combatants.

After the Chinese missile exercises on 21-23 July 1995, on 8-13 March 1996, Taiwan embarked on a naval expansion program and took delivery of six French La Fayette class frigates to bolster its ASW and anti-surface capabilities against a Chinese attack. In 1997, the navy purchased 100 torpedoes and support equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense under a $66 million contract to bolster its ASW capability.

Modernization of Submarines. The existing submarine force of four is small, and Taiwan is facing enormous problems supplementing it. In the 1980s Taiwan acquired two 2,600 ton Hai Lung class submarines (based on the Dutch Zwaardvis class), built in the Netherlands and armed with torpedoes capable of carrying a 250 kilograms warhead up to 12 kilometers. 16 Taiwanese submarine deals with France, Germany, and the Netherlands have met with protests from Beijing. It was also reported the navy tried but failed to acquire an export license from other countries to build up to 12 submarines. Australia, wishing to export its new Collins class, categorized the diesel-electric submarine as a lethal weapon and stated that a contract of this magnitude was impossible. Currently, the Taiwanese Navy is considering possible indigenous self-construction of submarines because of failed attempts to buy.

Modernisation or ASW Forces. Antisubiparine warfare is increasingly important for Taiwan to counter missions against them by mainland China. The Fleet’s existing 12 frigates are being increased by a further eight. 11 The KANG DING is the first of six modified French La Fayette class (3,500 tons) frigates ordered in September 1991. The first two, KANG DING and SINGING, were delivered in 1996 and the last vessel, CHEN DU, was handed over to the navy in January 1998. 19 Additional purchases of three retired U.S. Knox class frigates are planned up to a total of nine. The navy has five Cheng Kung class (4,200 tons) (Kwang Hua I) guided-missile frigates, which are the locally-built variant of the U.S. Navy’s OLIVER HAZARD PERRY (FFG 7) and equipped with Hsiung Feng II SSMs and modern ASW systems. The Cheng Kungs are also armed additionally with two S-70C antisubmarine helicopters.10 Cheng Kung and Kang Ding class frigates will improve Taiwan’s ability to locate and attack Chinese submarines. Two more are under construction but an improved version of the Cheng Kung class frigate (Kwang-Hua II) has been delayed indefinitely. The modern frigates are replacing older destroyers, some of which have been so heavily modernized they will remain in service for another decade. Seven Gearings have capabilities approaching to the Cheng Kung class equipped with SM-1 and Hsiung Feng II missiles.21 Naval aircraft to be used for ASW missions, include 18 recently acquired helicopters. Nine Sikorsky S-70Cs are equipped with search/dipping sonar, depth charges, and torpedoes. Furthermore, 31 S-2 ASW aircraft have been upgraded. Currently, the Taiwanese Navy is considering procuring a number of P-3 maritime patrol aircraft from the United States to improve ASW capabilities. (See table 2.)


The effectiveness of submarines cannot be underestimated as recent naval warfare has shown in the 1982 Falldands conflict with the loss of the old Argentinean cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO (an ex-U.S. Brooldyn class cruiser) by the Royal Navy’s nuclear attack submarine HMS CONQUEROR. The effectiveness of antisubmarine weapons in shallow waters in Northeast Asia remains open to question. Even though most navies have no ocean-going submarines, the silent running SSKs are a potent threat. The current effectiveness of the SSKs will require navies to have very powerful ASW capabilities to counter a dual threat.

The greatest weakness of the old type SSKs in the region is their limited underwater endurance, a factor of limited battery life, and lack of auxiliary electrical power. What is significant today is that some of the recognized limitations of previous generation SSKs are being overtaken by the modernization programs based on new technology in Northeast Asian navies. Most Northeast Asian countries are still faced with ASW problems, as they can operate only in inshore waters, yet still rely on depth charges and torpedoes which were designed to attack targets in the open ocean and have a dubious performance record in shallow seas. Furthermore, acoustic homing torpedoes are at a distinct disadvantage due to noise reflection from the shallow sea bottom, in particular in the Yellow and East China Seas. Even though there is still a discord between submarine forces and ASW capabilities in Northeast Asia, in the 21st century, most navies will continue to modernize their ASW forces, including major surface vessels and maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, to solve those weak points.


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