April 15, 2017 · DPRK Shāyú Gorae Sea of Japan

Strikepods deploy to Sea of Japan

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Four Strikepods were deployed this week to the Sea of Japan on a mission to identify and track North Korean submarines and other undersea threats ahead of the Carl Vinson battle group. Their presence will serve to blunt the very real, if dated and noisy, threat posed by North Korean submarines, mines, or unmanned submersibles to U.S. Navy assets.

The six-ship Strikepods will significantly augment the undersea sensor capabilities of U.S. and allied warships, enhancing fleet situational awareness and ultimately denying the KPN tactical surprise.

  • Mounting rhetoric, ship movements, and aggressive action in both Syria and Afghanistan suggest that the United States may be seriously considering a military solution to the current crisis.
  • Sensing an imminent threat to the homeland, Pyongyang may choose to lash out, targeting ROK, Japanese, or U.S. warships. An attack would likely come from under the sea.
  • The possibility of a DPRK Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) capability is real, but at this time, there is no intelligence to suggest that the single Gorae-class SSB is anything more than a test bed with limited operational capability.

While the DPRK submarine force may appear anachronistic and technologically backward, the KPN could employ unconventional, asymmetric tactics to counter a more technologically advanced U.S. Navy.

  • The sheer number of KPN subs (70) is in itself an advantage, and presents a significant ASW challenge in the increasingly crowded waters off the Korean peninsula.
  • A coordinated swarming attack by conventional attack and/or midget submarines could saturate U.S. and allied defenses, resulting in considerable, though not necessarily decisive, damage and loss of life. Even kamikaze style suicide attacks should not be ruled out.

North Korea's affinity for drone aircraft is well known, however intelligence is spotty regarding the extent, if any, of their unmanned undersea capability.

  • There are unconfirmed reports that a rogue Chinese company has sold the KPN technologies related to the Shāyú-class microsubmarine.
  • If confirmed, this could indicate the existence of an indigenous m-AUV program, though whether the DPRK has deployed an operational platform is unknown.
  • PLAN Shāyús may already be present in the Sea of Japan, which could complicate identification of KPN microsubmarines.
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