“Dream, Challenge, Creation” is a vision once set forth by an infant submarine force, and it contains a profound meaning: with the dream of building a submarine force and the spirit of challenge, we create a new history. For the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) Submarine Force, this vision has now become the backbone of its growth.
The ROKN left a significant mark in history by establishing the Submarine Force Command on February 1, 2015. It was a historical achievement 70 years after the establishment of the ROKN. Accordingly, the Republic of Korea (ROK) rose to become the world’s sixth country that operates a submarine force command, following the United States, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, and India.
With the command came the establishment of a unified system through which every submarine-related field such as operations, maintenance, combat readiness, and education and training, which were Submarine Flotilla 9’s traditional responsibilities, can be managed in an integrated way. Thus the command was better positioned to conduct operations more efficiently.
A Chang Bogo class submarine arrives at RIMPAC
History of the Republic of Korea’s Submarine Force
The history of the ROK Submarine Force began with the establishment of Submarine Squadron 57 in 1990. Starting with the acquisition of three Dolgorae-class midget submarines, the force took over the ROKN’s first submarine, ROKS Chang Bogo (SS 061), which was built in Germany in 1992 and commissioned in 1993. The submarine force obtained the capability to independently build submarines by acquiring ROKS Lee Chun (SS 062), the first submarine to be built at a Korean shipyard, in 1994. As a result of continuous production of Chang Bogo-class (Type 209) submarines, a total of nine Chang Bogo-class submarines are currently operating in the ROKN.
In 1995, Submarine Flotilla 9 was established for the systematic conduct of submarine operations. Along with the establishment of Submarine Force Command in 2015, the 5th Submarine Squadron was also established. Hence, Submarine Force Command now consists of five submarine squadrons, one education and training squadron, a submarine shipyard, and a base battalion.
Additionally, in 2007, only 15 years after the ROKN’s first submarine was commissioned, ROKS Son Won Il (SS 072), the first submarine in Asia equipped with Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP), was commissioned. A total of six Son Won Il-class (Type 214) submarines have been built thus far.
The ROK Submarine Force has participated in a total of 23 combined exercises abroad. Starting with ROKS Lee Jong Moo’s (SS 066) participation in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise in 1998, the force has proven its excellent operational capabilities with its remarkable achievements in such combined exercises. In particular, ROKS Lee Chun (SS 062) was lauded with the phrase, “One shot, one hit, one sink,” after sinking the retired cruiser, USS Oklahoma City (CG 5), with a single torpedo during Tandem Thrust in 1999. Since then, “One shot, one hit, one sink” has become the ROKN Submarine Force’s slogan.
Education and Training for Submariners
As Submariners are the pride of the force and the “Silent Guardians,” the core element of employing submarines, cultivating crew members is essential. Therefore, education and training aimed at making every Submariner an expert in submarines has always been a top priority. Trainees selected to be Submariners undertake six months of basic submarine courses such as underwater acoustics, oceanography, and the history of submarine warfare and another six months of training on board. Once these are accomplished, trainees attain the Submarine Qualification System (SQS), and finally become Submariners.
In addition to education for Korean Submariners, the ROKN can also provide foreign Submariners with education and training. From 2013 to 2015, a total of 28 Submariners from Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Malaysia completed the basic submarine education program at the Submarine Education and Training Squadron. Accordingly, the ROK transitioned from a country getting education abroad to a country educating other countries.
Korean Submarine Education and Training Squadron
This accomplishment was only possible because of the foresight of ROK and ROKN leadership to understand the importance of investing in a completely indigenous submarine capability, from training to submarine building. This is truly a remarkable achievement given the short amount of time in which it was realized.
Into its 23rd year of operating submarines, the ROKN Submarine Force has a fortunate record of no accidents as of 2016. As of April 2015, the ROKN Submarine Force logged 2 million accident-free miles of submerged navigation. Every ROKN Submariner keeps the principle, “Dive 100 times, surface 100 times,” close to his heart.
The Way Ahead for the ROKN Submarine Force Command
North Korea is trying to develop a new undersea capability to employ as an asymmetric weapon: submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and the submarines to launch them. This imbalance of power threatens to destabilize not just the Korean Peninsula, but all of Northeast Asia.
It is under these circumstances that the ROKN Submarine Force Command has decided to develop its own indigenous strategic weapons system to counter this threat from North Korea and employ far more systematically and efficiently its submarines—a strategic weaponry system that protects the oceans of the Republic of Korea in the most powerful and clandestine way. Starting in 2020, submarine forces will continue to be secured, such as the introduction of 3,000t class submarines that will be designed and built based on the ROK’s technology only.
What is equally important as securing submarine forces is the cultivation of excellent Submariners for the enhancement of the Submarine Force Command. Thus, the improvement of education, training systems, and equipment needs to be pushed ahead continuously. To enable this, cooperative relationships with other advanced submarine-operating countries must be solidified through continued participation in combined exercises, and efforts will need to be made to foster submarine operational capabilities that are comparable to those of other advanced countries so that we can operate together effectively as a team.
The ROKN Submarine Force Command has been burdened with the mission of protecting the waters surrounding the ROK and serve on the front line to counter North Korea’s threats. The ROKN’s Submariners will forge ahead to accomplish this mission.