Home » Budget Industry » U.S. Official: North Korean Submarine is Missing, Presumed Sunk

U.S. Official: North Korean Submarine is Missing, Presumed Sunk

Kim Jong Un in the conning tower of what appears to be a Project 633 diesel submarine. KCNA Photo

Kim Jong Un in the conning tower of what appears to be a Project 633 diesel submarine. KCNA Photo

This post was updated with additional information on the North Korean submarine force.

A North Korean People’s Navy submarine is missing and presumed sunk, a U.S. official told USNI News on Friday.

The unknown class of submarine was operating off the North Korean coast in the last several days when the submarine went missing.

“About week ago it went missing and the speculation is that it sank,” the official told USNI News.
“The North Koreans have not made an attempt to indicate there is something wrong or that they require help or some type of assistance.”

The official was reluctant to give specific details on the presumed loss of the boat due to sensitivities on how the military was tracking the vessel.

A second U.S. official confirmed the basic facts of the missing submarine.

Though U.S. officials would not confirm the details of where the ship went down, USNI News understands it was likely near one of North Korea’s two submarine bases on the Sea of Japan, also called the East Sea, Joe Bermudez, an analyst focusing on North Korea and advisor to the website 38 North from the U.S.- Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told USNI News on Friday.

North Korea has two primary submarine bases on the its eastern coast in addition to three smaller facilities for costal and midget submarines, Bermudez said.

The North Korean military operates a fleet of about 70 submarines ranging in sizes from midget boats with only a few sailors to larger boats that can hold a crew of up to 30 or 40 and attempted a modernization push since the early 2000s.

According to Bermudez, the submarines are of “reasonable quality” and much or their equipment isn’t military grade but civilian material repurposed for military uses.

However, “they have many problems with maintenance – levels of maintenances standards are lower than most comparable navies in East Asia,” he said.

In the last several years, the Kim Jong Un regime has emphasized its submarine force as a threat to South Korea, scrambling a large percentage of its attack boats in August in its largest show of submarine force to date.

While North Korea has its own domestically produced submarines, the bulk of its fleet is made up of decades old Russian designs with limited capability. However, anti-submarine warfare is a major capability gap in the South’s Republic of Korea Navy. In 2010 the ROK Navy corvette Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo presumably from a North Korean midget submarine killing 46 sailors.

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Categories: Budget Industry, Foreign Forces, News & Analysis, Submarine Forces
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • John King

    A Michael Dukakis moment!

  • Hein S

    Hunt for the Green Cucumber

    • publius_maximus_III

      The People’s Pickle.

  • texastea2

    Bomb North korea with food and b2’s dropping pork and in a month, kim dung ooh is done

    • Beomoose

      If food starts raining on North Korea from the sky, Lil Kim will claim he’s commanded the heavens to feed the people.

      • texastea2

        Put a note on every package stating “A gift from the citizens of the United States of America.”

      • texastea2

        Think the people might wonder why him and pops let so many starve before commanding food to rain. Siunds absurd but I think it just might help in bringing change and relief to the enslaved people of North Korea.

  • TitanicBad

    With a modern US attack sub, the NK boat wouldn’t even know what killed them.

    • JCDavis

      Yep. But the government will. It’s an object lesson in not threatening superpowers.

  • teppers

    Na it was a new Chinese Yuan class that sunk accomplishing 2 goals: test their new toy and tell N. Korea to do what your damn told!

  • bigcrawfish

    Those are the ugliest looking subs I’ve ever seen. Also, I would not be surprised if South Korea took out the sub as payback for Norths attack. I hope it was a missile launching sub also.

  • rlawson

    If Kim Jung Un can’t read between those lines, we are going to spell it our for him next time he opens his pie hole about nuclear attacks against the United States.

  • I don’t think its sunk they are trying to set something up its probably headed to the USA

    • Machia

      Undersea rust buckets . Keep a watch on them . They’re still lethal .
      As for the missing sub , there is a number of possibilities .

    • muzzleloader

      So they are trying to pull a Marko Raimius, heh? LoL

  • xcor057

    Apparently, the People’s Navy didn’t get the joke when ordered to put the screen door on the submarine.

  • You say that, yet I think you forget Occam’s razor, which says North Korea’s shit-tier design and maintenance probably played a bigger role here, it is a simple, easy explanation – whether unstoppable flooding, uncontrollable diving, the air going bad, fire, I think we can safely say it probably sunk itself. This is North Korea, and while I get a good chuckle thinking an ADCAP was shoved down the periscope of that green cucumber, I think it’s pretty easy to believe the crappiest country in the world also has the crappiest submarines in the world too.

  • NavySubNuke

    Meh – most likely it was being tracked by a SURTASS anyway. We don’t have enough SSNs to waste them tracking rust buckets.

  • Tinker

    I’m very familiar with the propaganda N. Korea puts out and I’m fairly certain they will blame S. Korea or the US for it’s disappearance.

    What we, the US, should do If it was operating in international waters is to go over there and aid in the search. Why you may ask, because if S. Korea or the US aided in the search, it would tick Kim (aka Mr. Piglet) off even more.

  • camelot93

    They probably hit it with one those missiles they fired off last week, well that proves they can hit something besides the ocean.

  • Luke Alexander Dineen-Woolnoug

    Spare a thought for these sailors. North Korean or not, from one submariner to another; it’s still a tragedy for these sailors and their family’s. It’s not their fault who they are lead by.

    • MLepay

      Well said, that was my first thought when I read this too.

    • publius_maximus_III

      And let’s spare yet another thought for all those poor, maligned, innocent U-boat captains in WW-II, and those prison guards at Auschwitz. It wasn’t their fault who they were led by either, Luke.

      • BOB!!

        Are you seriously making a comparison between prison guards at Auschwitz and some random sailors from North Korea? That’s pretty extreme.

        • Fred Gould

          Never in harms way tells all.

          • publius_maximus_III

            OK, Audie Murphy, my being a civilian disqualifies my comment from being valid in exactly what way?

            I’ll freely admit my comparison was a bit extreme, but I think it made the point correctly. A ruthless dictatorship like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un couldn’t exist if a lot of folks like those NKP submariners didn’t make it possible. To me, that makes them just as ruthless as their dictator. JMO

            I do thank you for your service to your country, Sir. I see that you were in the USN. So was my Dad, now 93-yrs young, a pharmacist mate aboard a destroyer in the Pacific during WW-II. I grew up loving the Navy and always will.

          • Fred Gould

            Review actual events. As a Brit said, after the impromptu Christmas Eve unauthorized party between Germans and Brits “On both ends of the gun we are the same.”

          • publius_maximus_III

            Brother Gould, do you mean to say that an American sentry at a Japanese internment camp in the USA during WW-II was “the same” as a guard in a watchtower at Buchenwald? Hard to believe such a premise. I do recall seeing a reenactment of that impromptu “No Man’s Land” soccer game one Christmas Eve during the Great War. A pretty weak example against mine, don’t you think? Ideals are one thing, and I wish that all sailors and soldiers were just as you’ve described with no political baggage, just do or die. But the reality of this world tells me something quite different. It really does matter which side you fight on. And there really is such a thing as American exceptionalism.

          • Fred Gould

            You are comparing criminals to honorable men and women.

          • publius_maximus_III

            That used mustard gas in WW-I?

        • publius_maximus_III

          Excusing North Korean actions because they’re North Koreans is what I would consider extreme. Seriously.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Maybe a new stealth submarine capability for the NKP Navy? Now you see it (hear it?) -click- now you don’t?

    Probably not though, hard to keep a diesel sub quiet except when you’re running on batteries. Too bad they didn’t have a Swede Momsen over there. NKP Navy probably has no way to rescue a downed sub. Now THERE’S a thought when they sign up for the silent service. Dangerous enough as it is.

    I noticed this article has been updated. Wasn’t there something earlier about not one, but several submarines suddenly disappearing a week earlier, or am I just imagining things?

  • Michael Nunez

    Looks like South Korea , with a little technical Help just Responded to the North Sinking of South Korea’s Corvette . A few more might be having Trouble Surfacing in the Future…… .

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Maybe they defected!

  • Joe Dadi

    Some forgot to roll that window up before they dove…

  • b2

    re “…anti-submarine warfare is a major capability gap in the South’s Republic of Korea Navy.”
    The ROKN seemd very interested in recapitalizing 12 or 20, S-3B Vikings into relevant FMS S-3K’s to meet threats like this from a ” launch alert” a year ago to counter threats like this, but it seems they have “lost their appetite” for a faster response, heavily armed, ASW interceptor aircraft with a punch.
    If they had they would already be a year closer.
    Too bad.

  • John B. Morgen

    The North Korean submarine could have been loss due to construction flaws, or poor sub-training of the crew; or one of their torpedoes exploded. Or the South Korean Navy sank it, or we sank it.

    • Bob Arthur

      — or it was abducted by aliens, or it drifted into another dimension, or — .

      • John B. Morgen

        It entered into the Twilight Zone, and it got lost, or the crew refuses to come out.

  • Publicus58

    Maybe the “Great Leader” was conning the boat.

  • History Major

    Rough guess: Either South Korea or the U.S. sank that ship in retaliation for the earlier sinking of a SK destroyer. Frankly, I think all of their subs should be sunk.

    • Oskar

      Rough guess: Your hat is made of tinfoil.

      • History Major

        Sorry, I don’t speak Korean.

  • Mike Upton

    I think the crew defected and South Korean or U.S. assets.picked up the crew and sank the boat. Their using this cover story so Kim Ube Ill’in. Doesn’t go on a murder spree of the sub crews families.