North Korea deployed more than 50 submarines over the weekend, which disappeared from South Korea’s radar amid heightened tensions between the two nations that were described as a “quasi state of war.”
South Korea announced on Sunday that more than 50 submarines, the bulk of the North Korean fleet, had departed their home ports and escaped detection, as Vice notes. A spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry referred to the mass submarine deployment as “unprecedented,” noting that the North had put 10 times as many submarines to sea as is usually expected. According to Yonhap, a South Korean military official related that fears of an attack by North Korean forces ran high.
“No one knows whether the North will attack our warships or commercial vessels.”
— The Korea Times (@koreatimes) August 23, 2015
Following a truce which was reached in the early hours of Tuesday morning between the two Koreas, the submarines reportedly turned up in North Korea’s inland sea. South Korean media quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry official who asserted that the submarines were returning to their home ports.
“Some 50 submarines that had been away from their bases since August 21 have shown signs of returning back to their bases,” he noted.
The heightened tensions between the two countries were sparked by a land mine blast earlier this month. Late last week, the two countries exchanged artillery fire, the first time that live rounds have been fired over the border since 2010.
North Korea operates some 78 submarines, according to the International Business Times, which represents the largest fleet in the world (the United States, by comparison, possesses only 72 submarines). The vast majority of North Korea’s undersea boats, however, are obsolete Soviet or Chinese warships.
— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) August 23, 2015
Earlier this year, North Korea released images of a purported ballistic missile test, claiming that they had been able to launch one of the rockets from a submerged vessel. Analysts who examined the images found that they had been heavily modified by state propagandists, as NBC News points out. Defense analysts assert that the reclusive state is still many years away from implementing such technology.
Military officials noted that while the submarines’ deployment was a clear show of strength, the approach of Typhoon Goni was likely a reason behind the fleet’s return to port. They also noted that the submarines operated by North Korea can only remain submerged for three days at a time.
[Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano via Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain]