[FOUNTAIN]Sneaky subsSubmarines could be called the assassins of the seas. They can hide in the natural covering of the abyss. The strategic value of a submarine because of its invisibility could even match that of an aircraft carrier. According to Jane’s Fighting Ships, a reference book on the world’s warships, submarines are at the top of an order of battle.
Germany had U-boats to blockade Britain in World War I. The word is an abbreviation of “Unterseeboot,” or underseas boat. They were considered marvels at the time. Seventy-eight U-boats committed to marine operations sank 60 tons of British merchant shipping every month. On September 22, 1914, a U-boat sent three British cruisers to the bottom in only 30 minutes. In the early days of World War II, U-boats still proved to be powerful. In 1940, German U-boats destroyed 822 British vessels. When a British convoy was found, U-boats assembled and attacked simultaneously in “wolf pack operations.” Winston Churchill later recalled that the U-boat was the only threat that made him doubt a victory by the Allies.
During the war, the myth of the U-boat’s invincibility was broken. Along with improvements in sonar, radar was put to practical use. Until that time, U-boats spent most of their time on the surface and went underwater only for operations. Because it was powered by batteries, it had to stay on the surface and run a diesel engine to charge the batteries; the engine could not run underwater without air. A U-boat exposed by radar became a target of fighter planes.
To counter the radar technology, Germany introduced a snorkel, a tube that fed air into the submarines so that the batteries could be charged underwater. It acted like the nose of an elephant underwater.
The South Korean Navy launched “Sonwonil,” a top-of-the-line 1800-ton submarine. It is a grandson of the U-boat, having been developed by Howaldtswerke, whose German predecessor produced U-boats during the two world wars. Sonwonil can stay underwater without the snorkel for two to three weeks and uses “air independent propulsion,” a technology that enables the submarine to operate from its power plant underwater without an air supply. It is a step closer to a truly invisible submarine.
Aside from nuclear-powered submarines, it boasts the best performance among submarines. Its radius of operations goes beyond the coast of the Korean Peninsula. The new submarine will become the new strongman in Northeast Asian waters. The slogan of the Navy, “To the Sea, To the World!” might be coming true.
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.