Will South Korea Build Nuclear Attack Subs?


U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, have reportedly discussed the development or procurement of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) for the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy during a bilateral summit held in Seoul today, according to a ROK government official.

While the ROK government official did not provide additional details of the discussion, the fact that president Moon mentioned South Korea’s interest in developing or purchasing nuclear submarines during today’s summit is indicative of the ROK government’s growing desire to acquire a SSN capability in the not too distant future.

The primary reason for the Moon administration’s push to acquire nuclear-powered SSNs reportedly is North Korea’s burgeoning submarine force including new conventionally-powered ballistic missile subs capable of firing the KN11/Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Nuclear-powered subs, unlike diesel-electric submarines, can stay underwater for prolonged periods of time, which purportedly would allow them to track North Korean boomers more effectively.

Yet, how realistic is it that the ROK Navy will operate a small fleet of SSNs?