As of the date this article is published, the North Koreans have successfully launches a ballistic missile from a submarine.
A pearl harbor for the modern world?
A suicide mission perpetuated by North Korean 033 Romeo class submarine cannot be ruled out.
The mid 1900s saw great leaps and bounds in the development of death machines, and the pinnacle death machine, the Nuclear Warhead made its debut.
Around this same time, the world superpowers sought many delivery systems for their new toys.
Around 1959 the Soviets in conjunction with the Chinese developed a class of submarines, called the 033 aka Romeo type. These submarines have approximate ranges of 9000 miles and were designed to stay submerged for several days (not weeks or months like modern diesel electric or nuclear powered submarines). This submarine, however, was not designed to carry and deliver a nuclear payload.
Many dismiss North Korea’s aging fleet of Romeo class subs. They are 60 years old. Many are rusted out, and can generally only fire one old type of soviet era torpedo.
…But they have a lot of them.
In the past allies have scrambled to track and locate the North Korean submarine fleet as they scattered around the Korean peninsula and the Sea of Japan.
The perilous journey for a single North Korean 033 type submarine would probably start under similar circumstances. The initial route from the Korean peninsula would only have 2 choices to break free into the pacific ocean, either by the Sea of Japan (through La Perouse Strait or past Matsumae) or south through the east China Sea then past the Okinawan Islands. Once reaching open waters, the crew of 10-15 men would likely plot some kind of divergent a course for San Francisco- A 7,000 mile journey. At a top speed of approximately 20 miles per hour submerged, and with the capability to stay submerged for a couple days, the sub would theoretically be able to travel the distance from the Korean peninsula into the pacific only surfacing once (approximately 2000 miles). 100 hours from port, the sub will be well into the pacific ocean and past the Marianas trench.
From there, the sailors would have to endure the next 5,000 mile journey in total isolation from the world, no radio broadcasts, entertainment and only surfacing every 1800-2200 miles to charge their batteries and quickly submerge without detection.
But don’t we have the technology to detect old noisy submarines? Well, yes, we do. However when in even 2015, a modern commercial airliner can disappear off radar without a trace, one must wonder how truly difficult it must be to track something that was never intended to be found in the first place (a few hundred feet below the surface of the ocean).
250 hours of run time at top speed would be the approximate time for this class of sub to reach the west coast of the United States. Within 2-3 weeks after the initial scatter from the Korean Peninsula, our cold- war era romeo could potentially park itself under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lo, even if the crew managed to managed to complete the journey undetected (and not sink due to technical problems in of itself) what kind of payload could the North Koreans deliver from antiquated torpedo tubes?
Let’s take a step back and remember this incident called 911. We are told to believe that several men orchestrated an organized attack across several airliners, commandeered them solely with box cutters, and flew them into the most prominent buildings of the day.
Ingenuity in this case would be on the Koreans side, as for the past several years we have seen leaps and bounds in North Korean nuclear weapons development. Although the Koreans have dabbled in launching missiles from submerged platforms with limited to no success, the Romeo is incapable of firing a vertical missile- but is that the end of the game?
There are three possible scenarios in which the Koreans can do damage with a Romeo sub.
1) The sub itself.
Nothing is stopping them from converting one of these subs, slowly in time into its own nuclear bomb, one piloted with human beings whose sole purpose is to bring its payload, the sub itself, within blast radius of a major US city. A submarine-sized dirty bomb detonated in the San Francisco bay would easily wreak havoc.
2) Breach launch missile-like torpedo.
Any romeo sub before taking on such an ominous mission would have to be made specialized for its intended purpose. They have 20 of such subs, and if one were to slip into a specialized hidden port and re emerge into the fleet weeks, months or years later would we really know? Has North Korea developed a nuclear war head capable of fitting into a propulsion device that will fit the Romeo torpedo tube? When breaching the surface, submarines can reach extreme angles, and it is possible to fire a missile in this fashion. In this scenario, the sub would not have to swim directly to target, and a modest propulsion system would be necessary to flight a dirty bomb, or potentially a detonate-able nuclear payload 50-100 miles away.
THE UNLIKELY SCENARIO, NOT SO UNLIKELY ANYMORE?
3)The North Koreans can indeed vertically fire ballistic missiles from a submarine.
As of the date of this article, the North Koreans have successfully launched a vertical ballistic missile from a submarine. We are unable to confirm the class of submarine or type of missile launched at this time.