While there has been a pause in tensions with North Korea — to the point where the dictatorship, led by Kim Jong Un, is taking part in next month's Winter Olympics — that regime has always been tricky. Remember, we're talking about a rogue nation that sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan with a minisub out of nowhere on March 26, 2010, killing 46 of her crew.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea, and Rear Adm. Park Sung-bae, commander of the Republic of Korea Navy Second Fleet, tour the ROKS Pohang-class corvette Cheonan that was sunk by a North Korean torpedo on March 26, 2010. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Bryce Bruns)
Now, you might think that an American carrier isn't at the same risk as a South Korean corvette. After all, a North Korean minisub can't carry that many torpedoes. A Yono-class minisub, the type suspected of sinking the Cheonan, packs two 21-inch torpedoes. The larger Sang-o-class sub carries four.
A North Korean-designed Yono-class mini-sub in Iranian service. A similar sub is suspected to have sunk the Cheonan. (Wikimedia Commons photo by ThePulleySystem)
Could the United States Navy lose an aircraft carrier if attacked by one of these minisubs? It seems far-fetched at first. The United States Navy has lost only one fleet carrier, USS Wasp, to a submarine-only attack. Two escort carriers, USS Block Island and USS Liscome Bay were also sunk in submarine attacks, and USS Yorktown was finished off by a Japanese submarine after being rendered dead in the water by aircraft.
USS Wasp was the last fleet carrier to be sunk by an enemy submarine. (U.S. Navy photo)
Wasp weighed in at 14,900 tons, according to MilitaryFactory.com. By comparison, today's Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers have a much larger displacement of over 90,000 tons. When the Soviet Union was considering how to kill a Nimitz, they designed the Oscar-class submarine for the job. That was a huge vessel, carrying 24 SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles as well as eight torpedo tubes for disabling and destroying the carrier.
Fortune plays a big role in war, however. For example, The Japanese carrier HIJMS Taiho was sunk by a single torpedo in 1944. Additionally, since the end of the Cold War, American expertise in anti-submarine warfare has declined. In 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced near and surprised the aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk.
In 2006, a Chinese Communist submarine surfaced next to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, showing that American anti-submarine warfare skills had atrophied. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Lee McCaskill)
While two-to-four torpedos typically wouldn't do the job against a U.S. carrier, North Korea could get lucky and sink one, but that luck would quickly turn into bad news for Kim Jong Un.
Learn more about North Korean submarine capabilities in the video below.