As North Korea continues with their will-they/won’t-they stance on de-nuclearization, it’s worth looking at what options the U.S. has for countering the doomsday weapon that North Korea might posses: a nuclear-armed, ballistic-missile submarine. These are, broadly speaking, comparable to America’s Trident submarines designed to deliver a nuclear strike anywhere in the world with zero warning.
So, how is the Navy ready to prevent a radioactive Alaska or metro Los Angeles?
Literally everything in this picture is more capable and stealthy than any asset the North Korean Navy has.
(U.S. Navy photo by Fire Control Technician Senior Chief Vien Nguyen)
America’s best offensive tool against enemy submarines is our own nuclear-powered attack subs. Right now, the Virginia class is the top of the line, and we’ve covered before how these things are basically 400-feet of black death. They’re super stealthy and capable of finding most other vessels underwater. They also carry a huge arsenal with up to 12 tomahawk cruise missiles and 38 torpedoes, usually the Mk. 48. They can also carry anti-ship missiles, but that requires trading out torpedoes.
When fully configured for anti-ship, anti-shore missions, the subs can take 50 shots at enemy forces on a single cruise. If it catches some enemy subs in the docks, the tomahawks can quickly wipe them out. But catching them underwater is even better since the Virginia-class can flood its torpedo tube, take its shot, and then disappear back into the surrounding ocean noise for a re-attack or to hunt down more targets.
Best of all, the Virginia-class has a huge noise advantage over North Korea’s fleet of antique and homegrown subs, all of which are diesel electric. While diesel-electric boats can be quieter than nuclear ones, it still requires a huge amount of research and engineering knowledge to create stealthy subs. North Korea’s fleet mostly pre-dates these developments and their performance in the open ocean has been less than stellar. It’s doubtful that their ballistic missile subs are much stealthier than the rest of the fleet.
Oh, and if you don’t like the Virginia class, we still have dozens of Los Angeles-class and Seawolf-class attack submarines that are also leaps and bounds ahead of anything North Korea can put to sea.
The USS Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, fires an anti-submarine rocket that is otherwise known as the “North Korean party crasher.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William McCann)
But surely we aren’t counting solely on a couple of subs being on-station when a potential war breaks out? Of course not —rest assured, scared doubter that I made up for this segue. America also has a number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that we deploy to the Korean peninsula, especially during anti-submarine exercises.
The Arleigh Burke-class vessels are equipped with the awesome Aegis radar that you’ve likely heard so much about. If not, it’s such an amazing air defense radar that it’s often used on land-based installations to counter nearly anything that flies including Russia’s nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
If a North Korean sub actually got a nuclear missile into the air, the Arleigh Burke-class has a good chance of knocking it right back out of the sky. The chances are slim that the sub would even get a chance to fire that missile since the Arleigh Burkes’ towed sonar array would likely find the sub and the destroyer’s anti-submarine rockets could put a quick end to it.
These things can hover over you, waiting as long as is required to murder you and your whole crew.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin A. Lewis)
Add in the destroyer’s anti-submarine helicopter (yup, it has those), and it’s hard to imagine that those poor North Korean crews have much of a chance.
But what if all of that is somehow not enough? After all, the subs and ships have to get fairly close to the North Korean subs to find them, and there’s a lot of ocean out there.
NK Sub: I’ll just hide way over here, far from the destroyers and subs. P-8 Poseidon: LOL
Luckily, the U.S. has also invested in a little thing called the P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine maritime patrol aircraft. It’s a Boeing 737, but with all the flight attendants and overhead bins ripped out and replaced with all the electronics you could ever imagine, all focused on spying out enemy submarines and reporting their locations to any and every asset in the area that can hurt them. Badly.
The plane can also do search and rescue or whatever, but that’s not important for this discussion.
America has all these assets to destroy North Korean subs. Meanwhile, this North Korean sub was captured when it got itself stuck against the South Korean coast.
(Idobi, CC BY-SA 3.0)
So, with all the assets in theater, there are planes and helicopters in the air scooping up data on everything under the water, surface ships towing sonar arrays, and submarines carefully patrolling beneath the waves, listening to everything that happens in every nook and cranny.
And once one of them finds a target, Americans in the air, on the sea, and under the surface can all start pinning it in and attacking it with a vengeance. So, good luck, North Korean submarine crews. For your sake, you better hope that your engineers somehow created more stealthy submarines than the U.S., Russia, China, or NATO, because you will be very dead otherwise.