Friday, March 26, 2010

Sinking of the Cheonan - Who Dunnit?

I think the question on everyone's mind with regards to the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel the Chenoan, is "Was this North Korean (DPRK) action?" Here are some thoughts on pros and cons that this was DPRK action.

  • Reports have been out that the regime is "under stress." It has been Kim Jong Il's classic fascist style to manufacture crises to maintain loyalty and this would be a doozy.
  • The manner in which the sinking occurred, with no witnesses, is classic as well. Now Kim can plausibly claim no responsibility while simultaneously threatening more such violence.
  • The sinking happened near the disputed maritime border between north and south. This gives Kim a back up strategy of claiming self defense, if his first cover story is blown.
  • The link to possible NorK action was quickly played down. At first I thought that would be in the "con" column, but read this from The Guardian, (H/T Information Dissemination (ID)*)
If the sinking of Cheonan was intentional, it creates a serious crisis for the Koreas' neighbours and for the United States. None of the US, Japan, or China desire the threat of major military action on the Korean Peninsula. The US, still embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't want another military confrontation on its plate. At the same time, it will be difficult for the US to restrain South Korea from some form of retaliation. Japan's patience with North Korea has similarly run thin, and it is unlikely that Tokyo could be relied on too heavily as a voice of caution. Beijing has only limited affection for its North Korean client, but certainly does not want war, or even the threat of war.
  • ID also reports that the ship was in an area known for rocky shoal waters.
  • Commenter Marcase on ID had this to say: Interesting titbit: the PCC-772 Cheonan belongs to the ASW-version of the Pohang class, which carry 12 depth charges on the rear-deck. If there was either an accident, or a lucky shot, most of the stern would've been destroyed and the ship would've sunk like a lead pipe.
  • There has been no credible evidence to date that this was a DPRK action.
  • The ship apparently was underway, meaning that action by divers would be unlikely. (Sabotage by a traitor might not be ruled out though.)
  • I am doubtful about the efficacy of the Stalinist technology of the North's submarine fleet. While the sub pictured might be small and hard to find, its ability to score a hit with a worthy torpedo should be questioned.

Sango class DPRK sub floundering South Korean waters.

B-Daddy's professional judgment, based on VERY limited information: I go with an accident, because many things can go wrong at sea, and that's the first way to bet in the absence of other information. But I like Ian Flemings quote:
Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

*By the way, Information Dissemination and CDR Salamander are the two "go to" blogs for all matters naval.

1 comment:

  1. "the PCC-772 Cheonan belongs to the ASW-version of the Pohang class"

    The ASW version? Now that should put the nonsense about "human torpedoes" to rest, that can be read in some press reports. Such a mini sub would never have managed to come close enough to an ASW ship. It couldn't run at high speed, because it then would have been detected, and it probably wouldn't have had the oxygen tanks for a long term pursuit. And on its final attack approach it would have been detected, and the Cheonan could have send a message.

    No, two facts reported in the press point in another direction, imho: Firstly, the ship has been sunk in shallow waters, or else it couldn't have been salvaged. And secondly, experts say it looks like there was an explosion UNDER the ship, creating a bubble that broke its keel. Shallow water, explosion under the ship, the primary suspect should be a bottom mine.