SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry said Monday that it has yet to decide whether to push for the development of a nuclear-powered submarine, amid security concerns sparked by North Korea's pursuit of the underwater naval platform.
The ministry's deputy spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik made the comment in an answer to a reporter's question about Seoul's plan for the new asset, after North Korea said Saturday that its research into nuclear-powered subs is complete and in the final stages of examination.
"We have yet to make a decision on such a propulsion system. It needed to be pushed for after a comprehensive review of our technology level and defense budgets," Moon said during a regular briefing.
Last year, the Seoul ministry unveiled a plan to develop a 4,000-ton next-generation submarine as part of its longer-term defense projects. Some speculate that the military might may weigh equipping its 4,000-ton-class Chang Bo Go-III submarine -- currently under development -- with a nuclear engine.
The Navy is also running a task force on the potential construction of a nuclear-powered submarine, stressing the need to introduce one to boost its defense capabilities.
A nuclear-powered submarine is regarded as one of the most useful assets to be operated on the Korean Peninsula to counter threats not only from North Korea but from neighboring countries as well, according to experts.
The submarine is particularly useful from a deterrence perspective, as it is a key component of the country's "second-strike" capability, the ability to survive an initial nuclear attack from an enemy and strike back, they added.
South Korea pushed to build nuclear-powered submarines in 2003 behind the scenes as part of its long-term military buildup program, but suspended the project about a year later after it was disclosed in a media report.
Then in 2017, the defense ministry carried out research on the matter through private entities, which led the military to feel the necessity of the asset, according to Navy officers.
Currently, South Korea operates nine 1,200-ton-class submarines and nine 1,800-ton ones.
North Korea is believed to have 70 subs, most of which are known to be outdated and unfit for operations beyond coastal waters. It has been working to build a new submarine believed to be a 3,000-ton one capable of carrying SLBMs.
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