Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 4:19 PM ET, 05/27/2010

Analysts question Korea torpedo incident

By Jeff Stein

How is it that a submarine of a fifth-rate power was able to penetrate a U.S.-South Korean naval exercise and sink a ship that was designed for anti-submarine warfare?

Such questions are being fueled by suggestions in the South Korean and Japanese media that the naval exercise was intended to provoke the North to attack. The resulting public outcry in the South, according to this analysis, would bolster support for a conservative government in Seoul that is opposed to reconciliation efforts.

As fanciful as it may sound to Western ears, the case that Operation Foal Eagle was designed to provoke the North has been underscored by constant references in regional media to charts showing the location where the ship was sunk -- in waters close to, and claimed by, North Korea.

"Baengnyeong Island is only 20 kilometers from North Korea in an area that the North claims as its maritime territory, except for the South Korean territorial sea around the island,” Japanese journalist Tanaka Sakai wrote in the left-leaning Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

He called the sinking of the ship “an enigma.”

"The Cheonan was a patrol boat whose mission was to survey with radar and sonar the enemy’s submarines, torpedoes, and aircraft ... " Sakai wrote.

"If North Korean submarines and torpedoes were approaching, the Cheonan should have been able to sense it quickly and take measures to counterattack or evade. Moreover, on the day the Cheonan sank, US and ROK military exercises were under way, so it could be anticipated that North Korean submarines would move south to conduct surveillance. It is hard to imagine that the Cheonan sonar forces were not on alert."

The liberal Hankyoreh newspaper in Seoul echoed a similar theme.

“A joint South Korean-U.S. naval exercise involving several Aegis warships was underway at the time, and the Cheonan was a patrol combat corvette (PCC) that specialized in anti-submarine warfare. The question remains whether it would be possible for a North Korean submarine to infiltrate the maritime cordon at a time when security reached its tightest level and without detection by the Cheonan,” it reported.

American spy satellites were also monitoring the exercise, “so the U.S. would have known that North Korean submarines had left their ports on a mission,” adds Scott Snyder, director of Center for U.S.-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation.

“The route the North Korean submarines apparently took was from the East Sea, not directly from the North across the NLL,” or Northern Limit Line, the sea boundary unilaterally imposed by Seoul. “Essentially, they went the roundabout way and came at the ROK vessel from behind,” he said.

But Bruce Klingner, chief of the CIA’s Korea Branch in the 1990s, said “anti-submarine operations are far more difficult than is often realized.

“Beyond the obvious difficulty in tracking something that is designed to operate quietly, navies are confronted with natural acoustical phenomena as shallow, noisy littoral waters and layers of water salinity which can provide cover for submarines.”

Moreover, says Terence Roehrig, a professor at the Naval War College, “the Cheonan was an older Pohang-class corvette and not one of these [newer] ships.”

“Satellite and communications coverage of sub bases can tell when subs have left base…” adds Bruce Bechtol, Jr., professor of international relations at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. “It cannot tell locations of submarines once they are at sea -- unless they surface or communicate.”

“A mini-submarine like the type that is assessed to have penetrated the NLL is designed specifically for covert maneuvering in shallow waters like those that exist off of the west coast of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

“It appears from the reports that [the South Korean Ministry of Defense] has released that a submarine departed port off the west coast of North Korea, accompanied by a support vessel. The submarine perhaps could have come fairly close to the NLL using diesel power, then switched to battery power, which is much quieter,” Bechtol added. “The submarine could have then slipped past the NLL at an appropriate time and waited for a ROK ship to approach.”

Suspicions about what happened, Bechtol said, are unwarranted.

“The fact of the matter is, a submarine did infiltrate into South Korean waters -- and they have done so in the past fairly frequently," he said.

"It is their mission.”

By Jeff Stein  | May 27, 2010; 4:19 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Military  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: North Korea analysts predict more ‘provocations’
Next: Bill Clinton to the rescue, again


The mixing of fresh and salt waters in littoral areas can cause a halocline that ducts sound propogation to the surface and if a submarine operates beneath that depth it can become much more difficult to detect.

Posted by: ozpunk | May 27, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I wish I had a nickel for every time a left-leaning reporter simultaneously sympathized with a repressive regime while also recklessly hypothesizing about military matters with which they clearly have no experience. Even a cursory review of that Japanese "reporter" account reveals he speculated wildly about U.S. nuclear submarines operating in shallow waters, possible friendly fire incidents, and his article was published "while noting that some of its suppositions were subsequently disproved."

In other words, he's a moron.

Posted by: zippyspeed | May 27, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

It could have been a torpedo mine.

The torpedo mine is a self-propelled variety, able to lie in wait for a target and then pursue it e.g. the CAPTOR mine. Other designs such as the Mk 67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mine[28] (which is based on a Mark 37 torpedo) are capable of swimming as far as 10 miles through or into a channel, harbor, shallow water area and other zones which would normally be inaccessible to craft laying the device. After reaching the target area they sink to the sea bed and act like conventionally laid influence mines. Generally, torpedo mines incorporate computerized acoustic and magnetic fuzes.

Posted by: lind2116 | May 27, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine we would emplace CAPTORs in peacetime; what if DRPK divers recovered one that would be quite the intel boon. Live CAPTORs are not the kind of thing you would use in a training mission for safeties sake.

Just a thought - perhaps the sub was doing recon of ROK but when they tried to slip back home they came upon the ongoing ASW exercise assumed they had been detected and were being tracked down. Then they fired at the Cheonan to make a hasty retreat home. Don't forget one of the same type mini subs was accidentally grounded in 1996 near Gangneung and half the crew were murdered by the officers while the others tried to escape back through the DMZ. Only one sailor made it back to the DPRK. It was a major embarrassment for the North.

This scenario would seem plausible.

Posted by: stikyfingas | May 27, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Well we have a great deal of speculation here. Presumably, the official investigation is being based on actual facts.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | May 27, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

"How is it that a submarine of a fifth-rate power was able to penetrate a U.S.-South Korean naval exercise and sink a ship that was designed for anti-submarine warfare?" Uh, I don't know. It didn't hit it right above it's power supply did it? Just asking.

Posted by: jralger | May 27, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Simple, Jane's Fighting Ship lists North Korea's submarine inventory as 4 Whiskey class & 22 Romeo class ex-Soviet boats. Which, for all you bubbleheads out know know are noisy as hell and easily detectable with the sonar the ROK navy was running.

The North Koreans obviously have a boat that is much more sophisticated and armed with a high grade long range anti-surface weapons system.


Posted by: Kcrl1 | May 27, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Gulf of Tonkin incident for our generation. Trust in the US has never been lower.

Posted by: charlesfrith | May 27, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I thought this sounded fishy from the start. It's another trumped up Golf of Tonkin incident. Considering that the north has nukes, this is crazy.

Posted by: steve_k2 | May 27, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

The North Koreans also know the exact locations of the many pallets of food aid that the U.S., South Korea and other nations send to feed their starving people. They have bitten the hand that feeds them and must be punished accordingly.

Posted by: thw2001 | May 27, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

This incident sounded fishy to me before, SK ship was right on the line de-marking DPRK territory. We lost 29 men in the Mine disaster, followed by 2 more, then 11 on deepwater horizon. That's almost as many as SK, and we haven't declared BP an enemy and asked the world to condemn them. Practically no attention has been given to them on TV, but Hillary is asking the world to disavow DPRK. Why not declare BP and enemy, and the explosion an attack? Also, DPRK has some nice undeveloped oil fields that SK was interested in developing but DPRK signed a treaty with China.
Another fact: No Xenon gas was detected when DPRK supposedly tested it's nuke, and the Researcher responsible for monitoring committed suicide afterward. Moral of the story: DPRK may not really have nukes.

Posted by: shekissesfrogs | May 28, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

I would like to see our intrepid reporter check out the 6 May Reuters story in which a Yonhap story, citing an unidentified senior South Korean source, discusses a topic I have seen nowhere else:

"The metallic debris and chemical residue appear to be consistent with a type of torpedo made in Germany, indicating the North may have been trying to disguise its involvement by avoiding arms made by allies China and Russia, Yonhap quoted the official as saying."

Why did someone high up in the South Korean government tell the South Korean media that the torpedo was identified as of German make? The North Koreans have none in their inventory--though they could have acquired some, no doubt. But could they be fired from a NK submarine? Interestingly, the entire South Korean submarine component is composed of German-made submarines, Type 214s and Type 209s. Wonder if the South Koreans could have somehow inadvertently hit their own ship and then tried to cover it up.

Posted by: ccarrick1 | May 28, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Mr Stein - suggest that you have your headline writers rethink exactly what an analyst is. All of the sources who might be "rethinking" the Cheonan incident are, in fact, journalists, who clearly don't have any knowledge of antisubmarine warfare - even that knowledge which a casual reader might glean from reading The Hunt for Red October. Sneaking up undetected and shooting enemies from stealth is exactly what submarines do. Taking another analogy, the USS Stark was a FFG-7 class ship which had an anti-air warfare capability and two separate systems (Standard and CIWS) that should have downed the incoming exocet. And yet...

Posted by: EGULGuy | May 28, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

And I wish I had a nickel for every time a right leaning ( actually any ) american politician accused a country, that happened to currently be in fad as the bad boy of the month, of doing something that now required a military response by said americans, when it was found out later to have been actually provoked by the americans or one of it's toadies.

Can you say....Gulf of Tonkin.

And even if the facts are as stated, I wonder if the americans would have responded any differently if some unfriendly naval power was conducting naval exercises within disputed american territorial waters.

Posted by: Torpedo | May 28, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Or it might have been an accident. This South Korean naval expert, S. C. Shin, who was part of the South Korean investigation, wrote a letter to Clinton to stating his view that it was most likely an accident. The first SOS sent referred to "Grounding!", and the Cheonan was navigating in shallow and rocky water.

Posted by: lyx123 | May 28, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

yeah whats up with that twisted cross(aka-swastaka) on the side,is that stuff still for sale after all these years,could be a time machine or ET

Posted by: wolvedrive | May 28, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

I have read S. C. Shin's report. As a lifetime sailor, to me it appeared to have a certain authenticity for reasons too detailed to go into here. I ran it past an old shipmate of mine who spent his entire career in Subs, retiring as a CPO. Here is his reply:
"I like S. C Shin's writing style and his syntax. His writing is much clearer than that of some of the "torpedo theorist's' writing trying to explain how a submarine could have lain in wait and made that remarkable shot in those kind of waters.

I would more readily accept the story that it was a Piper Tri-Pacer which flew into the WTC and brought down three buildings with one stroke than I would that a submarine, of any size, maneuvering in those waters made a 3 km torpedo shot which struck that ship."

This confirms my own analysis.
Here are a couple of pictures that should be viewed in company with Shin's report:

Posted by: meg3 | May 29, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Washington Post and Jeff Stein for an important issue that's mostly ignored in the English-speaking world. It is healthy that we are in an environment where we can ask questions that have not been answered and we can present different interpretations, observations and theories. My approach is to keep asking right questions until they are answered, rather than constructing theories. One is free to dismmiss any theory calling them conspiracy or speculation, but I think it is wrong to disregard inconvenient questions.

I have compiled a list of important reading available in English. Please do not rely on just a few sources and read through all these material before you make any judgment.

Questions about Cheonan Sinking

I can be contacted at

Posted by: satoko1 | May 29, 2010 2:29 AM | Report abuse

First return on investment:
"TOKYO — Washington and Tokyo agreed Friday to keep a contentious U.S. Marine base in Okinawa, with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama highlighting the importance of the Japanese-American security alliance amid rising tension on the nearby Korean peninsula.

"I am sincerely sorry for not being able to keep my word, and what is more, having hurt Okinawans in the end," he said.

"In Asia, there still remain unstable and uncertain factors, including the sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea," he said.

Who would have guessed?

Posted by: meg3 | May 29, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

We have to understand what's going on in Korea. There is an important election that will decide the fate of the current regime on June 2. They were losing until they revealed the result of the investigation of the incident. They had been changing words again and again and gave rise to suspicion surrounding the accident. At last they announced the result on the day when the election campaign began officialy. The first thing we have to notice is that the Korean regime make best use of the tragic acccidnet for their political interest.

Posted by: keroro7 | May 29, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Per this matter, there is one important factor.

Beyond the controversy on the evidence of torpedo attact event presented, on the international diplomacy and politics, on the military technology around this subs and torpedo things, and on the caculation of it's own benefits with 2nd Korean war based on different interests, there is simply a serious lack in the fidelity of explanation for the sinking procedure of ChonAn ship itself.

Very serious dicrepancy exists between the actual photoes and records on sinking(for exmaple, so called TOD taken by mutiple sources)and published explanation for this given to media.

They are all published eoungh so you can easily pick them up, but the have been never focused eoungh by major journals like Washington Post.

If you can pay attention to this matter and write one article after research, you will become the most famous juornlist who prevent a deadly war world has never experienced sine 1950 so far.

Posted by: brian61 | May 29, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Even though the cause of the sinking has been declared as a torpedo from North Korea’s midget size submarine by a group of multi-national investigators sponsored by ROK, we are very much concerned that the government of Republic of Korea and its investigation reports did not provide enough key evidences to prove their accusation to pointing fingers at North Korea. We believe the blame is premature using only the section of recovered torpedo thought to be used by North that is not even sure when it was made.

The government of U.S has already stated to give its support by a Whitehouse spokesperson and through the group of multi-national investigators on the Korean government's investigative report and the Senate Armed Services Committee has adopted a similar resolution. We are very alarmed and concerned about this. This is clearly a setback to democracy in South Korea and the United States is unexpectedly helping them by the action. This type of action by US has made us wonder more on many suspected questions we had in relations to the sinking Cheonan.

When the South Korean naval ship Cheonan was sinking, both Navies of South Korea and the United States were in the middle of the joint training exercise “Key Resolve”, that was held in close proximity to the accident scene. It is very hard to imagine that the U.S., which is considered to have the world's strongest military and capabilities of gathering information have received no information link to the causes of sinking Cheonan.

from Group of concerned...

Posted by: ben3ch | May 29, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

i want you to know very important thing.

there is no shrapnel of torpedo founded except propellant.(not even single metal piece of torpedo)

as korean gov announce, torpedo was exploded only 6-9m from ship but no shrapnel was founded on surface of ship.

Posted by: tjhwang | May 30, 2010 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it strange that the torpedo could split the Cheonan into two but no shrapnel from its explosion can be found? After Iraq's nonexistent WMD, I hope the US under Obama-Clinton isn't about to further destroy US reputation abroad with another Gulf of Tonkin false flag.

Posted by: lyx123 | May 30, 2010 4:08 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone seen an interview with any of the surviving crewmen?

Posted by: meg3 | May 30, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Almost 2 months gone--why now showing pics parts of a rusty torpedo--props and inner guts hardly damaged.
Why now? Very simple--false flag--Stupid is always spelled with a U

Posted by: geo1671 | May 30, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I think Mr.Stein, including other analysts,
need to survey S.Korean press reports by now.You could find S.Korean military office's lies and nonsenses.

At the time of incident(that day night 9;16),S.Korean maritime police recieved an emergency call for rescue from S.Korean navy headquaters.

AT 9;16 P.M!!!!!!

But the Korean government's official investigation report and military officers said the CHEONAN was attacked by torpedo
thing at 9;22 p.m and broken into to parts as a result of "bubble jet" thing!!!

Can you explain this time-gap with your sober mind?


Crazy War-loving rats'lies!!!

Intention to provoke war on this peninsular!!!!

Posted by: nmmbywk64 | May 30, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Prominent dissidents gagged:

Posted by: meg3 | May 30, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Maybe this is another false flag from USA. Just like 911 attacks. Today the mankind is envolved by so many lies.
I don´t know who is the bigger liar.

Posted by: TonyHenrique | May 30, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

South Korean religious leaders question conclusions of the Cheonan sinking investigation

"Why have the survivors been strictly separated and controlled since the tragedy happened? Why are they not allowed to say anything about it, though they know the truth best?"

Note my question above.

Posted by: meg3 | May 30, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Tanaka Sakai: "The Cheonan was a patrol boat whose mission was to survey with radar and sonar the enemy’s submarines, torpedoes, and aircraft... If North Korean submarines and torpedoes were approaching, the Cheonan should have been able to sense it quickly and take measures to counterattack or evade. Moreover, on the day the Cheonan sank, US and ROK military exercises were under way, so it could be anticipated that North Korean submarines would move south to conduct surveillance. It is hard to imagine that the Cheonan sonar forces were not on alert."
Jct: Seems more and more like when they framed North Viet Nam for the Tonkin Gulf attack they didn't do. Now they've got a few corpses in their frame of North Korea they couldn't have done. Unless they're the sharpest navy on the planet, there's no way they got through all those American chips and detectors. But framing it just 20 km off North Korea's coast seems a natural, they certainly weren't going to frame it near Japan's coast.

Posted by: KingofthePaupers | May 31, 2010 3:06 AM | Report abuse

Hello Jeff, Great piece, Please look into the article on 5/1 by S.F. at, it was also posted in the EUTIMES.NET, of the US ordered news blackout of North Korean torpedoing of Gulf of Mexico oil rig. This may in fact be a preplanted smoke screen, it shold be openly disscused.

Posted by: thickshakefloat | May 31, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

such a shame that we as a society have to waste resources on warfare

Posted by: complacency_kills | June 1, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company