Korea: June 8, 2000


PENTAGON PLANS FOR WAR IN KOREA: The Pentagon now regards Korea as the most likely war to erupt at any given time, and is developing war plans to deal with it. The assumption is that North Korea will launch a blitzkrieg attack to seize large amounts of territory before starting negotiations. The Pentagon is also considering the deployment to Korea of new weapons not previously based there. While North Korea has made some diplomatic overtures, the Pentagon will not be impressed until the North Koreans start disbanding divisions or at least moving their permanent garrisons away from the DMZ. 

NORTH KOREAN STRENGTHS: The North Korean economy has been in trouble for years, and US intelligence has tracked a steady decline it the amount of training that North Korean Army units get. These training levels are now bouncing back, however. North Korea continues to move more and more units closer to the DMZ. Currently, 65% of North Korean forces are deployed directly along the DMZ, and this will increase to 70% by the end of this year. The North Korean economy remains at 40% of the 1990 levels and there are no signs of improvement. Kim Jong-il is in total control of the military and has managed to consolidate power. North Korea relies on artillery for its offensives, and has enough to fire 500,000 shells per hour for several hours. New 240mm multiple rocket launchers and 170mm artillery are being deployed. Artillery is also the principle means of delivering chemical weapons. North Korea has 5,000 metric tons of nerve gas stored near the DMZ, and is thought to have blood, choking, and blister agents. Use of these chemical weapons is regarded as all but a given should North Korea launch an attack. US intelligence believes that North Korea also has a biological warfare capability but that such weapons are difficult to deploy. North Korea is expected to deploy one hundred thousand special forces troops on raid, sabotage, ambush, and intelligence missions. One likely mission is to set up shop near an air base, shooting down aircraft with SA7s and bombarding the airfield with mortars. In the handful of incidents in recent years when such infiltrators have been spotted, they have fought fanatically and have been willing to commit suicide rather than surrender. Nothing like them has been seen in the Balkans or Middle East. Their training was not scaled back during the economic crisis. Three hundred An-2 air transports and dozens of small submarines, patrol boats, and hovercraft, would be used to insert these forces into the South Korean rear, as well as secret underground tunnels. US and South Korean intelligence agree that "at least several" tunnels have never been detected. The best defense against these special operations forces is thought to be attacks on their bases, aircraft, and ships to prevent as many of them as possible from entering South Korea. Army AH-64 Apaches will be tasked for counter-SOF for the first few days, destroying their small boats and any forces already in place.

MASSIVE CASUALTIES: The Pentagon has pointedly warned the Administration and Congress that a war in Korea will involve massive US and allied casualties and will not be a bloodless victory as the Kosovo War was and as the Gulf War nearly was. The theater will be 1/8 the size of the Gulf War, with three times the combat power and 50 times the population. Civilian casualties will be horrendous. 

RECON ASSETS: The US makes efforts to detect a war before it starts. The US uses U-2 spy planes, RC-135 electronic intelligence planes, and Army RC-7 low-level recon planes to watch the North Koreans. It wants to keep an E-8 JSTARS radar plane in Korea, but there just aren't enough of them to go around.

A WINTER WAR: No one knows when North Korea would launch an attack or how it would come to the decision to do so. While the US has for years stood by a prediction of a summer or fall attack, most analysts (inside the Pentagon and out) now believe that the most likely scenario is a winter attack. Numerous reasons for this are cited. It is the only time that North Korea can effectively employ its armor (as this is when the rice paddies are frozen). The bad weather will reduce the effect of US airpower. The North Korean Army is in better shape to fight in the winter than the US. North Korea holds its annual wargames in winter, and these are the only plausible event that could conceal the deployment of forces into attack positions. Some analysts fear that North Korea will attack this winter in order to take advantage of the three month period between the US presidential elections and the inauguration of a new president.

THE AIR WAR: Because the first reinforcements that could reach the theater would be tactical aircraft, the Air Force is expected to carry the brunt of the battle for the first week. The Air Tasking Order has already been written for the first two or three days, assigning aircraft to specific targets. Aircraft in Japan would be moved to Korea for the war, since Japan will not allow combat missions to be launched from its soil. It is assumed that the first few days will involve 1,500 sorties per day. This will ramp up to 2,500 sorties per day by the sixth day as more planes flood in from the US. Because the only US combat aircraft in South Korea are F-16s and A-10s, any other types (F-117s and F-15Es) will have to bring in their own spare parts and munitions. Because The war will not be limited to precision-guided weapons; there simply are not enough of them. Instead, these will be used to take out key air defenses and to canalize the North Korean attack into narrow corridors that can be blasted with iron bombs. The F-16s in South Korea are old Block-30 aircraft which cannot carry precision-guided bombs (although they have the Maverick missile) and are limited to daylight missions. Newer Block-40 aircraft with night-attack Lantirn pods will be sent to Korea later this year. A-10s would attack tanks by day and artillery by night. The heavy bomber force will be used to carpet bomb the North Korean armored columns. The B-52s and B-1Bs will be sent to Guam and will fly their war missions from there. The B-2s will fly from Missouri until special hangars can be built on Guam to maintain their stealth coatings. Because of the small combat theater, most aircraft will not need the tanker support they required in the Gulf War or Kosovo War. Tankers will orbit off-shore to support the heavy bombers and surveillance planes, which will uncomplicate the air traffic problem. A major problem is the North Korean penchant for building tunnels. Hundreds of them exist, and the North Koreans can be expected to use them as temporary shelters for moving troops, hiding holes for artillery, and for logistics. Most of the tunnel entrances face north, forcing US attack planes to fly deeper into North Korean airspace to put precision-guided weapons into the bunker doors. The North Koreans are expected to launch short artillery barrages by moving artillery out of the tunnels, firing several volleys of shells, and then ducking back into the tunnels before US recon assets can spot the firing batteries.

NORTH KOREAN AIR DEFENSES: The North Korea air defense system is extensive and integrated. The defenses are not particularly sophisticated or high tech (SA-2, SA-3, SA-5), but they are densely deployed, and US planes over North Korea will face far more missiles than they ever did over Kosovo or Iraq. Many North Korean launchers and radars are mounted on elevators inside tunnels, allowing them to literally "pop up" and fire. North Korea also has 10,000 anti-aircraft artillery pieces and vast numbers of SA-7 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile launchers. There are no signs of North Korea acquiring the modern Russian S300 anti-aircraft system. The North Korean air defense system will be targeted by Army Tactical Missile Systems, and by F-16CJ Wild Weasels (among the first aircraft to arrive from the US). EA-6Bs will also be among the early arrivals. Predator drones, a key part of US war plans, are expected to suffer horrendous losses to North Korean air defenses, and the US may delay sending them until the North Korean air defenses are thorough disrupted. The North Korean Air Force, with 770 tactical fighters and 80 bombers, is expected to stay out of the war as it would be destroyed quickly in air combat. They might be expected to make one desperate charge to attack a key target, but this is a card the North Koreans can only play once.

INFORMATION WARFARE: North Korea does not use very many computers or cell phones compared to other regional powers, so they are not as vulnerable to information warfare as the Serbs were. On the other hand, the North Korean command structure is highly centralized and attacks on command bunkers and command posts will be a high priority. North Korea has an extensive fiber-optic network, and US war plans include concentrated and major attacks on this as a high leverage target. Once the fiber-optic network is gone, the North Koreans will have to resort to radios. This will make it easier to intercept, track, and disrupt their communications.

THE TWO WAR STRATEGY: The ultimate nightmare for a war in Korea would be for other potential conflicts (China invades Taiwan, Iraq seizes Kuwait, Iran grabs the UAE, even India invades Sri Lanka) to start up just after the Korean conflict. Such a scenario is truly a nightmare since US forces have been cut so deeply. There is not enough airlift to support two wars, and not enough forces to carry.--Stephen V Cole 


Article Archive

Korea: Current 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close