Skip to comments.What A New War in Korea Might Look Like
Posted on 12/27/2002 10:48:59 AM PST by maquiladora
The disclosure of North Korean attempts to develop nuclear weapons has once again raised the possibility of military conflict on the Korean peninsula. Both the United States and DPRK have publicly stated a desire to resolve the situation diplomatically. Should negotiations fail, military conflict would be a potential course of action.
In Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) possesses larger forces than Iraq, and they are already deployed along South Korea's border. A war could explode after a warning of only a few hours or days, not weeks. Unlike in the Persian Gulf, this attack would be prosecuted along a narrow peninsula on mountainous terrain. It would probably be accompanied by massed artillery fire, commando raids, and chemical weapons. Initially, the primary battlefield would be only about 125 kilometers wide and 100 kilometers deep. The DPRK attack would be conducted against well-prepared ROK forces in fortified positions and against larger U.S. forces than in the Persian Gulf. Most probably, the DPRK attack would aim at seizing nearby Seoul by advancing down the Kaesong-Munsan, Kumwa, and Chorwon corridors. If successful, North Korean forces might also try to conquer the entire peninsula before large U.S. reinforcements arrive.
North Korea has deployed more than 55 percent of its key forces in forward bases near the border. North Korea's short-term blitzkrieg strategy envisions a successful surprise attack in the early phase of the war to occupy South Korea before the arrival of US reinforcements on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean ground forces, totaling some 1 million soldiers, are composed of some 170 divisions and brigades including infantry, artillery, tank, mechanized and special operation forces. Of the total, about 60 divisions and brigades are deployed south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line. This means a surprise attack on South Korea is possible at any time without a prior redeployment of its units. North Korea has about 500 long-range artillery tubes within range of Seoul, double the levels of a the mid-1990s. The North Korean navy has also deployed 430 surface combatants and about 60 percent of some 90 submarine combat vessels near the front line in forward bases. With about 40 percent of its 790 fighter planes deployed near the front line, the North Korean air force could launch a surprise attack on any part of South Korea within a short period of time.
The basic goal of a North Korean southern offensive is destruction of allied defenses either before South Korea can fully mobilize its national power or before significant reinforcement from the United States arrives and be deployed. The primary objective of North Korea's military strategy is to reunify the Korean Peninsula under North Korean control within 30 days of beginning hostilities. A secondary objective is the defense of North Korea against a potential counter-offensive.
To accomplish these objectives, North Korea envisions fighting a two-front war. The first front, consisting of conventional forces, is tasked with breaking through defending forces along the DMZ, destroying defending ROK forces, and advancing rapidly down the entire peninsula. This operation will be coordinated closely with the opening of a second front consisting of SOF units conducting raids and disruptive attacks in ROK's rear.
In developing the force to fulfill this two-front strategy, North Korea's leaders realized that they could never reach technological parity with the United States or U.S.-supplied South Korea. Instead, they focused on speed, and overwhelming quantities of troops and firepower coupled with a well-trained SOF.
The operational objective of DPRK forces in the offense is the destruction of ROK forces in a short duration, high intensity campaign employing maneuver warfare. To achieve these objectives, the DPRK has developed a mobile ground force emphasizing the utilization of overwhelming firepower. The latest evolution in force structure and doctrine, begun in the late 1970s, has resulted in two distinct force organizations: a large, mobile active force (including SOF) organized, trained, and deployed to carry out offensive operations against the ROK, and an extensive, well trained reserve force to defend the DPRK.
The DPRK offensive against the ROK will consist of three phases. The objective of the first phase will be to breach the defenses along the DMZ and destroy the forward deployed ROK forces. The objective of the second phase will be to isolate Seoul and consolidate gains. The objective of the third phase will be to pursue and destroy remaining ROK forces and occupy the remainder of the peninsula. The four forward conventional corps, I, II, IV, and V, are considered the "warfighting" corps. They are expected to conduct the initial attacks with the primary mission of annihilating ROK forces north of Seoul. The concept of annihilation is the key to the DPRK doctrine, as it continually states the necessity to destroy enemy forces in place. The forward corps' follow-on mission is the defeat of ROK forces in depth.
The remaining conventional corps, III, VI, VII, VIII, and the Capital Defense Corps (CDC) have several possible missions. These missions include providing follow-on forces, round-out forces, and serving as coastal, rear area, or capital defense forces. Dependent on the forward corps' success, the rear corps will release units to serve as replacements. Two mechanized corps and part of the armor corps will provide the exploitation forces to carry the battle beyond Seoul. The remaining mechanized corps and armor from the armor corps could provide the strategic reserve north of the DMZ.
North Korea is also believed to have a fairly substantial number of special operations troops. However, it is not believed there is enough of these troops, or means to effectively deliver them, to damage ROK defensive positions. These forces would likely be utilized in harassing maneuvers. It is unlikely these SOF forces would have a significant affect against ROK defenses. SOF forces may be able to inflict moderate infrastructure and civilian damage.
Just prior to the initiation of hostilities, two army-level commands may be established. These commands are expected to control operations from the DMZ to the port of Pusan. Army Group I would be responsible for conducting the main attack into the western portion of South Korea and destroying the bulk of ROK forces north of Seoul. Army Group II would be responsible for conducting supporting attacks down the eastern portion of the ROK and securing the left flank of Army Group I.
The DPRK is expected to use three primary avenues of approach into the ROK. They are the Kaesong-Munsan approach, the Chorwon Val-ley approach, and along the east coast. There are several sub-maneuvers.
Army Group II would most likely consist of the following forces:
First Echelon: Will consist of the forward corps. Their mission will be to conduct the initial infantry assault across the DMZ and break through ROK defenses.
Second Echelon: Will consist of mechanized and armor forces. The primary mission of these forces will be to envelop and destroy forward deployed forces.
Third Echelon: Will also consist of mechanized and armor forces. The mission of these forces will be to pursue and destroy the remaining ROK forces and to occupy the entire peninsula. Additionally, strategic reserve forces or follow-on forces exist to augment all echelons if required.
Although the DPRK places great emphasis on maneuverability, it has elected not to rely on extensive mechanization of its infantry forces. DPRK mechanizations is designed to provide rapid "protected" movement of an infantry force. For the most part, personnel travel in armored personnel carriers or trucks, not infantry fighting vehicles. Once the force reaches its destination, troops dismount to conduct traditional infantry operations rather than Russian-style infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) tactics while fighting a mounted battle, whenever possible, through the enemy defenses. Selective mechanization has been accomplished through the use of self-propelled artillery and antiaircraft systems and tanks, but not large quantities of armored personnel carriers or IFVs. As in the past, the DPRK ground force of the 1990s relies on the foot soldiers' ability to exploit nontrafficable terrain. The objective is to overwhelm ROK units with conventional forces and exploit breakthroughs with mechanized assets without becoming road bound.
To support offensive operations of the forward corps, the DPRK has created four mechanized corps and an armor corps. Two mechanized, the 806th and 815th, and the 820th armored corps are positioned to support strikes by the forward conventional corps and are considered to be tactical exploitation forces. Individual mechanized brigades may be turned over to the control of the forward corps to exploit breakthroughs achieved by the infantry. Their main objective is to drive deeply behind ROK lines and set up blocking positions to cut off withdrawing or reinforcing ROK forces. Each mechanized brigade is capable of independent operations behind enemy lines.
Successful destruction of ROK forces north of Seoul will enable the DPRK to commit its operational exploitation forces. This force will operate under the control of an army command and conduct corps level, cohesive operations. They are expected to be committed at the time forward ROK forces are annihilated. Their mission is to quickly seize and secure key terrain leading to control of the area between Seoul and Pusan.
The DPRK will seek force ratios of 3-5 to 1 in armor, 6-8 to 1 in artillery, and 4-6 to 1 in infantry forces to mount an attack. In attempting to breach a well-prepared defensive position, the DPRK may be expected to seek even larger ratios. This undoubtedly would be the case in attempting to break through DMZ defenses.
Combined-arms operations constitute the foundation of tactical battle in DPRK doctrine. Utilization of the forward conventional corps, reinforced by the mechanized and armor corps, to fight from the DMZ to Pusan is called the Strike Force concept. This concept embodies how the DPRK is expected to fight, especially south of Seoul or in defense of the DPRK.
The DPRK has devised a strategy to compensate for deficiencies, ROK strengths, and terrain considerations. Using a task organization approach, the DPRK fields, trains, and exercises a large ground force, designed to overcome the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of ROK forces. Strike Forces/Groups are formed around a core unit either a corps, division, or regiment/brigade. As the situation develops, additional units, such as armor, or artillery, may be diverted to significantly increase available fire support. Again, this will manifest itself in a three part DPRK force structure: a forward element (most likely reinforced light infantry), which is a self-contained maneuver force and two maneuver elements. Although the second maneuver element is sometimes referred to as the reserve, it contains sufficient combat weight to assume the lead of the main attack should the first maneuver element fail or stall, or to attack another objective.
Approximately forty percent of the South Korean population resides within 40 miles of Seoul. While rice paddies offering limited off-road mobility dominate the terrain north of Seoul, the terrain west of Seoul is a wide coastal plan with the main invasion routes to Seoul. North Korean forces attacking Seoul through the Chorwon or Munsan corridors would have to cross the Han or Imjin rivers (while these rivers freeze in the winter, the ice is not strong enough to support heavy armor). The narrow eastern coastal plain is lightly settled and less heavily defended, though mountains make movement of forces from the east coast difficult. North Korea does not have to achieve a breakthrough across the DMZ to cause significant damage to South Korea. Seoul is within artillery and missile range from the north and most assessments conclude that the DPRK would likely bombard Seoul with a significant number of artillery pieces and missiles. As previously stated, the north is believed to have some 500 artillery tubes in a position to fire upon Seoul. These tubes would likely be able to fire several thousand rounds on the capital before being targeted by defensive forces. Even following targeting, these artillery pieces would likely survive for some time before all could be destroyed.
Estimates vary as to the extent of the potential damage on Seoul. This likely depends on the exact number of pieces that fire on Seoul and the intensity of that fire. However, most assessments agree that an artillery and missile attack on Seoul would greatly damage (both short term and long term) the ROK economy and cause significant civilian casualties (depended on the prior warning to any attack).
The potential use of weapons of mass destruction by DPRK seriously complicates any potential assessment on a North Korean offense against the south. It is difficult to adequately determine the potential damage caused by a WMD because of the large number of variables surrounding the delivery of such weapons. If North Korea uses WMD, chemical agents are the most likely to be deployed. This is likely for several reasons. The state of North Korean nuclear weapons is not precisely known, but is it generally believed that they are presently too large to be deployable. Similarly, North Korean biological weapons are not considered as viable as chemical weapons because of the complexity of the delivery biological programs and the fact that the DPRK biological program has not received the same attention as the DPRK chemical program.
Like its biological warfare effort, we believe North Korea has had a long-standing chemical warfare program. North Koreas chemical warfare capabilities include the ability to produce bulk quantities of nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents, using its sizeable, although aging, chemical industry. North Korea is believed to hold a significant stockpile of agents and weapons.
North Korea is believed to be capable of weaponizing chemical weapons to suit a variety of delivery means. These would include not only ballistic missiles, but also artillery and aircraft, and possibly unconventional means. In fact, the United States believes that North Korea has some long-range artillery deployed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and ballistic missiles, some of which could deliver chemical warfare agents against forward-based U.S. and allied forces, as well as against rear-area targets. North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. These chemical defense units have both detection and decontamination systems. Their missions include reconnaissance and the training of personnel in the use of protective equipment. Chemical training and exercises for both military and civilian personnel have increased consistently over the years. North Korea's chemical weapon (CW) production capability is estimated to be about 4,500 tons per year, though this could increase to 12,000 tons per year in case of war. North Korea appears to have emphasized the weaponization of mustard, phosgene, sarin, and V-type chemical agents. Reports indicate that North Korea has some 12 CW facilities where raw chemicals, precursors, and actual agents are produced and/or stored, and six major storage depots for CW ordnance. North Korea also has placed thousands of artillery systemsincluding multiple launch rocket systems that are particularly effective for CW deliverywithin reach of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Seoul. Pyongyang has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
The South Koreans have a series of Defensive lines that cross the entire peninsula, but with the exception of the South Barrier Fence, they aren't connected completely across the peninsula. They are designed to withstand an attack and allow a minimum force to hold a line while reinforcement/counter attack forces are assembled and sent to destroy any penetrations. A favorable outcome for the South depends on two conditions. First, the ROK forces must withstand the DPRK attack during the initial 5-15 days of North Korean offensive actions. Second, they must hold the line while US and ROK forces are mobilized for the counteroffensive, which could take another 15-20 days. South Korea is likely to be able to successfully defend and repel a conventional DPRK along the demilitarized zone.
South Korea would appear to have outright superiority, as measured by these types of static indices, once one factors in the effects of superior training, equipment maintenance, logistics and support equipment like reconnaissance and communications gear (to say nothing of the advantage of fighting from prepared positions.) Quantifying the importance of these effects is difficult, but those who have attempted to do so have found impressive results.
ROK and US forces possess a noticeable technological advantage over DPRK forces. For the most part ROK forces would be facing increasingly outdated DPRK equipment using modern and well-kept equipment outfitted with current detection and targeting systems. The most modern pieces of DPRK armor showed its age in the 1991 gulf war (although terrain variations must be taken into consideration) and the most plentiful pieces were not particularly capable 35 years ago, let alone today.
The North Korean avenues for attack (outlined above) are heavily defended by hardened, well-prepared ROK defenses. These forces are densely located along the demilitarized zone. The force-to-space ratio has been calculated at one division per 10 kilometers. Given these force-to-space considerations, the inability of DPRK forces to maneuver around the defending units in the DMZ, and the likely ineffectiveness of unconventional forces inserted behind the defender, DPRK forces are not likely to be able to quickly push through and create a breakthrough.
The topography of the DMZ is not conducive for rapid advance and gives defensive forces a further advantage. The channels of attack and predetermined bridge and road demolition planning can funnel attacking forces into focused ROK firing positions. This defensive advantage may be somewhat nullified by a winter assault, which would open up, though not completely, a larger number of avenues of approach. While both sides have a large number of artillery pieces focused on the region, defensive forces would have an advantage over attacking forces. Hardened bunkers would protect defensive forces; attacking ROK forces would be exposed to artillery without the benefit of hardened positions. North Korea could use smoke and other vision impairing implements. These would likely be overcome by superior ROK and US reconnaissance aircraft radar systems which could provide a significant advantage.
Similarly, DPRK could use poor visibility due to natural weather conditions to help obscure visibility and reduce the effectiveness of reconnaissance aircraft. These conditions are unlikely to persist for more than several days. Using passing weather systems in this way is difficult to predict and impossible to sustain.
ROK and US forces possess a substantial air advantage over DPRK. Unless DPRK enjoys miraculous weather conditions that prevent adequate ROK or US sorties, Southern forces would likely be able to quickly establish air superiority over North Korean positions, further subjecting DPRK forces to allied fire. To counter the threat of ROK and US air power, DPRK forces would likely attempt to destroy southern air bases with initial missile salvos. Potential affects of such attacks would likely be limited.
The US plans are based on the belief that the North Koreans would not be successful in consolidating their gains around Seoul and would be pushed back across the DMZ -- though the plans assume the North may break through the DMZ in places. A critical issue is strategic warning of unambiguous signs that North Korea is preparing an attack. The warning time has reportedly been shortened from about ten days to about three days as North Korea has covered its military activities.
The United States and ROK have developed as series of plans to counter a potential DPRK attack. The first plan would be a preemptive strike against DPRK positions to counter an emanate North Korean offensive. Likely targets in a preemptive attack are likely to be artillery positions and bombers before they could be activated. Under this plan, the ROK and the United States, both must agree that a DPRK attack is eminent and that a preemptive strike is necessary.
The second plan would go into effect following a North Korea attack. Since the late 90s the United States has developed OPLAN 5027, which includes defense of the southern peninsula as well as direct assaults against North Korean targets beyond the DMZ and defeating them in detail. This defeat in detail is said to include provisions to seize Pyongyang and instituted regime change.
In these provisions, the United States would attempt to bring roughly half of its combat force to reinforce forces already in place. According to the 04 December 2000 South Korean Defense Ministry White Paper, the United States would deploy up to 690,000 troops 160 Navy ships and 1,600 aircraft deployed from the U.S. within 90 days on the Korean peninsula if a new war breaks out.
The U.S.-ROK defense plan would be shaped not only by the threat but also by the mountainous terrain. Korea is commonly regarded as rugged infantry terrain that invites neither mobile ground warfare nor heavy air bombardment, but North Korea has assembled large armored forces that are critical to exploiting breakthroughs, and these forces would pass down narrow corridors that are potential killing zones for U.S. airpower. U.S.-ROK forces would conduct a vigorous forward defense aimed at protecting Seoul. Their campaign would be dominated by combined-arms ground battles waged with infantry, artillery, and armor. U.S. air and naval forces would conduct close air support, interdiction, and deep strike missions. After Phase 1, U.S.-ROK operations in Phase 2 would probably focus on seizing key terrain, inflicting additional casualties on enemy forces, and rebuffing further attacks. Phase 3, to start when the U.S. ground buildup was complete and ROK forces were replenished would be a powerful counteroffensive aimed at restoring the ROK's borders and destroying the DPRK's military power.
A major air campaign against northern forces would be required before the counteroffensive could begin. A US Marine Expeditionary Force (in division strength) and the 82nd Air Assault Division, along with ROK divisions, would launch an overland offensive north toward Wonsan from the east coast. Soon thereafter, a combined US-ROK force would likely stage an amphibious landing near Wonsan, and advance to Pyongyang. Subsequently, a combined US-ROK force would execute a major counteroffensive from north of Seoul aimed at seizing Pyongyang. This would be achieved either by linking up with the force at Wonsan, or meeting it at Pyongyang.
North Korea, devastated during the Korean War, also places great emphasis on maintaining a strong defense. To achieve the strategic defense mission, North Korea has established defensive belts. They are designed to defeat any attack from ground or amphibious forces. The main strategic belt runs from the DMZ to Pyongyang. This belt contains over two-thirds of the DPRK's active maneuver ground forces. Ground defense along this belt is carried out by MPAF and corps level units.
Two army-level headquarters may be activated for wartime operations. The navy provides coastal defense, and the army provides ground anti-landing defense. The air force and anti air artillery units of the army provide defense of DPRK airspace. At the initiation of a DPRK ground offensive, the North's reserve forces, numbering some 5 million, would man a pre-established, in-depth national defense network.
Tasks performed during the Destruction Phase of the OPLAN reportedly involve a strategy of maneuver warfare north of the Demilitarized Zone with a goal of terminating the North Korea regime, rather than simply terminating the war by returning North Korean forces to the Truce Line. In this phase operations would include the US invasion of North Korea, the destruction of the Korean Peoples Army and the North Korean government in Pyongyang. The plan includes the possibility of a Marine amphibious assault into the narrow waist of North Korea to cut the country in two. US troops would occupy north Korea and "Washington and Seoul will then abolish north Korea as a state and reorganize it under South Korean control.
We are entering some dangerous waters...thank God we've got competent people in command.
Stay well - Stay safe - Stay armed - Yorktown
They could do it in a week! ROK forces will fold and our people, 36,000... those who are left will be hostages.
They say we have 46,000 troops in Japan. Cannon fodder. They'll go in deaf, dumb and blind.
1950 all over again! Pusan perimeter at best.
The Chinee will back up her little buddy with whatever it needs.
Bush needs to strike and strike now. Send them a message... GET OUT OF DODGE!
Does a casualty estimate come with this? It sounds like 2M casualties, 500K+ dead to me. And that before considering a nuke exchange.
JHFC. This is nasty stuff.
The timing of possible military action by the United States against North Korea is highly uncertain. The most obvious forcing function would be a decision by North Korea to begin reprocessing spent fuel to extract more plutonium to fabricate additional nuclear weapons. If the North began reproccessing in January 2003, the United States would be faced with the possibility of military action against North Korean nuclear facilities prior to mid-year.
That is not unreasonable. Many of the casualties would be from civilians, as the infrastructure of both contries would collapse, causing massive humanitarian problems.
Informally, the U.S. military units there refer to themselves as 'speedbumps'. Sitting within range of the biggest line of artillery in history, many expect to be totally wiped out, cut off, or captured within the first 24-36 hours. This isn't to say that we or the ROKs are pussycats, but that the initial shock of 10,000 tubes firing several times a minute for hours on end will shock the South badly, clogging the roads with literally millions of refugees. That puts a hurting on logistics, which is our soft underbelly.