You have probably watched countless analysts on TV talking about how to “deal” with the North Korean Problem. Some offer diplomatic options, some economic options, others focus on military options.
Let’s put ourselves in the oval office, sitting at the Resolute desk, and formulating a possible MILITARY strategy to take out North Korea’s Problem, “Kim Jong-un”.
Setting the Stage: (briefly)
There is no question that the North Korean Problem began with an Armistice between North and South Korea on July 27, 1953. The armistice never achieved its goal of establishing a real peace treaty and has “permanently” left the Korean Peninsula bifurcated between the North and the South. The US and North Korea never really focused on a real peace treaty much like the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations did not focus on denuclearizing the North.
China and Russia, to a lesser degree, have aligned with North Korea with the United States aligning with South Korea. The tensions on the Korean Peninsula became yet another metaphor for the Cold War between the US, China and the Soviet Union. The latter two share a border with North Korea.
The current leader of North Korea is Kim Jong-un who maintains a brutal dictatorship over his country. The Kim dynasty has ruled over North Korea since the end of WWII in 1948. Two years later, Kim Il-sung started the Korean War… So, to look for any “peace” DNA in the current leader is an exercise in futility. Total dominance of the Korean Peninsula and becoming a serious, internationally feared nuclear power is the sole goal of Kim Jung-un.
North Korea has a total land mass of 120,538 sq./km; roughly the size of the State of Pennsylvania. The capital of North Korea is Pyongyang. The capital of South Korea is Seoul that is only 120 miles from the North Korean capital, seconds from an artillery attack.
North Korea trades almost exclusively, 90% with China. The key economic factor is petroleum. North Korea only produces about 100 bbl/day but consumes 15,000 bbl/day, with China making up the vast majority of its shortfall. If China, or Russia as a substitute, does not supply North Korea with petroleum, any attempt by North Korea to wage any semblance of a prolonged conflict is not possible. Their “ground game” would be unsustainable.
North Korean Military:
The Kim dynasty has invested almost all of its resources in creating a military and advancing its weapons systems. The following will give you an outline of their military capabilities:
Troops: 945,000 Active, 5,500,000 Reserve
Aircraft: 458 Fighters, Attack Aircraft 572, Helicopters 202, Attack Helicopters 20.
Tanks/Mobile Artillery: Combat Tanks 5,025, Armored Vehicles 4,100, Self Propelled Artillery 2,250, Towed Artillery 4,300, Rocket Launchers 2,400.
Navy: Aircraft Carriers 0, Submarines 76, Patrol Boats 438, Mine Vehicles 25.
Hard Missile Launch Sites: 2, Musudan-ri and Tongchang-ri
Nuclear Reactors: 11 including reprocessing sites.
What is our Plan?
We have to prepare for an attack against a country the size of Pennsylvania that is mostly surrounded by water on its West and East side and borders to not so US friendly nations, China and Russia, with South Korea sharing a 155 mile border with the North. Remember, the two capitals are only 120 miles apart, just a little over half of the distance between NYC and Washington DC!
Given the geographic proximity between the North and /South, the US would literally have to take out the North’s offensive and defensive capabilities in a matter of hours. If not, North Korean naval assets, artillery, rocket launchers, and even their fixed and mobile missile launchers (probably tactical and not nuclear) could rain down upon nearby Seoul killing thousands, and perhaps millions.
The US also has roughly 25,000 troops and well over 100,000 American Citizens living in South Korea. This means that we will have to plan for a quick, comprehensive, and total attack against North Korea to mitigate the number of casualties in the South. The North Korean population is 25,000,000. Millions of these North Koreans could be killed in an all out assault by the US. (Remember Trump’s “Fire and Fury” comment.)
The key to minimize the impact of an US attack against the North Korean Regime would be to eliminate the North’s Command and Control centers. This is totally reliant upon our covert analyst’s ability to accurately locate and assess the C&C capabilities. The number of casualties on both sides will increase or decrease based on our ability to quickly take out the North’s C&C. The real unknown is how the military leadership will react in the face of annihilation! Will they support Kim or stand down. Hopefully the latter…
Taking Out the North Korea Ground Forces/Artillery:
The map below shows the location of various North Korean ground forces. A high percentage of their ground forces are deployed along the south side border with South Korea. Others are deployed close to naval facilities.
The US would have to use a combination of MOAB types of bombs and naval based Cruise missiles to rapidly obliterate the North’s ability to strike Seoul with conventional military artillery, rocket launchers, and tanks.
The rapidly deployed assets would have to take out the hardened artillery installations as shown on the map below:
Taking out this hardened line of artillery sites is key to reduce the number of casualties in the South.
Taking Out the North Korea Air Assets:
The North Korean Air assets are not substantial but are spread out. The priority would be to take out the air bases closest to the border with the South along with any anti-aircraft and radar installations. North Korean pilots and equipment are no match for US Navy and Air Force pilots. ALSO, if the US can cut off Chinese fuel from being shipped to North Korea, the ability of the North’s air force to mount any real defensive or counter-offensive attack would be severely limited.
If the US attack was not detected, the vast majority of the North Korean air force would never get off of the ground. The air bases would be hit hard by sea and surface missiles followed by airborne attacks. Large ordinance like the MOAB bomb would devastate land based air bases and supply depots and without any air craft carriers, the North Korean air force capabilities could be quickly silenced.
Taking Out the North Korea Naval Assets:
The major threat from the North Korean navy would be their submarine assets. Their lack of destroyers and air craft carriers make the neutralization of the North Korean Navy less a risk. The key would be a firm mapping of the current sub locations so they could be quickly targeted and neutralized. Below is a map of the locations of the North Korean naval assets. The port facilities could be taken out relatively quickly leaving the major part of the naval campaign isolated to finding and destroying the submarine assets.
The North Korean naval forces do not pose an imminent threat to Seoul. The ports at Sagon NI and Changjon would be priority naval targets to the west and east of Seoul.
Taking Out the North Korea Nuclear Assets:
The main unknown of the North Korean arsenal is the Chinese made mobile missile launchers. Satellite surveillance will be the key to locate these assets prior to any attack. That would leave the hardened missile sites in Tongchang-ri and Musudan-ri. Assuming the US could take out the mobile and hardened missile launch sites, there are at least 11 locations of nuclear reactors, reprocessing centers, and uranium enrichment sites. Surveillance would be the key here as well. Are stockpiles of nuclear weapons housed in any of these sites?
IF we strike a nuclear facility directly, what would be the resulting release, if any, of nuclear fall-out? Or, can we cyber-attack these sites to take them offline and make them benign? How about the 20-60 nuclear bombs the North reportedly have? Where are those? Here again, the taking out of C&C is vital to mitigating the risk of the North utilizing a nuclear device even if it is ship or truck based. The likelihood that the North could quickly mount and deliver a missile based nuclear device is low if we act in the next 90-180 days. Everyday the North increases its capabilities and increases the number of collateral deaths.
Pre-Mortem of our Attack:
A pre-mortem is basically an exercise to “guess” what would be the outcome of a specific action. The President does not have a good military option as any limited action would be catastrophic to South Korea. The President has to face the reality that at least a million North Koreans could lose their lives. That is a horrendous option for any President. The second reality is that South Korea will not go unscathed. At a minimum, Seoul will suffer casualties. They could lose thousands of their citizen’s lives at the hand of the North’s counter-offensive. If the North was able to unleash even a low yield nuclear device near Seoul, hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost over time.
A longer term impact maybe the release of nuclear fall-out due to the damage inflicted on nuclear sites or the explosion of any of the North’s nuclear devices. South Korea, China and Japan could all be impacted by the fall-out.
President Trump has inherited not only a mess in North Korea, but also the possibility of having to bear the knowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of more human beings than any other President or head of a nation in history. But, President Trump has to balance the possibility that inaction on his part could result in the death of millions of South Koreans, Japanese, and Americans. That may seem like an easy trade-off, but since this is all hypothetical, he will never know if he truly made the right decision.
Praying for wisdom for President Trump is an absolute must. He is shouldering one of the most horrendous burdens in history. This is all while the Democrats and Republicans are playing silly political games that serve as a distraction to President Trump and his staff.
Note: Some of the maps and stats may not be up to date but they do provide a basis for assessing the degree of difficulty in planning an attack against North Korea…