World Affairs Brief, August 11, 2017 Commentary and Insights on a Troubled World.
Copyright Joel Skousen. Partial quotations with attribution permitted. Cite source as Joel Skousen’s World Affairs Brief (http://www.worldaffairsbrief.com).
This Week’s Analysis:
Trump’s Red Line on North Korea
Korean Military Forces: The Matchup
Will There be War with North Korea?
Trump Disappoints Congressional Republicans
The McMaster Controversy
Russian Hack was Physically Impossible over Internet
Preparedness Tip: Best Rechargeable Batteries
KOREAN MILITARY FORCES: THE MATCH UP
In terms of ground troops, the United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea but only about 15,000 of those are combat troops. That’s not nearly enough to combat NK’s estimated 100,000 troops, 70% of which are stationed on or near the DMZ, housed in hardened bunker type living quarters. South Korea’s armed forces number approximately 50,000 personnel. SK has universal military service and is considered well trained. The US also has about 28,000 troops in South Korea and 39,000 combat troops in Okinawa, Japan—almost 14,000 of which are Marines.
However, the key to any military plan’s success lies in pre-emptively striking NK’s offensive capability first and then preparing to attack the men and equipment it will use in the expected retaliation. That can only be done quickly and effectively with air power and missiles.
A proper pre-emptive strike on NK would involve cruise missile attacks on NK’s 15 combat airfields, 11 of which are for fighter aircraft. NK has some obsolete Mig 15, 17 and 19 aircraft but the bulk of its fighter force is composed of 150 Mig-21’s which have limited combat capabilities against the hundreds of modern F-16, and F-15 fighters manned by South Korea. NK only has 40 modern Mig-29 aircraft which have long range missile combat capabilities.
The US also has two major air bases in South Korea, Osan where the 7th Air Force is located and Kunsan Airbase where the 8th fighter wing is located. The 7th AF has modern versions of the F-16 and the venerable A-10 attack aircraft—the best ground attack aircraft in the world. The Marines also have 8 F-35s in the country which are the most capable aircraft in the world at tracking and attacking multiple targets at long distances.
Even with all that modern capability, it would probably take a week or two of intensive aerial combat to gain air superiority over Korean skies because of the high number of NK aircraft. That time could be reduced significantly if enough destruction is aimed at NK airfields in the first pre-emptive strike. That would be accomplished first by a surprise wave of cruise missile strikes, and followed up by high altitude bombing by B-52, and B-1 bombers, which can carry much more total destructive power than cruise missiles. In the US attack on the Syrian air base, almost 20% of the Tomahawk missiles missed their target and the air base was back in operation within a week, so cruise missiles are a costly and not completely effective solution.
In order to counter NK’s significant retaliatory capability, the US and South Korea would have to intensively target and destroy NK’s artillery and rocket units, numbering some 20k tubes in total, plus a number of 240 and 300mm rocket launchers within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. Having the nation’s capitol within range gives NK’s artillery a decided advantage since attack is almost instantaneous.
NK has an estimated 12,000 pieces of tube artillery and 2,300 pieces of multiple launch rocket artillery. The majority of tube artillery are 122mm, 130mm, 152mm and 170mm units, and their rocket launchers are either 240mm or 300mm units.
While many of those artillery pieces are relatively unprotected near the DMZ, a large number of the long-range self-propelled 122mm and 170mm pieces as well as rocket launchers are dug into the north side of the mountain ranges where they can emerge to shoot and then duck back into their tunnels for protection. The US can only counter this threat after air superiority is reached when they can keep constant combat patrols circling overhead ready to attack them when they emerge.
As for smaller and more numerous artillery batteries near the DMZ, there are simply too many targets for an effective pre-emptive strike, even with all the military capability of the USA, so the US and SK would have to rely on carpet bombing of artillery rich areas once they start firing, as well as counter-artillery batteries to take them out over time. Counter-artillery batteries have precise radar tracking technology that can pinpoint the origin of an artillery shell and take out the unit doing the firing—but it’s a slow, time-consuming process to eliminate thousands of units.
But it must be done. If allowed to fire uninhibited for even an hour or two, these artillery forces can reap a lot of destruction on Seoul, which is filled with glass commercial buildings in the central district.