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The Hermit Kingdom's Crazy Uncle in the attic...

Dusty opened the bidding on this topic with his post about the NorK "Bluffer's Guide" website. 

Heh.  Basically, the details there tanked the post I was building on the topic, so I decided to take a different approach.

In the Bluffer's Guide thread, you see many of the easy to find and assess sites - and do so using the Amateur Intel Analyst's favorite tool, Google Earth.

It's a wonderful example of TechInt - technical intelligence, which we are very good at.

The problem is the lack of humint, or human intelligence gathering capability, a problem that is particularly acute in Kim Jong Il's worker's paradise.

John (Not The Armorer) set the stage pretty well:

Although commanded by a lunatic, and while a nation devastated by self inflicted poverty and starvation, they have a major military capability. They have not forgotten that they are still at war with South Korea, the US and who knows what other nations from our erstwhile UN "allies." They have been at war continuously since 1950. As the info at the link shows, they can deliver a severe blow to South Korea, and are in multiple, dug-in, hardened defensive positions able to absorb a tremendous amount of ordnance.

If (as is very possible, but hopefully unlikely) things turn to sh!te there, it will be very nasty business, at least for the initial stages, and costly to both sides. Read the stuff linked above and get a good grip on reality and don't let the jingoists prance around like it would be easy to take out this crackpot's forces. Him personally, and/or his designated successor may be a lot easier, but then who knows what the generals would do on their own.

Nasty stuff. Interesting times. Even without considering what China may want or need to do.
 

Quartermaster weighed in:

John, parts of the NORK force, their Air Force, for one, would be easily taken out. Once the air cover is stripped the rest will follow, even though it would be similar to the hammer and tongs battles we fought in the winter of '44-'45 in Europe.

Remember, when we entered the war in '50, and particularly post-Inchon, we rolled up Kim's forces pretty quickly. The Chinese came in because they knew MacArthur would be hamstrung. Truman was afraid to try to move the country back onto a war footing 5 years after VE day, even though we could have done it and held Ivan in Europe and put enough force into Korea to turn back the Chinese as well.
 

And John (NTA) came back with:

In 1950 we rolled them up, until we got stuck in place with near WW1 style static trench warfare. (Martin Russ' "The Last Parallel" is an excellent grunt perspective account.)

Given the sheer numbers of NORKs, and the advantage they have in hardened defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire, and the god-forsaken hilly terrain that renders armor nearly useless, it would be a very slow and very costly fight to drive them from it. Especially given our thinly spread forces around the world, overworked reserves, dwindling air and naval assets, and lack of national will to fight any more.

They are not supermen, but there are hordes of NORKs. I am not sure the cost to win would be worthwhile just to depose a lunatic dictator. Maybe the starving masses would revolt, but if they did, even their pitiful rations would be stopped and given to the army, which would undoubtedly be sent to put down any uprising. The Korean culture seems to be violent and unmerciful, and any fighting there will be even worse than war usually is.

Just sayin'- going against the NORKs would not be as easy as chasing Iraqis down the roads in the desert, and probably a lot harder than chasing small bands of mujahdeen in the mountains of 'stan.
 

Put me in J(NTA)'s corner.  They've had 60 years to burrow into the hills and valleys of their portion of the Hermit Kingdom.  What I decided to do was do a little Google-sleuthing in the areas where the Auld Soldier conducted his war on the Peninsula, back in 1951-52.  I did just a little poking around, and was able to find many things.  But confirming what they are is the problem.  There is an album of larger format shots available by clicking this link: North Korean possible military locations from Google Earth

Some are easy to spot (like many in the Bluffer's Guide) some, not so much, or have some ambiguity to them that it sure would be nice to be able to do some humint validation on.  Like this one.  Underground facility - or odd agricultural artifact?  (All these pics are from Google Earth - and larger versions with geo-reference data are in the link above)



Then there's this one - UGF, or a hill that the Auld Soldier caused to be bombed back during the open combat phase of the Korean War?  Those look like bomb/artillery (most like bomb in this instance) craters to me, dropped on a hilltop fortified position.  Which doesn't mean it's not actively used for something now...



Another fortified hill - but which shows a lot more activity.  But still has some craters, too.


Some are easy - like this one... but is it currently occupied?  Targeteers want to know - especially when there are so damn many of them.


Some are much more ambiguous - like this one.


Here's another one of those hilltop positions - that shows a lot more activity.  But what kind of activity?


And some are easier to find in the winter...


Except you're looking for a needle in this haystack.

The Chinese are playing a dangerous game with this.  They do *not* want a NorK collapse which will send hordes of refugees towards them.  Nor do they seem to want South Korea taking the place over - unless it's as a vassal state, which, given the Korean history with China and Japan isn't all that likely.  But they really want *us* off the peninsula (and out of Japan) because our presence makes their establishment of a new "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" a bit problematic.

I don't think the North is pushing for open war.  I think Kim is playing his usual game of saber-rattling in order to induce more feckless talks and, more importantly, delivery of food for his Army, and then his people.  I think the greater level of aggression shown in this rota of the dance is related to succession dynamics - as Kim is keeping the military on his side and behind his chosen successor, the newest 4-star general in the NorK forces.   But the horns of the dilemma are - since we allowed Kim to get nukes, if we *don't* play his game, the South is at risk, with Seoul within artillery range of the North.

And as J(NTA) observed - this will be harder than fighting on a flat sandy pool table.  Just as the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia wasn't nearly as effective at taking out tactical elements as we thought *during* the campaign, an air campaign in Korea will have similar problems.  Especially in an area that has been digging in for 60 years, and has more mines stockpiled than most of the rest of the world combined.

The guns below may be NorK 170mm Koksan guns- but they'll be under much better camouflage and cover and in much better positions than these two Iranian guns were during the first Gulf War - the one between Iran and Iraq.


16 Comments

A few thoughts...

First, from an aerial perspective:
- SIGINT, IMINT, MASINT and all the other "-INTS" has improved markedly in the past few years, to say nothing of the decades since the Armistice took effect. Not only has the quality improved, but the analysis and transmission speeds to operational units has improved markedly as well, even down to the individual soldier and AF/USN airman's cockpit as well. This, coupled with a much larger supply of precision-guided munitions may change the battle calculus somewhat, even though the targets in question are nothing if not challenging.
- Fixed sites are lot easier to not only find, but service as well. One doesn't need to catastrophically kill a hillside artillery position if it depends upon tracks to position the tube from inside a cave, protected by (a) door(s). The tracks can be damaged/destroyed, the door can be kinetically sealed/jammed and/or the surrounding area can be rendered inhospitable with time-delayed cluster munitions.
- Much of the tactical targeting shortcomings in the Serbian campaign were self-imposed. We knew where the tubes were; we just weren't allowed to destroy them. Many were consciously positioned in civilian areas to leverage the West's value system, i.e., collateral damage was, especially in that case, more of a concern than destroying the enemy's combat capabilities. That, in my opinion, MAY have changed had the Serbs started shelling Albanian territory or, more specifically, the humanitarian relief operations at Tirana-Renas Airport. In any case, the Serbs knew exactly how to leverage our ROE. The Korean campaign would, I think, have a different set of political, cultural and military parameters that would make the application of force a much different proposition than either Eastern Europe or the Middle East, where we have been focused on COIN more than anything else. In the Korean scenario, scalps and heads will be more important than hearts and minds, especially to the Koreans.
- I agree that the NorK air threat will be short-lived. Not only are many of the airframes they still fly outdated, but their maintenance and pilot training/proficiency programs are woefully inadequate as well. Also, hiding the jets in caves can be counterproductive as well. The damp exacerbates corrosion control issues that plague every air force. Bottom line, I think their air arm is more for show than for significant force multiplication.
Second, the ground game:
- I worry about a couple of things. First, I hope the 2nd ID has kept its focus on major conventional war and has remained well-equipped and trained to face what will be a no-s**t toe-to-toe fistfight for as long as the North can maintain its offensive momentum. The Army has been forced to wrap its head around COIN for so long that I hope they haven’t taken their eye off the ball—this isn’t just an Army problem, either. Personal opinion, but the USAF has been screwing around with all kinds of missions that detract for core warfighting skills…sometimes it shows up in some pretty embarrassing ways (like losing track of nukes)…but, in any event, I hope the boys and girls in EUSA have their game faces on.
- The stuff you see on Google Earth doesn’t bother me as much as the stuff you don’t see on Google Earth, like where the south-of-the-border tunnel openings are. That said, if there’s a country prepared to deal with behind-the-lines disruptions, it’s the South. I’ve personally seen the Korean National Police in action engaging covert ops hostiles (or the suspects they thought were potentially hostile) and it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I just hope there are enough guys to handle whatever pops up below the DMZ.
- I think there are potentially highly distracting issues in and around the Seoul area. Think “American civilian family members.” Yeah, yeah, I know; we had the same issues to deal with in Europe but thankfully we never had to test the emergency evac plans. Granted, if your family is in country, you’re gonna fight a little harder but I don’t think inadvertently making wife and kids inadvertent hostages is the best way to leverage the American soldier’s innate desire to do a good job.
- I hope the Army is thinking about perimeter defense around major POEs well south of Seoul.
- Frankly, I think today’s US Army will do a much better job on the ground, even in the initial stages of the conflict. First, the punch, if it comes will be telegraphed somewhat. It already is, given the North has already done something so clumsy that even Obama has had to take notice. Second, they’re there. We don’t have to scramble a hasty defense from Japan. The North has been digging in for 60 years, but so have we. Third, the South has an army now, too. And an air force that in 1950 didn’t exist…and a navy that is no slouch either. Yeah, the latter got sucker-punched a few months back but they have been doing a lot of stuff around the peninsula that makes me think they’re pretty effing good at costal defense, to say nothing of wreaking havoc should they be unleashed to deal with an actual attack from the North. Fourth, the Chinese will really have to think about throwing another 300,000 infantry southbound. OK, maybe they will. But why? They have been doing nothing but blowing us off re: the North and giving Kim the reliable “wink-and-a-nod” because proxy enemy harassment/warfare is cheap, to say nothing of emotionally satisfying. However if Mr. Kim really did flip his toupee and send his boys south, I think the Chinese would think twice about committing troops. North Korea will go from being a handy tool to a major pain in the hindquarters. Yes, the threat (us, the South) would potentially move closer to their borders, but I think the Obama Administration is one the Chinese believe to be imminently malleable. Lastly, while the initial bolt the North shoots will sting in the extreme, once the offensive initiative passes to the South, as I believe it will, I think our job will be to restrain the South. Sixty years is a long time to hold a grudge and there are many in the South who’d like nothing better than a crack at the lesser lights to the North…and trust me, Koreans have loooong memories. In fact, I think that will be major leverage in our favor (with the Chinese, as we urge the South not to go too far north).
Finally, I doubt anyone really has a clue as to what’s really going on up north. Kim the elder has been a conundrum since he took over from his dad and his son has been raised as, well, the Son of the Son of God, so to speak, This tends to color their judgment in ways we cannot even fathom. When I was there, the NorK military was as much an enigma as the ruling family was. It’s interesting to hear commentators talk about how Kim the Younger doesn’t have the stones his dad had and will therefore not last long after the transfer of power if the Army has anything to say about it. Alas, that’s what they were saying about the current Boss when he was new, too.


 
In 1950 China had zero positive trade balances with the west, they also didn't own a trillion dollars and lots of Euros and they were miffed we had supported their enemy. It would be a super big mistake if they attacked their largest customers. Their stock market crashes, their real estate takes a nose dive, and all their shipments pile up on their docks. Only Wal-Mart will have a problem under these circumstances.

NORK's Navy and Air Force should not be a big deterrent for very long, leaving both their coasts vulnerable. Yes they have big fixed defense positions but so did Belgium against the Germans, the French against the Germans and the Germans against everybody else. If we don't do the hey diddle diddle thingy and try to go right up the middle, their food and logistics problems will have big impact.

It will be a tough nut but doable. China will vote not to ruin their economy and send back all the refugees immediately after the war ends. Then they can send in their agents to try and make all of Korea communist.

Our leaders are the key and we have all the power to screw this up real good.
 
Armorer, I can't help but remember the talk about 'mountain redoubts' in Afghanistan, especially Tora Bora, and how we apparently rendered them untenable using specialized bombs of various sorts.  I recall reading about one type of bunker-buster that consisted of a rock-and-armor-piercing outer shell with an unbelievably intense incendiary device inside.  It penetrated the outer door of a cave complex before detonating, then created a localized firestorm that roasted anything close, and sucked the oxygen out of the rest. 

How well would those weapons work on these NorK fortifications? 

I also wonder about an entirely different approach: sever the Command & Control links between the front line fortifications and the main command HQ.  How well would NorK soldiers fight if they had no orders from higher-up to follow?  Would they have the mental independence required to fight at all?
 
Wolfwalker - the question is - are there enough sensors, weapons, and platforms to deliver them, to service the targets in a timely fashion?

Do we know how to distinguish between the dummy positions and the real ones?

And I would guess that most of their comms goes underground, via cable.

Every time we go into something like this, we assume that we can find everything, everywhere, all the time, and make all the fine distinctions. 

And every time, thus far, we've been wrong on the level of detail we have (not that we haven't had good detail, mind you).

And you assume we know the extent of the UGFs - and thus where to put the Tora-Bora style munitions where they will work the best.  And that there aren't entrances we aren't aware of.  Many of these facilities are near enough to buildings to have exits in villages or industrial structures, for instance.

And we tend to assume that the enemy, for some reason, stays in stasis and doesn't respond to what we do elsewhere.  Like installing blast doors well back - like we did in Cheyenne Mountain.  Or in any of the other of our alternate Cold War C2 facilities.
 
FWIW - 2ID doesn't have many troops left in Korea.  Division HQ, one BCT (one armor BN, one mech BN, and one leg infantry BN, I think), an aviation brigade.  Not sure if they have a fires Brigade or not.  The rest of the guys wearing the Indianhead patch are are Stryker troops at Fort Lewis.  The ground defense of South Korea is almost entirely in the hands of the ROK army until we can get reinforcements there.

Quite honestly, I can see  any renewed hostilies degenerating into another stalemate.  The Norks will get pounded if they come south, especially their logistical trains.  And rooting the Norks out of their rabbit warrens could be immensely bloody.

So the ROKs/US wait and see if the Kim regime collapses, and the Norks waits for us to get bored and negotiate something new.
 
Some thoughts on this matter in no particular order;

Humint on the US and China matters more than on NK.

I see Russia as a wild card in this situation.

A reactive attack would be much uglier than a preemptive attack but would the preemptive be premature?

China is a much bigger problem than NK.  A sucess on dealing with NK isn't so great if it strengthens China's hand.

US military politics seem to prefer letting these sort of regimes go so long as they are ruled by people who aren't too competant.  The nuclear issue makes that idea a lot less apealing.

Whoever attacks or takes over NK has to be shoved to deal with the mess too.  It'll be like Iraq easier to conquer than to stabilise.  However, its ability to harm will be greatly reduced by then.

I'm not sure starving the country of food and resources is effective beyond the levels already done, given the Chinese border.

We need to reward NK for doing actions we like, not for stopping doing actions we don't like.

There is too much focus on Kim.  He's not the entirety of NK.




 
Shell Fired 'by Mistake' into Demilitarized Zone

It flew 14 km north to land on a hill on the southern side of the demilitarized zone, only 200 m from the military demarcation line.

Mistake my @ss.  That was a message.
 
A very complex issue, with no simple answers. Armorer, you're not playing fair, you're using history. Ahhh, now I get it, you're using history because, you've go *so much* of it. If we look at WWII, Japan, Korea and Viet Nam, they all used a well ventilated, elaborate, subterranean infrastructure. Unless you hit those ventilation shafts and entrances at the same time, a MOAB is no better than conventional ordnance.

What does this mean to us, here, right now? During Viet Nam, there was a group that every body knew had a pair, big bright brass shiny ones. They were known as "Tunnel Rats". It's time to find the "Tunnel Rats" of the 21st  Century. Some of our "Leaders" have made very poor decisions, but we must fix them. This is from both parties. We need to get our financial and Military houses in order. Right now, we are looking at 'forever war'. Fact of life, we can not afford it.
 
I dislike the thought of nuclear proliferation, but the Chinese will not find it in their interest to control their crazy NorK clients until the US has helped both South Korea and Japan go nuclear.

Right now, the Chinese think they hold all the cards, and are more than willing to call our bluff.
 
You all seem to be ignoring the current Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces.  His "leadership" makes Truman look positively hawkish.  Why would ANY of you believe that The One would have any interest in doing ANYTHING that would enhance the stature of the United States of America?  What has he done in his ENTIRE LIFE which even remotely resembles anything like that?  What makes you think he will change now?
 
Well, Mark, me, I was just bein' an old soldier talkin' old soldier stuff, mostly.

I stay away from Strategy, and stick to operational questions and logistics and stuff.

If Teh Won nevers asks us to do it, no harm, no foul for an intellectual exercise.

If Teh Won does - then at least we've put some thought into it, right?
 
I agree with Mark on the CINCUSForces. Over grown frat boy with very small, if existent, stones.

I think we could take the NORKs, but that doesn't mean I want to do it. While I have no doubt we could do it, why spill blood when we can get our way in less bloody ways. We can tie them, and their sponsors in Peking, in knots if we want to. all that debt the Chinks hold is a double edged sword. Also, taking us on in NK would tank their economy so fast it would make their heads swim.

I'd be all for telling the NORKs and Peking that we are going to arm the ROKS and Japs in a nuclear way, and openly help them get a nuke program off the ground. Help the Japs build up their Army and work with both the ROKs and Japs to get them together as allies (tough job given the Japanese past in Korea, but really needed). Those are things the Chinese really, really, really do not want to see. It'd be fun to watch their heads explode.
 
Armorer, in your answer to Mark, you write, "I stay away  from strategy, and stick to operational questions and logistics and stuff." Somewhere I read, "Amateurs study tactics and professionals study logistics." I would dare say,  this Nation's procurement system or non-sysnem, has caused ourselves a fair share of heartburn. I might tease you abut your knowledge of military history, but it is the use of this extensive use of this very same military history, that just might cause some individuals to accuse you of military wisdom. I'm just one of them.  I believe, you would act just the same way. I'm here, with comments, that says it all.
 
(Breaking my self imposed ban for just a little bit, this one's too near and dear)
John stays away from strategy, and I stay away from tactics. 

Argent asked a good question, in what context would we be there? 
Reactive sucks.  It's repulsing an invader and then spending another 5-20 years rebuilding the country with DFI and aid like we did LAST TIME in that scenario.

A proactive one is much nicer sounding, if and only if, the rate at which DPRK arty dies is much, much faster than the rate said arty returns Seoul to winter 1950.  IF we can't have that we might as well have stayed home.  There's a bigger discussion possible about why ROK leaders who haven't gone straight to war aren't feckless pansies, but that's for another day.

Is there enough in the inventory to close down and keep closed 90+% of the artillery, in a 90% confidence level, in the first hour to six hours of a conflict?  I may not be qualified to say one way or another but to me the answer is no.  It isn't a question of can we eventually service them, qua Dusty, but can we do so in a time frame to achieve what should be our strategic aim:  toppling DPRK without having ROK economy razed to the ground as the cost(why is Seoul so important:  "Manufacture of industrial electronics also grew significantly in 1988 and totaled US$4.6 billion (20 percent of total production). Electronics exports grew rapidly in the late 1980s to more than US$15 billion in 1988, up 40 percent from 1987--to become Seoul's leading export industry."  from http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/50.htm ).   If we can't do both we might as well not go since it wouldn't be worth it(even interventionist me has a problem with the 100k+ casualties a failure to take and keep off line the massive amount of arty early would generate for ROK civs.). 

Damaging doors isn't a solution.  It's a stalling move.  (Step off, Unk, I'm trying to make a point, not bait and switch, step off I said, okay, yes, you can have the Brie, but the fruit punch is all mine.).  When someone was teaching me some very basic stuff about BDA and OPS one of the examples used was hitting an airfield.  Turns out hitting it, even seeding it with submunitions ala Durandel, doesn't take it offline indefinitely.  It's simply a matter of how long before they can clear it, dump gravel and sand into the bomb crater, and then top with asphalt before they're back in business(measured in minutes to hours, maybe days).  Bridges was another example of this, with the classic tale of the development of Paveway, since hitting spans without taking down stanchions resulted in halts measured in tens of minutes(20 minutes if engineers close by, hours if far back in the column in the example I was given).  So what does warping the track on an armored door do?  Is it mission kill or hard kill?  And if it's only mission kill how long before it comes back online(hours to minutes to days?)?  Would the plethora of sensors we have available even note this change from inop to op before they fired into Seoul? 

But, ultimately, if tactics and ops don't serve the strategic aim, which HAS to be having an intact economically ROK as well as a toppling of Kartman and Son, then it doesn't matter if we kill them in hordes, we've failed.  

"War is too important to be left to the generals."  That's a quote that comes to mind when people are trapped into arguing about whether we can kill them eventually or in vast numbers or not.
(Back into self imposed exile.  Damnit, Unk, the fruitpunch was mine I said!) 
 
Am I the only one who thinks the RoKs should have concentrated their gov't and industry in Pusan instead of Seoul, within range of all those NorK artillery pieces?
 
For Quartermaster:
Do you really beleive that ANYONE in this government, including most of the Perfumed Princes in the Armed Forces, would have the guts to do that?

Just sayin'.