The Korean peninsula has been described as the most dangerous place on earth. Some experts say that a second Korean War would result in 2.4 million casualties and destroy 60 percent for the major facilities and equipment in both Koreas — and that is if no nuclear weapons are used. In 2017, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale" after North Korea defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.

It is estimated that 52,000 American troops could be killed or wounded within the first 90 days, along with 490,000 South Korean military personnel and an enormous number of North and South Korean civilians. On why Pyongyang makesso many bellicose threats, Haruo Fujii, a Japanese expert on North Korea, told Reuter, "I don’t believe North Korea is seriously considering an invasion into the South or that there is a serious threat of it in the next few years. The only aim is to draw concessions for the United States."

After the U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to attack North Korea in 2017 over its nuclear weapons and missile programs and said falsely that the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier strike force to the Korean peninsula, Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post: “If the United States were to strike North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s regime would retaliate by unleashing its conventional weaponry lined up on the demilitarized zone that has separated the two Koreas for about seven decades. And that conventional weaponry is reliable, unlike North Korea’s missiles, and could cause major devastation in South Korea, which is a staunch ally of the United States. “This becomes a very limiting factor for the U.S.,” said Carl Baker, a retired Air Force officer with extensive experience in South Korea. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post April 21, 2017]

“This prospect of extensive damage and casualties has restrained successive U.S. administrations, however provocative North Korea has been. “Every U.S. administration, as they have looked at this problem, has said that all options are available. But that’s not really true,” said Baker, who is at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We really don’t have a military option.” “People in Washington were saying, ‘We have the capability to do this,’ but those of us who were sitting in Seoul said, ‘You can’t do that,’ ” Baker said. It is not just South Korea that would suffer. Such action would be devastating for North Korea, too, because the U.S. and South Korean militaries have spent decades developing their counter-battery capability, as well as developing plans for airstrikes to take out North Korea’s facilities. “Defending Seoul against such a threat is the top priority for the alliance,” said Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general in the South Korean army who served as commander of South Korea’s Special Warfare Command. “The U.S. and South Korean response would be immediate. We have assets along the DMZ dedicated for doing this job and counter-battery units trained to conduct these missions,” Chun said.

Threats and Invasion Plans by North Korea

North Korea constantly relives the Korean War and keeps its population on almost continuous standby for the next war. Presumably because he believed that the U.S. was weary of war, Kim Il Sung reportedly wanted to invade South Korea at the end of Vietnam War in the 1970s. According to the high-ranking defector Hwang Jang-yop, Kim Il Sung planned to invade South Korea in 1992 but scuttled the idea in order to concentrate on North Korea's economic problems There were also reports that Kim Jong Il wanted to invade South Korea in 1994, but was stopped by his father.

"Seoul is not far from here," warned a North Korean official reading from a prepared text at Panmunjom in 1994. "Should war break out, Seoul will be a sea of flames." Around the same time the Communist said they would treat trade sanctions as a declaration of war." North Korea could launch an attack on South Korea with virtually no advance warning. The force necessary to carry out such an attack are already in place. Not long afterwards a North Korean press agency warned, "The United States must notmiscalculate our will and determination nor underestimate our might. It had better behave with discretion, knowing well our people and People's Army."

There has been some discussion of American bombers bombing North Korean nuclear weapons and missile facilities. One problem with this plan is that many of these facilities are located deep inside tunnels and mountain. Tatsuya Fukumoto wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun:
“When the U.S. last considered bombing North Korea, in 1994 over the North Korean nuclear crisis, the plan was scrapped mainly due to South Korean resistance. It would be extremely difficult to destroy all of the many mobile ballistic missile launch pads that have South Korea and Japan within range, Koda said: “The priority for the United States is protecting Seoul from a North Korean attack. Unless it has a clear and confident vision, it should not be able to pre-emptively strike.” [Source: Tatsuya Fukumoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2017]

Provocations for War Against North Korea

Bill Powell wrote in Newsweek: U.S. alarm about North Korea has spiked for two main reasons: The first is the aggressive missile-testing regimen Pyongyang has carried out under Kim Jong Un. During his four-year reign, Pyongyang has already test-fired 66 missiles, more than twice as many as his father Kim Jong Il did during his 17 years in office. Kim’s regime has gradually increased the range of its missiles. Combine that with the North’s efforts to miniaturize its nuclear arsenal, so that its 10 to 16 bombs can fit onto a warhead, “and you have two streams coming together — range and miniaturization — that you don’t want to cross,” says retired Admiral James Stavridis, now dean of the Fletcher School for diplomacy at Tufts University. [Source: Bill Powell, Newsweek, April 25, 2017]

“Some U.S. commanders fear the North can already put a nuclear warhead on a missile. Admiral Bill Gortney, head of the North American Aerospace Command, told Congress two years ago that he believes Pyongyang can use a medium-range missile to deliver a nuclear payload, meaning it can hit South Korea or Japan. The consensus intelligence estimate is that the North is now 18 to 36 months away from sticking a nuke on a missile that can reach Los Angeles. All that explains why from both current and former military officials, there has been increasing talk of pre-emption. In November 2016, General Walter Sharp, former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, stated that if North Korea puts a long-range missile on a launch pad, and the U.S. is unsure of its payload, Washington should order a pre-emptive attack to destroy that missile.

George Friedman wrote in Geopolitical Futures: “ A U.S. decision to attack will be based on the severity of the consequences should the North Koreans use their weapons, if they have them. If not, the decision is based on the possibility that North Korea is close to having them. The problem with a U.S. strike is five-fold. First, does U.S. intelligence have clarity on the locations of critical North Korean facilities? Second, are the president and his staff confident in their intelligence? Third, can the facilities be destroyed with non-nuclear weapons? Fourth, is battle damage assessment possible (in other words, can we know with confidence whether the facilities were destroyed)? Finally, if only a nuclear weapon – or multiple nuclear weapons – can destroy the facilities, does stripping North Korea of nuclear weapons justify the significant political fallout the U.S. would face in launching such an attack a second time? And does it justify the risk that it might legitimize the use of nuclear weapons by others? [Source: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, April 19, 2017]

Preemptive Strike Against North Korea

Some have framed an attack North Korean nuclear weapons and missile facilities as a preemptive attack. Bill Powell wrote in Newsweek: “But the grim reality is that a pre-emptive strike, against North Korean missiles or nuclear facilities — or both — could well mean war. Should the day come when President Trump believes he needs to order a pre-emptive strike against targets in North Korea to eliminate a direct threat, the U.S will not be able to take out all of the North Korean artillery front loaded near the border. “Not,” says former National Security Council staffer Victor Cha, “without using tactical nuclear weapons,” which is not something the U.S. would consider, given that Seoul is right down the road. A U.S. strike, simply put, could well trigger the second Korean War. [Source: Bill Powell, Newsweek, April 25, 2017]

“In any pre-emption scenario now, the U.S. would try keep the strike limited to the task at hand; at the same time Washington would signal in any way it could — probably via the North’s ally in Beijing — that it did not seek a wider war. For the past two years, the U.S. and South Korea have been practicing pre-emption exercises. In 2015, they adopted a new war plan, OPLAN 5015, which includes attacks on the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, as well as “decapitation attacks” against Kim Jong Un and the rest of the North Korean leadership.

“South Korea also developed its own pre-emptive attack plans, and has acquired, U.S. and Korean officials say, weapons capable of destroying some of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. Seoul has also built an elaborate defense system, which includes the recent delivery of the U.S. terminal high altitude area defense system, which shoots down incoming missiles in the final phase of their descent.”

George Friedman wrote in Geopolitical Futures: “Assuming an attack is successful, North Korea would face the question of how it would respond. It has two options. The lesser of the two, which North Korea appears to have threatened, is to attack American citizens in South Korea, including kidnapping and extracting them to North Korea. A far more significant counter would be to use its heavy concentration of artillery along the western section of the border with South Korea to initiate extremely intense shelling of Seoul. The casualties and damage from such a move could become extreme, even in a short period of time. Trading Seoul for North Korea’s nuclear program is not an option. [Source: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, April 19, 2017]

“Were this to happen, the American response would likely be missile strikes and airstrikes designed to destroy North Korea’s artillery. The problem is that if the U.S. waits to see if North Korea initiates a barrage, that delay of a few hours would create unacceptable casualties. For the United States, such an attack on a close ally would be unacceptable, and it therefore would have to assume that this is what North Korea will do. North Korea deployed substantial resources for this possibility and has conducted exercises to test readiness (although it hasn’t fired).

How a Preemptive Strike Against North Korea Might Play Out

Alex Lockie wrote in Business Insider: “Recent missile tests show that North Korea really is practicing a so-called saturation attack that would seek to fire ballistic missiles with such volume that they defeat missile defenses and slaughter US and allied forces in Japan and South Korea. Since a full-scale attack could lead to "mission creep that could pull the U.S. into a longterm conflict in East Asia," according to Tack of Stratfor, the U.S. would most likely focus on a quick, surgical strike that would wipe out the bulk of North Korea's nuclear forces. The best tools the U.S. could use against North Korea would be stealth aircraft like the F-22 and the B-2 bomber, Tack said. The U.S. would gradually position submarines, Navy ships, and stealth aircraft at bases near North Korea in ways that avoid provoking the Hermit Kingdom's suspicions. [Source: Alex Lockie, Business Insider, March 17, 2017]

“Then, when the time is right, bombers would rip across the sky and ships would let loose with an awesome volley of firepower. The U.S. already has considerable combat capability amassed in the region. "Suddenly you'd read on the news that the U.S. has conducted these airstrikes," Tack said. While the F-22 and the F-35 would certainly operate over North Korean missile-production sites, it really is a job for the B-2. As a long-range stealth bomber with a huge ordnance capacity, the B-2 could drop 30,000-pound bombs on deep underground bunkers in North Korea — and it could do it from as far away as Guam or the continental US.

“The initial targets would include nuclear reactors, missile-production facilities, and launching pads for intercontinental ballistic missiles, Tack said. Cruise missiles would pour in from the sea, F-22s would target North Korea's rudimentary air defenses, and B-2s would pound every known missile site. Planes like the F-35 and the F-22 would frantically hunt down mobile missile launchers, which can hide all over North Korea's mountainous terrain. In the event that North Korea does get off a missile, the U.S. and South Korea have layered missile defenses that would attempt to shoot it out of the sky.

“Once the U.S. has committed the initial strike against North Korea, how does Kim Jong Un respond? Even with its nuclear facilities in ashes and most of its command and control destroyed, "North Korea has a lot of options," Tack said. "They have their massive, massive conventional artillery options that can start firing at South Korea in a split second." But most North Korean artillery can't reach Seoul, the South Korean capital. Additionally, Seoul has significant underground bunkers and infrastructure to quickly shield its citizens, though some measure of damage to the city would be unavoidable.

“According to Tack, much of this artillery would instead fire on the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, detonating mines so North Korean ground forces could push through. Also within range would be US forces near the DMZ. Some 25,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea, and they would face grave danger from North Korea's vast artillery installations. But the North Korean artillery isn't top of the line. It could focus on slamming US forces, or it could focus on hitting Seoul, but splitting fire between the two targets would limit the impact of its longer-range systems. Additionally, as the artillery starts to fire, it becomes an exposed target for US aircraft.

“North Korea has a submarine that can launch nuclear ballistic missiles, which would represent a big risk to US forces as it can sail outside the range of established missile defenses. Fortunately for the US, the best submarine hunters in the world sail with the U.S. Navy. Helicopters would drop special listening buoys, destroyers would use their advanced radars, and US subs would listen for anything unusual in the deep. North Korea's antique submarine would hardly be a match for the combined efforts of the US, South Korea, and Japan. While the submarine would greatly complicate the operation, it would most likely find itself at the bottom of the ocean before it could do any meaningful damage.”

“North Korea would most likely destroy some US military installations, lay waste to some small portion of Seoul, and get a handful of missiles fired — but again, US and allied planners would stand ready for that. In the end, it would be a brutal, bloody conflict, but Tack said even the propaganda-saturated North Koreans must be aware of their disadvantages. Even after a devastating missile attack, some of North Korea's nuclear stockpile would most likely remain hidden. Some element of the remaining North Korean forces could stage a retaliation, but what would be the point?

"If they chose to go the route of conducting a large-scale retaliation, they're inviting a continuation of the conflict that eventually they cannot win ... Nobody in this whole game is going to believe that North Korea can win a war against the US, South Korea, and Japan," Tack concluded.

Monitoring North Korea for Sign of an Imminent Attack

Final war preparations most likely would not involve a noticeable surge in military-related activity because almost two-thirds of the ground forces and a significant amount of logistical support already are concentrated in the forward area between Pyongyang and the DMZ. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990, Based on information from United States, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1990, Washington, 1991, 69.*]

Analysts believe that American and South Korean might have as little as 24 to 76 hours to prepare for an attack and North Korea has so much firepower on the border an invasion theoretically could be launched in seconds. U.S. military officials say they monitor 250 possible initial signs of preparations for an attack. Key indicators include forward deployment of mechanized units such as tanks, large troop movements and increased submarine activity in the ports. One military expert told the Korean Herald, "We can detect the 's invasion four days to a half day ahead. It is a like playing a poker game with one player showing his hand to the other players. This makes it very hard for the North to stage a surprise attack, which is the only way it can have an upper hand for a short period of time."

One of the first things the U.S. would do if a North Korean attack seemed imminent is send 30 to 40 aircraft to the region including F-117 Stealth fighter-bombers and long-range bombers.A U.S. general told Congress he would need to send 400,000 troops to South Korea to supplement the 36,000 already there and it would take up to 60 days to deploy them. Reinforcement from aircrafts could arrive within days. Heavy mechanized division would require 30 to 40 days. [Source: Washington Post]

Scenario for a Second Korean War

North Korea would most likely attack in the winter when the ground is frozen and tanks can maneuver more easily across the difficult terrain or in June when summer clouds could make American air strikes more difficult. The first surprise attack during the Korean war took place in June 1950. "Their doctrine teaches surprise, overwhelming firepower, and creation of a second front through use of special forces," an analyst told the Washington Post. The first days of the war, he said, would be "very bloody, with high casualties on both sides."

Korea's mountainous terrain will funnel the armies through valleys and narrow corridors. "Force will meet force and there will be horrible destruction," one Pentagon official told U.S. News and World Report. More than one million people could be killed in the first few weeks alone. The economic damage could top US$2 trillion.

"To get a sense of what a new Korean War would look like," wrote David Iganatius in the Washington Post, "imagine an army of roughly a million troops, whose forward artillery is [only 24 miles from Seoul]. The war would begin with what one analyst predicts would be the heaviest artillery barrage since World War I, sending shells crashing down on Seoul and on thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops arrayed between there and the border. U.S. analysts believe the artillery barrage might include chemical weapons — probably a form of nerve gas — with a persistent form dropped on the big U.S. airbase at Osan to prevent U.S. jets from mounting retaliatory sorties."

Bill Powell wrote in Newsweek: “A senior North Korean military defector has said that under Kim’s new war plan, the North intends to try to occupy all of South Korea before significant U.S. reinforcements could flow in from Japan and elsewhere. This invasion could start, Cha wrote in his recent book, The Impossible State , by terrorizing the South Korean population with chemical weapons. “An arsenal of 600 chemically armed Scud missiles would be fired on all South Korean airports, train stations and marine ports, making it impossible for civilians to escape.” The North’s arsenal of medium-range missiles could also be fitted with chemical warheads and launched at Japan, delaying the flow of U.S. reinforcements. And those reinforcements would be urgently needed on the Korean Peninsula, since the U.S. has only 28,000 troops in South Korea, and the Seoul's armed forces, though far better trained and equipped than the North’s, consist of 660,000 men, more than 300,000 smaller than Pyongyang's. [Source: Bill Powell, Newsweek, April 25, 2017]

“U.S. war planners believe North Korean forces would to try to overrun South Korea’s defenses and get to Seoul before the U.S. and the South could respond with overwhelming force. As Cha says, “as wars go, this would be the most unforgiving battle conditions that can be imagined — an extremely high density of enemy and allied forces — over 2 million mechanized forces all converging on a total battlespace the equivalent of the distance between Washington, D.C., and Boston.’’ The United States would immediately dispatch four to six ground combat divisions of up to 20,000 troops each, 10 Air Force wings of about 20 fighters per unit and four to five aircraft carriers. In Cha’s scenario, U.S. and South Korean “soldiers would be fighting with little defense against DPRK artillery, aerial bombardments, and in an urban warfare environment polluted by 5,000 metric tons of DPRK chemical agents.”

Objective of a North Korean Attack on South Korea

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 can arrive and be deployed. North Korea would also hope to create confusion and chaos in Seoul that refugees fleeing the capital would clog the roads, preventing American and South Korean reinforcements from making their way to the front. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

The overall objective of a North Korean breakout would be to disturb the coherence of South Korea defenses in depth — including its key command, control, communications, and intelligence infrastructure (C3I) — so as to disrupt any significant counterattacks. In support of what would be primarily a ground war, the navy might attempt to insert amphibious-trained special operations forces on each coast or to secure the northern islands or support operations against the Kimp'o Peninsula, across the Han River estuary near Seoul. In addition, Scud and FROG missiles would be used during the assault to disrupt rear areas and C3I. After initial naval support and supply, however, the navy's limited capability to control the sea would leave embarked forces on their own. Both the navy and the air force would be hard pressed to sustain a level of offensive operations and would revert to a largely defensive role.*

In order for the KPA's military strategy to succeed on the battlefield, the KPA would have to achieve initial strategic surprise and execute its operations quickly. The most critical period would probably be choosing when and where to commit the mobile exploitation forces.*

Pyongyang's hope is to completely occupy North Korea with seven days after the invasion. According to battle plan revealed by a defector, the North Koreans hope to capture Seoul within one day and take Pusan by the end of one week. Pyongyang wants to move quickly before American reinforcement from Japan and elsewhere arrive.

North Korean Invasion

Analysts predict that North Korea would launch a surprise attack using a massive invasion — with hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of artillery pieces — along perhaps six invasions routes across the DMZ. At the same North Korean special forces would infiltrate behind enemy lines and missiles would be fired on targets in South Korea.

The plan is to blast Seoul and other key targets with artillery fire — up to 500,000 shells an hour at Seoul — while T-62 tanks roll at full speed to the South Korean capital. Some analyst predict that 40 percent of Seoul might be destroyed in the opening stages of the war. North Korean planes based near the DMZ can drop chemical weapons on the Blue House, the home of the South Korean president, six minutes after an invasion begins.

Immediately preceding the initial infantry assault, North Korean artillery units would attempt to saturate the firstechelon South Korean defense with preparatory and continuous suppressive fire. North Korean infantry and armor elements of the first-echelon divisions of the forward conventional corps would attack selected narrow fronts to create gaps for the follow-on echelons. The penetration would be supported by North Korean special operations forces. At the same time, the KPA would launch several diversionary attacks in order to confuse and disperse the defensive effort. The mechanized corps would attempt to push through any gaps, bypass and isolate defenders, and penetrate as deeply as possible into the strategic rear. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Analysts predict that the North Korea will have the advantage at the ouster of the war, but that superior equipment and reinforcements will help the American and South Korean forces to prevail — but at a high cost in Korean and American lives. In a worst case scenario North Korean troops would reach Pusan in four weeks, just in time to block U.S. reinforcements. [Source: Time and U.S. News and World Report]

North Korean Artillery Barrage

Just north of demilitarized zone, North Korea has thousands of artillery batteries. Some hidden; some are ensconced concrete in fortified bunkers; others out in the open. Artillery shells and ammunition are stored in a sophisticated network of tunnels. Although much of the weaponry and ammunition is old, it can still deliver a lethal barrage. “Without moving a single soldier in its million-man army,” former CIA analyst Bruce Klingner, now at the Heritage Foundation, told Newsweek, “the North could launch a devastating attack on Seoul.”[Source: Bill Powell, Newsweek, April 25, 2017]

Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post: “ North Korea has “a tremendous amount of artillery” right opposite Seoul, said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior imagery analyst at 38 North, a website focused on North Korea. The Second Corps of the Korean People’s Army stationed at Kaesong on the northern side of the DMZ has about 500 artillery pieces, Bermudez said. And this is just one army corps; similar corps are on either side of it. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post April 21, 2017

“All the artillery pieces in the Second Corps can reach the northern outskirts of Seoul, just 30 miles from the DMZ, but the largest projectiles could fly to the south of the capital. About 25 million people — or half of the South Korean population — live in the greater Seoul metropolitan area. “It’s the tyranny of proximity,” said David Maxwell, who served in South Korea during his 30 years in the Army and now teaches at Georgetown University. “It’s like the distance between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Imagine a million-man army just outside the Beltway with artillery they could use to terrorize Washington.”

About half of North Korea’s artillery pieces are multiple rocket launchers, including 18 to 36 of the huge 300mm launchers that Pyongyang has bragged about. State media last year published photos of the system during a test firing that Kim attended. The 300mm guns could probably fire eight rounds every 15 minutes, Bermudez said, and have a range of about 44 miles. “This could do a lot of damage,” he said. “If they hit a high-rise building with a couple of rounds of artillery, people get into their cars, causing huge traffic jams, so North Korea could target highways and bridges in cascades.”

“If North Korea were to start unleashing its artillery on the South, it would be able to fire about 4,000 rounds an hour, Roger Cavazos of the Nautilus Institute estimated in a 2012 study. There would be 2,811 fatalities in the initial volley and 64,000 people could be killed that first day, the majority of them in the first three hours, he wrote. Some of the victims would be American, because the U.S. military has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. The higher estimates for the 300mm rocket launcher’s range — up to 65 miles — would put the U.S. Air Force base at Osan and the new military garrison at Pyeongtaek, the replacement for the huge base in Seoul, within reach.

Countermeasures Against North Korean Artillery

George Friedman wrote in Geopolitical Futures: To contain North Korean artillery “the United States must consider air attacks on an area running along the border to a slant distance from Seoul of about 25 miles, and a depth also of about 25 miles. In other words, the U.S. must devastate an extremely large area very quickly. The immediate problem is North Korea’s air defenses in this area. North Korea has a range of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), including some indication that it has developed the equivalent of the Russian S-300, which is similar to the American Patriot system. If so, they are able to engage aircraft several hundred miles from the target. [Source: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, April 19, 2017]

“The sequence for destroying the artillery is by dispersing vast numbers of area munitions from strategic bombers. The workhorse aircraft for this mission would be the B-52, which is able to carry a large tonnage of munitions and release it quite accurately from high altitude. But given that North Korea has high-altitude SAMs and the B-52s are not stealth, the losses of B-52s could be high. The U.S. has B-1s and B-2s, and the latter is said to be invisible to radar, but no one has tried to use them against a SAM concentration like North Korea has. At any rate, the U.S. has fewer of those, and for an area attack the number of sorties required and the time penalty for Seoul would be unacceptable.

“Therefore, the U.S. would have to fall back on a conventional opening of an air campaign with a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) attack. In English, they must destroy the SAMs. This would be carried out by a number of aircraft, particularly a class of plane called the “Wild Weasel.” These are attack aircraft armed with missiles that hone in on radar beams. They carry electronic warfare systems for detecting and jamming radar. These missiles are extremely fast and follow the beam down to destroy the search radar and render SAMs useless. A SEAD attack could last for days or weeks, during which time North Korean artillery would be raining down on Seoul. The U.S. either accepts the possibility of extreme aircraft losses or the destruction of large parts of Seoul.

“That leaves open the possibility of a ground assault. A ground assault directly against a concentration of artillery requires large losses as the force moves into contact. A flanking move to the east is possible, but it will be visible and the artillery can pivot – at least some can. Plus, the North Koreans have mine belts deployed throughout the border region. Similarly, the artillery is defended at depth, so an airmobile operation to take them from the rear would likely require deployment over 60 miles to the rear.

“The North Koreans, therefore, appear to have an effective counter. Their artillery is dangerous and targets South Korea’s capital and largest city. Destroying the nuclear facilities while Seoul is devastated would raise questions about American military capability that would resonate. The United States needs a win for political reasons.

North Korean Commando Attacks

In addition to artillery barrage and infantry assault from the North, the Communists would deploy the world's largest special operation force — with roughly 65,000 men. Dressed in civilian clothes and South Korean uniforms, they arrive on radar-scuttling biplanes, minisubmarines and underground tunnels. They would target airbases, bridges, communications centers, cargo-loading facilities, industrial complexes and the port of Inchon, Pusan and Ulsan. "If only 10 percent of them get through, that's still 6,000 behind your lines, " one official told the Washington Post. The vintage 1940s biplanes employed by North Korea fly low, slowly and quietly and have cloth covered bodies that barely show up on a radar screen. sabotage teams would parachute from these planes.

Many commando presumably would infiltrate through tunnels. It is believed that the North Koreans have drilled more than 20 invasion tunnels below the DMZ. "At the tunnels's south ends, the last 10 yards of rock would be removed by hand and pickax and rolled down an incline to storage rooms." So far four tunnels have been discovered (the last in 1990) and some are large enough to permit a regiment (2,400 men) to infiltrate into the South every hour. [Source: U.S. News and World Report]

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The discovery between 1974 and 1990 of at least four major tunnel systems running from North Korea across the demilitarized zone and into the South rattled South Korean nerves. Some were discovered after patrolling soldiers noticed smoke, heard voices and felt explosions underground, others after intelligence was gleaned from defectors. Experts estimated that the cross-border shafts, some with rail lines, platforms for heavy equipment and communication cables buried hundreds of feet below ground, would allow 30,000 North Korean troops to infiltrate in an hour. "It was eerie," said David M. Finkelstein, director of Project Asia and a North Korea specialist. "I was absolutely amazed at how wide and high the tunnel I visited was." There haven't been any major discoveries in recent years, leading some to conclude the North has focused its tunnel-building exclusively inward. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2006]

American-South-Korean Response to North Korean Attacks

According to a scenario described in U.S. News and World Report, "South Korean infantry would bear the brunt of the invasion. The U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry division would provide support as well as long-range artillery punch. U.S. air power, however, holds the key."

South Korea would be vulnerable to air strikes by North Korea's antique aircraft in the opening stages of the war, but with superior technology American and South Korean forces hope to soon take control of the skies and disrupt the North's ability to command and coordinate its troops.

Fighters based in Korea and aboard aircraft carriers and bombers based in Japan and Guam would strike North Korean tanks and infantry around the clock and knock out key defenses and command structures in Pyongyang. Spy planes, AWACS planes and satellites capable of identifying objects as small as 30 centimeters would be used to monitor the situation.

In the opening stages of the war the Americans and South Koreans hope to knock out North Korea's artillery barrage with air strikes guided by the ANTQ-R anti-artillery radar system. One U.S. soldier told Newsweek, "We might have to take on the horde in the beginning and lose a few people. But we'll be moving forward, not backward."

Harnessing American Air Power

In one scenario American and South Korean air power would be deployed in a preemptive strike one it has been ascertained that North Korea was going to launch an attack. In another scenario air strikes are launched after a North Korean invasion has already begun.

Tatsuya Fukumoto wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The United States would amass a formidable strike force near the Korean Peninsula, likely armed with 500 to 600 cruise missiles carried by at least one specially fitted Ohio-class submarine (154 Tomahawk missiles), two general-purpose subs (10 Tomahawks each), and around 10 destroyers or cruisers (20 to 30 Tomahawks each. The United States could deploy a fleet of 30 strategic bombers – B-52s, B-1s and B-2s – from Guam, providing a strike capacity of around 200 air-to-ground cruise missiles. [Source: Tatsuya Fukumoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2017]

“US Air Force fighter squads would also be a critical element, with approximately 100 F-16s stationed in two squadrons at Osan Air Base south of Seoul, and another 50 at in Aomori Prefecture, Japan. These forces would be joined by the 90 aircraft on board the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, including 48 FA-18 Super Hornets. The U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station, due to its close location to the Korean Peninsula, could also be a base for airstrikes.

“The offensive would likely start before dawn with a massive barrage of cruise missiles targeting the biggest threats: North Korean artillery within range of Seoul; ballistic missile squadrons capable of striking South Korea and Japan; and counter-air defences. Once day breaks, a second wave consisting of F-16, FA-18, and strategic bomber aircraft will engage the remaining North Korean forces one by one. This is when nuclear facilities, crucial to strategy but a secondary threat in combat, will be targeted. Koda predicts that, “Once the United States decides to wage war, they will likely advance the aircraft carrier deep into the Yellow Sea, just south of the Liaodong Peninsula, to gain an advantageous position from which to strike northern North Korea.”

“The war would be over in several days. The key to US success would be how much damage could be done to North Korea’s retaliatory capacity in the initial stages. The greatest issue would be North Korean retaliation, with South Korean and American casualties in South Korea probably reaching the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Ballistic missiles could also cause damage in Japan. The dominant view within the Japanese government is that it is impossible to see the United States pre-emptively attack the North, at this stage.

North Korea’s Five Scary Weapons

Harry J. Kazianis, writing for The National Interest, notes that the Kim regime has five weapons that could cause mass fatalities and sow extreme panic throughout South Korea and even possibly in the US. Jeremy Bender wrote in Business Insider: “Firstly, Kazianis notes that Pyongyang could use dirty bombs against South Korea. North Korea is known to have dug tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula. North Korean operatives could sneak through the tunnels carrying the materials necessary to plant dirty bombs in major cities throughout the South. Additionally, Kazianis writes, North Korea could simply place raw nuclear material on a short-range rocket bound for Seoul. Even if inaccurate, the weapon would still cause mass panic. [Source: Jeremy Bender, Business Insider, August 26, 2015]

“Secondly, North Korea could bring to bear chemical and biological weapons against South Korea. The Nuclear Threat Initiative notes that Pyongyang most likely has the third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons on the planet, including various nerve agents. Additionally, a North Korean defector to Finland brought 15 gigabytes of data that showed Pyongyang tested chemical and biological agents on its own citizens. North Korea has also released images in which Kim is seen touring the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute, which is intended to produce fertilizer. Numerous weapons experts, however, have said the facility is probably a cover and can instead produce anthrax on a military level.

“The third extremely dangerous tool North Korea could use in a war would be a nuclear strike against Alaska or Hawaii. The success of any strike is a definite long shot, Kazianis says, but it could be increasingly plausible in the coming decades. North Korea has spent tremendous capital on both its nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs and, in the event of a nuclear strike, the success would not be measured by the number of casualties as much as by the mayhem it could cause. In April, Adm. Bill Gortney, the general in charge of North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), said at a Pentagon news conference that North Korea had "the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland." Gortney, however, did qualify his statement by saying he was confident that US missile defense would be able to down any incoming North Korean missile before it struck.

“Fourthly, North Korea could cause extreme damage against South Korea simply with conventional artillery. The Kim regime has the world's largest artillery force, with about 10,000 active pieces, all of which are aimed directly at Seoul. Though a vast majority of these weapons may not function properly or may be incapable of hitting Seoul because of a lack of maintenance and their old age, the barrage is still enough to spread mass panic and cause a huge number of civilian casualties.

“North Korea's last major lethal weapon, according to Kazianis, is its cybermilitary abilities. Little is definitively known about North Korea's cyberarmy and its capabilities. But this army has proved extremely adept. the U.S. has blamed and sanctioned North Korea for the massive hack of Sony in December 2014. Additionally, South Korea blamed Pyongyang for cyberattacks against a nuclear reactor in the country in December 2014. The fear is that as North Korea's cyberarmy becomes increasingly competent, it may decide to cripple South Korea's electrical grid or hack into various South Korean or US military installations.”

Mass Evacuations During a Second Korean War

Craig Hooper and Christopher R. Albon wrote in The Atlantic: If North Korea launches another artillery strike against South Korea — or simply hurls itself at the 38th parallel — the resulting confrontation could trigger one of the largest population movements in human history. According to one account, 140,000 U.S. government noncombatants and American citizens would look to the U.S. government for a way out. And that's just the Americans. Hundreds of thousands of South Korean citizens and other foreign nationals would be clamoring for any way off of the wintery, dangerous peninsula. [Source: Craig Hooper and Christopher R. Albon, The Atlantic, December 20, 2010 Global

“In the absolute worst case, tens of millions of South Koreans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners, some wounded, some suffering from chemical, biological or even radiological hazards, will flee in the only direction available to them: south. The country's transportation system would be in nationwide gridlock as panicked civilians avail themselves of any accessible means of travel. In this desperation and chaos, the U.S. military has the unenviable mission of supporting and evacuating U.S. citizens, all while waging a fierce battle along the DMZ.

“The U.S. does have a plan. In the event of an evacuation, the State Department and U.S. military say that the U.S. will instigate a prepared noncombatant evacuation operation. The first stop for an evacuee would be a prearranged assembly area for registration, a search, and an identity check. Then, assuming transportation is available, evacuees would be sent by whatever means the military can arrange to relocation centers farther down the peninsula to wait for transportation out of South Korea. Finally, U.S. civilians would gather at evacuation points where they will leave by sea or air to foreign "safe havens," such as Japan, or to the United States. The plan openly admits that things won't go smoothly, even instructing civilians to surrender their personal vehicle to the U.S. military upon arrival to an assembly area because the U.S. military may, in desperation, turn to civilian transport.

Arrival of Reinforcements

About 20,000 Marines based in Japan would arrive on the Korean peninsula within a few days after hostilities broke out. Three or four aircraft carriers battle groups with 100,000 troops would arrive within a couple of weeks. Air power would buy time for reinforcements to arrive in the form of five Army divisions, five Marine expeditionary brigades, 10 fighter wings, 100 heavy bombers and five Navy carrier battle groups.

One of the greatest obstacles will be transported supplies from the Korean ports to the battlefield along highways choked with refugees. In time the U.S. would launch a counter attack and capture Pyongyang within four months and Korea would be reunited with the capital in Seoul.

A U.S. general told Congress he would need to send 400,000 troops to South Korea to supplement the 36,000 already there and it would take up to 60 days to deploy them. Reinforcement from aircrafts could arrive within days. Heavy mechanized division would require 30 to 40 days. [Source: Washington Post]

Apache and Cobra helicopters, laser guided smart bombs, B-52. reinforcements come from bases in Japan and Alaska and aircraft carriers, The U.S. might carpet bomb Pyongyang. It is estimated that thousands of American soldiers could die in the first few hours of a North Korean offensive and perhaps 20,000 would die during entire war.

Course of a Second Korean War

A second Korean war could begin after an escalating series of events that could begin with a military coup in North Korea. The leaders might then move troops to the border which would force the U.S. and South Korea to mobilize more troops. This in turn might convince the regime in North Korea that if they are going to invade it is now or never.

The first stage of such war would involve the North Korea invasion and South Korean and American efforts to halt the advance. In the second stage American bombers would wipe out the North’s industrial base and lead attacks that would attempt to break the will of the soldiers and the people to continue the fight.

The nuclear bombs that North Korea probably possesses would have relatively little effect on the battlefield. The U.S., could possibly use a nuclear devise to stop the North Korean invasion before it reached Seoul or use one to destroy North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities. Inaccurate scud missiles could be deployed with chemical warheads by the North Koreans.

Some analysts suggest it wouldn't be an all out war but rather a "limited war scenario" in which Pyongyang would try to win concessions from the U.S. and its allies. Unlike what happened in the Korean War, China probably would not come to the aid of North Korea. Analysts estimate that the war would last three or four months, causing hundred of thousands of casualties on each side, not including civilians.

Alex Lockie wrote in Business Insider: “Few would expect North Korea to go quietly after suffering even a crippling attack. Through massive tunnels bored under the DMZ, North Korea would try to pour ground troops into the South. "The ground-warfare element is a big part of this," Tack said. "I think that the most likely way that would play out would be the fight in the DMZ area," where the U.S. would not try to invade North Korea but rather would defend its position in the South. [Source: Alex Lockie, Business Insider, March 17, 2017]

“US special operations forces, after North Korea's air defenses have been destroyed, would parachute in with the goal of destroying or deactivating mobile launchers and other offensive equipment. the U.S. would face a big challenge in trying to hunt down some 200 missile launchers throughout North Korea, some of which have treads to enter very difficult terrain where US recon planes would struggle to spot them. It would be the work of US special forces to establish themselves at key logistical junctures, observe the North Koreans' movements, and then relay that to US air assets.

End of the Second Korean War?

Bill Powell wrote in Newsweek: “Even if that artillery barrage and push into the South gave the North the initiative, there is no question, military planners all say, who would ultimately prevail in a second Korean War. The U.S. and South Korea have far too much firepower, and if Kim Jong Un decided to go to war, that would be end of his regime, whether he knows it or not. [Source: Bill Powell, Newsweek, April 25, 2017]

“But this would not be a one-week walkover, like the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, when his forces were arrayed like clay pigeons in the Iraqi and Kuwaiti deserts, where they were easily destroyed by U.S. air power. Conventional thinking in the Pentagon is that it would be a four- to six-month conflict with high-intensity combat and many dead. In 1994, when President Bill Clinton contemplated the use of force to knock out the North’s nuclear weapons program, the then commander of U.S.-Republic of Korea forces, Gary Luck, told his commander in chief that a war on the peninsula would likely result in 1 million dead, and nearly US$1 trillion of economic damage. The carnage would conceivably be worse now, given that the U.S. believes Pyongyang has 10 to 16 nuclear weapons. If the North could figure out a way to deliver one, why wouldn’t Kim go all in?”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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