The unified States and South Korea have the operational knowledge and an innovation needed to decimate north Korean pressures (source: macpixxel because that GIS)

Captain James E. Fanell

GIS Guest expert Captain James E. Fanell retired from the U.S. Navy in January 2015, break up a almost 30-year career together a naval intelligence officer specializing in Indo-Asia Pacific defense affairs, with focus on the Chinese navy and its ...

You are watching: Can the us defend against a nuclear attack from north korea

in spite of peace overtures, the U.S. Is convinced a nuclear north Korea is a dire hazard Experts believe a limited, “bloody nose” military strike won’t deter Pyongyang however superior strength and intelligence provide the U.S.-ROK militaries other options

The question of even if it is the United says would start a preemptive attack versus North Korea’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs shows up to be temporarily turn off the table ~ this month’s surprising peace overtures indigenous the can be fried leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un.

In any kind of case, the conventional wisdom holds the a limited, surgical U.S. Win on these targets – referred to as the “bloody nose” strategy – would certainly be ineffective and also unthinkable. Yet close check of the history of U.S. Battle planning in Korea, in addition to the intelligence and also military capabilities already in place, says that this see is mistaken.

There is no inquiry that the existing diplomatic opening, which started with north Korea’s accept of the an initial senior-level government talks v the Republic of Korea (ROK) due to the fact that 2015, has created a feeling of optimism. The U.S. And South Korea i agree to host off their yearly joint military exercises until the conclusion in mid-March the the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, hosted this year in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang. Mr. Kim agreed to send athletes south for the games, together with his sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Ms. Kim did much more than captivate the media; she additionally bore an invitation to South oriental President Moon Jae-in for the an initial inter-Korean summit in more than a decade. The spirit of positive outlook reached a fever pitch as soon as Mr. Kim said a visiting South korean delegation he would be willing to discuss abandoning atom weapons through the U.S., and to suspend missile exam in the meantime. The was adhered to by an market to negotiate directly with U.S. Chairman Donald Trump, i m sorry the latter immediately accepted.

Still tense

All this optimism, however, cannot overshadow the explosive case on the peninsula. Phibìc Korea has actually a long history of replicate in disarmament talks, and the U.S. Has set a clear and also unambiguous need that no negotiations deserve to start before the phibìc publicly agrees come denuclearization.

The Trump management has intensified its “maximum pressure” project with a brand-new set of financial sanctions, concentrating on illicit and also deceptive practices used by north Korea’s shipping industry “to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.”

Recent explanation by U.S. Knowledge officials imply that kicking the have the right to is no longer a reasonable option

Recent declaration by leader in the U.S. Intelligence neighborhood suggest that kicking the can down the roadway is no longer taken into consideration a rational option. Dan Coats, the manager of National intelligence (DNI), said the Senate intelligence Committee the North Korea remains among only two prompt threats for a “regional interstate dispute in the following year.” He provided that Pyongyang’s strong commitment to possessing atom weapons indicates “the regimen does not intend come negotiate castle away.” The director of the main Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, warned in January that North Korea was simply a “handful the months” away from having actually an intercontinental ballistic missile with a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Scary equation

Even those convinced of the threats do not constantly believe anything have the right to be done. The quintessential declare of this check out was by former White residence Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who told a startled editor: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that reflects me that 10 million human being in Seoul don’t die in the very first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, ns don’t recognize what you’re talk about, yes no military solution here, they obtained us.”

Behind the scenes, however, a preemptive strike against North Korea proceeds to be hotly questioned within the administration.

For instance, in January 2018, The wall surface Street newspaper reported the President Trump’s nationwide Security Advisor, general H.R. McMaster, supported reacting come a “nuclear or missile test through a target strike against a North korean facility come bloody Pyongyang’s nose and also illustrate the high price the regime might pay for its behavior.” This “bloody nose” strategy took on even greater meaning when the administration’s candidate for U.S. Ambassador to southern Korea, the detailed Korea and security professional Victor Cha, had actually his nomination withdrawn, reportedly due to the fact that he disagreed through this approach.

Most pundits concentrated on Mr. Cha’s assertion the a preemptive win would cause a huge counterattack

Most pundits in Washington and Seoul concentrated on Mr. Cha’s objections, particularly his assertion that a preemptive strike would certainly drive Kim Jong-un into a substantial counterattack and put almost a quarter of a million American and also millions the South oriental lives at prompt risk.

Yet greatly ignored was Mr. Cha’s released assessment the “North Korea, if no stopped, will build an arsenal with multiple nuclear missiles supposed to threaten the U.S. Homeland and blackmail us right into abandoning ours allies in Asia.” that predicted the Kim Jong-un would market these tools to “state and also nonstate actors” determined to threaten the U.S.-backed postwar order. “These space real and also unprecedented threats,” Mr. Cha conceded, also while counseling against a army solution.

Third option

If a “bloody nose” strike is not acceptable, what alternative is there for taking care of the North oriental nuclear threat? This question is finest answered by examining three factors that have not received adequate attention: 1) much more than 50 year of an unified military plan by the U.S. And South Korea; 2) the an extensive and pervasive knowledge that both governments have been able come collect about the North, and also 3) the sheer weight of conventional army power that can be lugged to bear versus Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Vigorous use of all 3 assets – planning, intelligence and superior military pressure – may enable U.S. And also ROK pressures to negate north Korea’s conventional risk to the better Seoul urban area. That supplies a third option as well as diplomacy or a “bloody nose” strategy – acquisition out Pyongyang’s strategic arsenal entirely.

Some will surely disapprove this “neutralization” choice as a fool’s route to complete war. The would just incite phibìc Korea come unleash one all-out typical or nuclear attack, and also could also provoke military intervention by China. Yet any kind of military option that falls quick of total commitment to damage North Korea’s conventional and nuclear forces will merely leave the people at risk to future blackmail from Pyongyang, setting a very dangerous precedent.

Seoul’s 20 million human being are menaced by phibìc Korea’s long-range artillery, consisting of self-propelled howitzers that can be swiftly hidden in secret tunnels (source: dpa)

Operational plans

Consider the military planning and intelligence initiatives of the U.S. And South Korea come date.

The U.S. Room of Defense prepares “operational plans,” well-known as OPLANs, for basically every theater and also contingency. They carry out comprehensive and also detailed instructions because that conducting linked military operations. In the korean Theater of work (KTO), a collection of OPLANs has actually been cleared up over the previous five decades by U.S. Pressures Korea (USFK) and with your ROK counterparts under the auspices of the linked Forces Command (CFC). Occurred under the supervision that the U.S. Pacific Command, this OPLANs room reviewed each year by the chairman that the share Chiefs that Staff and also the U.S. Secretary of defense.

While the precise details of to work plans because that the korean theater remain classified, the is details they resolve a series of contingencies, varying from a North oriental invasion and also all-out battle (OPLAN 5027) to managing an inner collapse that the Kim regime and the taking place chaos (OPLAN 5029). In mid-2015, follow to reports in the Japanese and South oriental media, U.S. And Korean commanders approved a new strategy (OPLAN 5015) that calls because that precision strikes against North Korea’s nuclear, missile and command and also control facilities, including “decapitation raids” versus the politics leadership.

North Korea is described as a ‘dark target,’ yet provides among the most concentrated intelligence images on the planet

Given this plans occurred under ahead U.S. Administrations, that is reasonable to assume that under president Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign the Pentagon is also preparing a neutralization option – preferably dovetailing with southern Korea’s own plan for taking out Pyongyang’s nuclear program, dubbed Korea substantial Punishment and also Retaliation (KPMR), announced in 2016.

Intelligence network

In enhancement to this thorough operational planning, the U.S. And South oriental militaries have gathered an impressive intelligence network end the past 50 years. While phibìc Korea has actually been described as a “dark target,” the merged intelligence initiatives of both nations carry out one the the most concentrated and an extensive operational intelligence pictures on the planet.

In my own experience as an intelligence analyst in the Pacific, the mission focus of the CFC/USFK intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) organization is unparalleled. The scope and quality the its arsenal platforms, high priority in assignments of national technical means, and also the permanent continuity the its analysis expertise offers military commanders a clear understanding of every page of the phibìc Korea military. This intelligence picture is for this reason clear that it goes past the demands for a preemptive attack, and also would enable real-time targeting in a much more fluid tactical case that would certainly inevitably follow a an initial strike.

Some have asserted the North Korea’s armed forces forces, especially its long-range artillery, might simply wait out a very first salvo indigenous U.S.-ROK forces in their considerable network of secret tunnels. Afterward, they might reappear come unleash a devastating barrage against the 20 million occupants of the better Seoul city area there is no the possibility of suppressing fire indigenous the South.

The North oriental tunnel network and hardened pho sites space tied to static locations

What this view fails to evaluate is the substantial knowledge built up by the CFC/USFK about the North oriental tunnel network and their pre-surveyed hardened artillery sites, i m sorry are generally tied to revolution locations. The exact details that what is well-known remain classified, however there is no question that military leaders have long demanded together a picture.

As general Vincent K. Brooks, the an unified Forces commander in southern Korea, recently testified, “deep-look ISR and also moving target indicators administer the capability to consistently track … targets over longer durations.” together the North oriental threat boosts to the home territories that the U.S. And also allies, “it is vital to have the fullest possible picture of activities in every domains above the army Demarcation Line,” basic Brooks added. One can because of this assume that the intelligence facilities on the peninsula offers penetrating and synoptic coverage of all North oriental military movements, whether standard or nuclear.

Target list

The ultimate concern is whether the linked militaries the the U.S. And South Korea deserve to neutralize the vast array the targets necessary to avoid North Korea indigenous threatening southern Korea, Japan and the American homeland.

The highest possible priority would be the North’s greatly defended, largely underground infrastructure for producing and also storing atom weapons and ballistic missiles. However just as essential are the North korean artillery concentrations north of Seoul, consisting of thousands the indirect fire tools (including 122mm, 170mm, 240mm and also 300mm guns) and deployed rocket and missile forces, varying from fairly primitive totally free rockets to medium- and long-range ballistic missiles.

constant overflights of U.S. Strategy bombers, choose this Air pressure B-52, space calculated to keep North Korea guessing about a feasible buildup because that a preemptive strike against its nuclear framework (source: dpa)

Other vital targets would be air-defense battery (especially the relatively contemporary long-range KN-06 and the Soviet-era SA-5 missile systems) and also the North oriental air force, i m sorry operates MiG-29/Fulcrum fighters and also museum-piece An-2/Colt biplanes for infiltration and sabotage missions. Offensive weapons such as Pyongyang’s armored and mechanized devices (equipped v Soviet-designed T-55, T-62 and also T-80 tanks) and naval forces (especially the high-speed missile boats and also the Sang-O class seaside submarines) would likewise have come be dealt with.

This is a an extremely long target list. However, it is not limitless or indefinite, and also certainly not invulnerable to a well-organized bombardment project from the linked U.S.-ROK pressures on and off the peninsula.

Delivery systems

What have the right to be carried to bear? The many immediate and also lethal risk originates from North Korea’s entrenched artillery, i m sorry is finest tackled by waiting power. The U.S. Can supply massive quantities of ordnance from its fleet of an ext than 150 strategic B-1, B-2 and also B-52 bombers, plus a lot larger number of tactical aircraft such together the A-10 Warthog, F-16 Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, F-15 win Eagle and also carrier-launched FA-18 supervisor Hornet.

Adding weight to this aerial bombardment would certainly be the ROK’s an ext than 400 combat aircraft, consisting of F-15s and F-16s, and also hundreds the Tomahawk land assault missiles (TLAM) launched from the U.S. Seventh Fleet and also the ROK Navy.

A U.S.-ROK assault would have actually a potentially devastating effect ~ above the North’s capacity to struggle Seoul v artillery fire

The initial goal of this an unified force would be to do a simultaneous attack on all identified North oriental hardened artillery sites and also tunnels that might house mobile pho within selection of the higher Seoul urban area. The weapons offered would range from the 10-ton GBU-43/B MOAB (Massive Ordinance air Blast, or “Mother of every Bombs” in media publicity) come a mixture of joint Direct strike Munitions, or GPS-guided clever bombs, ranging from the 500-pound GBU-38/B to the 2,000-pound GBI-31/B.

Since the U.S.-ROK pressures would regulate the timing and also scope of any kind of attack, that would have actually a potentially destructive effect top top the North’s ability to struggle Seoul through artillery fire. This would buy alliance commanders extra time and flexibility for succeeding moves.

In conjunction through the early strike, the remainder that U.S.-ROK waiting assets would certainly be used to destroy the North’s ability to deliver nuclear missiles. Afterward, the combined air forces can sustain a 24/7 bombardment of north Korea for prolonged period, keeping the Kim regime underground together its most dangerous offensive tools (armor, artillery, distinct forces) are decimated to offer maximum protection to Seoul and its suburbs.

Handy option

While some may dismiss this scenario since the concentration of forces it requires would alarm the north to an imminent attack, what is crucial to keep in mind is that the U.S.-ROK pressures have the technical wherewithal come neutralize the phibìc Korean forces threatening Seoul, while concurrently making pinpoint assaults on the North’s nuclear missile programs and also platforms.

This realization locations the much-publicized reinforcement of U.S. Forces in the korean theater in a brand-new context. The dispatch of three carrier strike teams to the Sea the Japan in November 2017, and repeated overflights that the oriental peninsula by U.S. Air force B-1, B-2 and also B-52 bombers, have to be regarded as an initiative to condition North Korea (and China) to greater force levels. This would certainly be one indispensable facet of denial and also deception in any phased deployment before a preemptive attack.

Consideration must additionally be given to 2 U.S. Capabilities that might be advantageous in a “neutralization option.” upstream special pressures would nearly certainly be put to identify and destroy the most vital nuclear facilities and delivery platforms, while tactical atom weapons might possibly be offered to get rid of the most menacing pho emplacements and also other an essential infrastructure (including atom sites) that can be hard to fight from the air.

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The advantage of “thinking the unthinkable” is that it gives teeth come the trumped administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy. This might be the reason for Kim Jong-un’s unexpected declaration on in march 6 the he is prepared to discuss nuclear disarmament. While the North oriental leader might well doubt the a “bloody nose” could destroy his regime, he can prove much more cooperative if the believes the U.S. Is ready to beginning a much bigger, preemptive strike. That renders the “neutralization option” worth keeping on the table.