North Korea (PRNK) is a Communist country, which means that it is really a feudal monarchy, with the Kim family having absolute power, living in incredible luxury. Through three generations they have blackmailed the West into giving them vast amounts of stuff; money, food and nuclear technology (two 1000-MWe light-water reactors at Kumho. Really). This tactic has always worked and they are using it right now against the world. Brinkmanship is an important part of their methods. Fortunately we now have a POTUS who will put up with this no more.
There are also regional distractions. China, traditionally PRNK’s big brother and main trading partner, is trying to militarise and occupy the South China Sea by building bases on reefs. This is both illegal and dangerous, but nobody seems to want to stop them. Yet. Russia is a economic minnow but became huge in global politics due the the inadequacies of President Obama. Putin love to rattle his sabres. South Korea is an economic powerhouse, its capital, Seoul, is within range of thousands of artillery pieces just over the border in North Korea. Japan has deliberately remained militarily very week for 70 years. Now, with threats from PRNK, China and Russia they are re-arming at speed.
On paper and in tests North Korea has nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them, they have co-operated in developing both of these with Iran and Pakistan, they also aquired technology and possibly staff when Ukraine became independent and gave up its nuclear programme. There are two scenarios possibly happening and we have no idea which it is.
- Making rockets and nukes these days is not science, it is pure engineering. Maybe Kim’s rockets are just giant fireworks with a CEP (Circular Error Probability, the measure of accuracy) in many tens of kilometres. Maybe the nuclear tests are huge and heavy crude devices that just about work in their underground tunnels. The immensely difficult trick with nukes is to miniaturise them to fit on top of a rocket and to ruggedise them to withstand the huge forces of their ballistic journey, which could be beyond PRNK. The rough and ready approach is all Kim needs for his brinkmanship and bullying, but is of no use whatsoever in a war.
- Possibly the Iranian, Pakistani and Ukrainian technology and engineering have allowed Kim to build the real thing, a viable delivery system and a viable bucket of sunshine to put on top of it. He was photographed next to a mock up of such a weapon, but this could all be bluff. If it isn’t he could hit and destroy Seoul or a major Japanese city with ease. Maybe even Guam. Kim talks about a production line to give him a large armoury of such weapons. Interesting.
Something most people don’t realise is that nearly everything in PRNK is deep underground; factories, homes, schools, warehouses, military bases. They have been preparing for a major attack against them for more than half a century. North Korea is the most heavily fortified country on planet earth. It is an impossible target if you want to bomb it into submission.
So how would a war between USA and PRNK develop? Firstly the USA will do absolutely nothing militarily unless so enormously provoked that they have no option. This doesn’t mean they are not stepping up to Kim, it just means they are using every other possible avenue to resolve the situation. Kim doesn’t have to use his missiles or have miniaturised warheads, he could put a fairly massive crude device in one of his submarines and then detonate it in the sea next to Guam. That would make a splash.
America does not have to use nuclear weapons to defeat Kim (probably). Their initial attack would be cyber war. PRNK does not have a lot of internet, but it does have internet. The USA will already have Trojans in place to cause maximum damage when activated. Their second attack will be against Kim’s C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence). Remove these and a country cannot fight, doing so is deeply embedded in USA war fighting doctrine. If you take out every bridge in the country, destroy the electrical generation and distribution system, hit every telephone exchange, target all military HQs and drop a bomb on every radio and radar signal it stops Kim’s authority. The USA will obviously target Kim, but he will be in the deepest of deep bolt holes.
The USA has a supply of earth penetrator warheads (GBU-28 & GBU-37) and new bunker buster weapons (HVPW & JMEWS) have been coming into service or will do soon. But it has nowhere near enough to effectively attack the PRNK underground world in its entirety, they will largely target the C3I.
USA has immense oranance delivery capability. Their B-2s and F22s can fly over the country with impunity. Once PRNK air defences are degraded B-1s and B-52s will haul huge bomb loads. USA day 1 doctrine is to use cruise missiles. It has about 3,500 TLAMs for this job that can be launched from all the above aircraft as well as from a wide range of ships. The USA has converted four strategic nuclear missile submarines into cruise missile carriers (SSGNs) that can carry 154 TLAM’s each and launch them from a position of complete invulnerability. Then there are USAs carrier task groups and USAF tactical resources that are land based in South Korea and Japan. When you have all this why bother with nukes? To the USA military North Korea would be like swatting a fly.
Kim’s missiles can be shot down, most effectively either in the boost phase immediately after launch or on re-entry. During Gulf War 2 the USA used Patriot anti aircraft missiles to shoot down Saddam’s SCUDs, this capability has been considerably upgraded since, especially against incoming ICBMs. The US Navy use a sophisticated air defence system called Aegis to protect carrier task groups. This has been adapted with SM-3 missiles to take out ICBMs. A system so good that it has been adapted for land based use in Eastern Europe. Aegis capable US Navy ships are on station in the Pacific to protect the main targets. Finally there is THAAD, a specialist and highly effective ICBM killer in service since 2008. These are based in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea. The problem with all of these systems is that it only takes one warhead to get through for LA (or wherever) to instantly become a large glass car park.
A major concern is the thousands of PRNK artillery pieces that are buried inside mountains and which can hit Seoul. The answer to this is counter artillery radar which can intantly see exactly where a gun is located when a shell leaves its barrel, our smart weapons can then hit back with precision. In Gulf War 2 we were destroying Iraqi artillery pieces whilst their first round was still in the air. Their crews quickly learned to run. So the PRNK dug into their fortifications would be easy targets.
Whatever happens in any Korean conflict one thing is certain, Kim will emerge from it dead. Because that will be the American’t first and main aim. In fact the biggest problem would be the 25 million refugees who would pour over the Chinese, Russian and South Korean borders. It is for this reason that China won’t allow the war to happen (probably). If Kim goes too far they will bump him off and replace him with a puppet (probably).