SCROTUS Donald Trump is rushing pell mell into a confrontation with North Korea. I spent a little time reading on their capabilities in an effort to understand precisely how foolish this really is. First, a little geography: The capital of the north, Pyongyang, is the little burg at the upper left, while the south’s capital, Seoul, is a massive metropolis. The distance from the DMZ to the large highway ringing the city is about twenty miles.
North Korea has a massive military, but much of their equipment is very dated. Their best tanks are derivatives of the middle Cold War era Soviet T-72, while South Korea has a derivative of the U.S. M1 Abrams which is being replaced by a brand new indigenous design, the K2 Black Panther.
The north can strike Seoul from behind the DMZ using the Koksan self propelled gun, but this open top vehicle is an up-gunned World War II design. Contrast that with the Samsung K9 Thunder, today’s top global choice for the standard 155mm NATO artillery round. This mobile howitzer is notable for its companion reloading vehicle, the K10. They can dock and reload without opening up, an advantage that no other system offers.
The K-21 IFV is South Korea’s latest light armor platform. Most vehicles in this class are armed with 25mm or 30mm guns, but the K-21 packs a domestic 40mm design that apparently evolved from the venerable Bofors 40mm. A trend across the industry, it’s also got rubber tracks rather than steel, which are lighter, quieter, and easier on the crew. An up-gunned version carrying a 105mm NATO standard caliber weapon can defeat all but the newest of the North Korean tanks.
I follow military acquisitions and could go on about this stuff all day, but we’ll stop here, noting that South Korea is arguable the top global armored vehicle builder, maintaining qualitative superiority in any type they construct and numerical parity with the front line systems of the DPRK.
U.S. Forces Korea have also been continuously present since the fighting ended in 1953, with on average 28,500 troops present at any given time. Some times we post tripwire forces, which this command clearly is, but it also packs a serious punch of its own.
What Trump is focused on is the upcoming nuclear test, which may happen on April 15th. The test location is in the far northeast of the country, far away from nosy southerners, and close to Japan, another country on the DPRK’s list of enemies. Assuming that there is a U.S. or Chinese strike that fully eliminates DPRK’s nuclear weapons, we’re still going to have a conventional mess on the DMZ, just like things were in the early 1950s. I already covered some of the regional implications in And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die.
If the Chinese decide to strike North Korea’s nuclear weapons they can also basically shut the country down, as they are the source of 90% of the DPRK’s oil imports. If the U.S. acts unilaterally and offends the Chinese, that oil keeps flowing and things could drag on for a while.
We really don’t to trigger this. North Korea is a Hermit Kingdom with a third generation leader who is just thirty three years old. We can’t predict what they will do but even with a technically inferior army they are close enough to Seoul to make an incursion that will leave a lot of casualties, both civilian and military.
Part of the reason the Cold War ended was Desert Storm. Iraq’s army had much experience from the eight year Iran-Iraq War and modern Soviet equipment. Our forces rolled right over them in five short weeks. Korea would be harder due to proximity to population areas and good terrain for defense.
But a battle with North Korea today isn’t going to have the same impact in terms of demonstrating superiority of western weapons systems to the point it reorders the world order. China is rising economically and militarily, a battle in their back yard will just encourage faster production.
I see no news about any test in North Korea today. Hopefully we’ve navigated around this particular quagmire and the rumors of imminent arrests for some of Trump’s entourage prove to be true, which should put a damper on his adventurous nature.