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North Korea's war strategy of massive retaliations against US attacks (Part V)
Han Ho Suk, Center for Korean Affairs
5/7/2003

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[What follows is an excerpt from the abstract to a piece written by Han Ho Suk, Director for the Center for Korean Affairs. It is currently featured on Korea WebWeekly. Part IV was published on May 4, 2003.]

5. North Korea's Defense Against US Attacks
a. Fortification

North Korea began to build fortifications in 1960s. All key military facilities are built underground to withstand American bunker-buster bombs. North Korea has 8,236 underground facilities that are linked by 547 km of tunnels. Beneath Pyongyang are a huge underground stadium and other facilities. About 1.2 million tons of food, 1.46 million tons of fuel, and 1.67 million tons of ammunition are stored in underground storage areas for wartime use.

Most of the underground facilities are drilled into granite rocks and the entrances face north in order to avoid direct hits by American bombs and missiles. The B-61 Mod 11 is the main bunker buster in the US arsenal. A recent test showed that this buster could penetrate only 6 meters of rock. The latest GBU-28 laser-guided bunker-buster can penetrate to 30m. North Korean bunkers have at least 80 m of top-cover of solid rocks. North Korea has many false caves that emit heats that will misdirect unwary GBU-28/37 and BKU-113 bunker-busters.

The US military targets enemy command and control centers based on the doctrine of chopping off "the head of the snake." With the top commanders eliminated, the rank and file would be demoralized, leaderless and would surrender. North Korea's extensive underground fortification makes this strategy unworkable. In addition, the underground facilities make US spy planes and satellites impotent.

b. Air Defense

North Korea has a large number of ground-to-air missiles. It has SA-2 and SA-3 missiles against low-flying enemy planes, and SA-5 missiles for high-altitude planes. SA-5 missiles have an effective range of 250 km. SA-5 missiles can hit enemy planes flying over the middle of South Korea.

North Korea has reengineered US shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles captured in Vietnam, and designed its own missile, wha-sung. North Korea began to manufacture wha-sung missiles in 1980. Wha-sung comes in two models: SA-7 that has an effective range of 5 km and SA-16 with 10 km range. North Korea has more than 15,000 wha-sung missiles in place.

In addition to the missiles, North Korea has 12,000 anti-aircraft guns, including 37mm twin-barrel guns, 23 mm automatics, 57mm, 87mm, and 100mm heavy guns. These are mostly manually operated and thus not subject to electronic warfare.

c. Coastal deferens.

North Korea's coastlines are long and jagged. Coastal guns are placed in fortified tunnels along the coastline. North Korea has six ground-to-ship missile bases. North Korea has anti-ship missiles of 95km range, and of 160km range. The latter are for hitting US carrier battle groups over the horizon. North Korean anti-ship missiles can hit ships anchored at Inchon on the west and Sokcho on the east.

America's main defense against anti-ship missiles, the Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyers are ineffective outside 20-50 km from missile launch pads.

d. Sea Battles

North Korea has two fleets - the West Fleet and the East Fleet. The West Fleet has 6 squadrons of 320 ships and the East Fleet has 10 squadron of 460 ships. The navy has a total manpower of 46,000. North Korean ships are sheltered from US attacks in about 20 bunkers of 200-900 m longs and 14-22 m wide. North Korean ships are small and agile, designed for coastal defense. North Korean ships carry 46km range ship-to-ship missiles and 22-channel multiple rocket launchers.

The main enemy of the North Korean navy will be US carrier task forces. The Russian navy has developed a tactic to deal with US carriers task forces: massive simultaneous missile attacks. In addition, Russia has developed the anti-carrier missile, "jun-gal", that can destroy a carrier. China has developed similar tactics for destroying US carriers. On April 1, 2003, North Korea test-fired a high-speed ground-to-ship missile of 60km range. A US carrier task force of Nimitz class has 6,000 men, 70 planes, and a price tag of 4.5 billion dollars. Destroying even a single career task force will be traumatic.

A carrier is protected by a shield of 6 Aegis destroyers and nuclear attack submarines. An Aegis destroyer has an AN/SPY-1 high-capacity radar system that can track more than 100 targets at the same time. An Aegis can fire about 20 anti-missile missiles at the same time. Thus, a career force can track a total of 600 targets at a time and fire 120 anti-missile missiles at the same time. The anti-missile missiles have about 50% success under ideal conditions. In actual battle situations, the hit rate will be much lower and the best estimate is that the Aegis shield can intercept at most 55 incoming missiles. Therefore, a volley of about 60 missiles and rockets will penetrate the Aegis shield and hit the career.

North Korea acquired OSA and KOMAR high-speed missile boats in 1968, and began to build its own missile boats in 1981. It has more than 50 missile boats, each equipped with 4 missiles of 46km range and multiple rocket launchers. In addition, North Korea has about 300 speed boats, 200 torpedo boats and 170 other gunboats. In case of war, North Korea's small crafts and submarines will swarm around US career task forces and destroy them.

North Korea has 35 submarines and 65 submersibles. These crafts are equipped with torpedoes and will be used to attack US careers. They will also lay mines and block enemy harbors. North Korea has a large supply of mines. North Korean submarines are small but they are equipped with 8km rocket launchers and 70km anti-ship missiles, and they could do some serious damage to US careers..

e. Air Combats

North Korea has three air commands. Each command has a fighter regiment, a bomber regiment, an AN-2 regiment, an attack helicopter regiment, a missile regiment, and a radar regiment. Each command can operate independently. North Korea has 70 airbases, which are fortified against US attacks. Underground hangars protect the planes and have multiple exits for the planes to take off on different runways. North Korea has several fake airfields and fake planes to confuse US attackers.

It is said that North Korea's planes are obsolete and no match for US planes. North Korea has 770 fighters, 80 bombers, 700 transports, 290 helicopters, and 84,000 men. In case of war, North Korean planes will fly low hugging the rugged terrains and attack enemy targets. US planes are parked above ground at bases in Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam, and make easy targets for missile, rocket and air attacks. When war breaks out, North Korean missiles, rockets and heavy guns will destroy the 8 US airbases in South Korea, and any plane in the air would have no place to land.

North Korea's fighter planes are ill-equipped for air-to-air combats at long distances. but they can hold their own in close-quarter air combats. MiG-21 fighters from Bongchun and US F-15 from Ohsan would meet in less than 5 min, assuming they took off at about the same time. In about 5 min, hundreds of MiG21s and F-15s would be swirling in the skies over Korea. Ground-to-air missiles and air-to-air missiles would have hard time telling friends from foes. F-15Es are equipped with a radar system that lock on at 180 km for large objects and 90 km for small objects. Sidewinder missiles have an effective range of 16km, AMRAAM missiles of 50km, and Sparrow of 55km.

Korea is 100 km wide and 125 km long, and so US air-to-air missiles would be of limited use and effectiveness, because North Korean MiGs would approach the US planes in close proximity and commingle with US planes, and air-to-air missiles will become useless and machines guns will have to be used. MiG19s have 30mm guns, MiG21s have 23mm guns, and F-14s have 20mm Valkans. North Korean pilots are trained to hug the enemy planes so that air-to-air missiles cannot be used. In contrast, US pilots are trained to lock on the enemy at long distance with radar and fire missiles. US planes are heavily armed with electronics and less agile than the light, lean MiGs that can climb and turn faster than the US planes.

F-14s are about 3.3 times heavier than MiG21s, and F-150Es are about 3.6 times heavier. MiG21s are 16.6 m long whereas F-14s are 19.1 m and F-15Es 19.43 m long. MiG21s cab climb to 18km, whereas F-1A can climb to 15.8 km and F-16 to 15.2 km. MiGs get upper hands in close-range dogfights in which agility matters. In Vietnam, US planes were forced to jettison auxiliary gas tanks and bombs in order to engage MiGs. F-150 E planes will carry BLU-113 bunker busters that weigh 2,250 kg each in the next war in Korea. Loaded with such a heavy bomb, F-15s will become easy targets for North Korea's MiGs. US fighter-bombers will be protected by F-15C fighter escorts.

MiG21s are North Korea's main workhorse. The MiG21 debuted in 1965 in Vietnam and proved itself as an effective attack fighter. In 1999, North Korea bought 40 MiG21s from Kazakhstan. During the Vietnam War, MiG17s shot down dozens of American planes. North Korea sent more than 200 pilots to fight in the Vietnam War. They were tasked to defend Hanoi and shot down scores of US planes. North Korea sent 25 pilots to Syria during the 3rd Arab-Israeli war of 1966, and 30 pilots to Egypt and Syria during the 4th Arab-Israeli war of 1973. In 1976, North Korea sent more than 40 pilots to Syria.

f. Electronic Warfare

The United States excels in electronic warfare and no nation comes anywhere near the US capability. North Korea began developing its own electronic warfare methods in 1970. It is believed that North Korea has advanced electronic warfare ability. It has numerous counter measures for US electronic warfare. During the recent war in Iraq, the US dropped e-bombs that disabled the Iraqi electronic devices. North Korea relies heavily on non-electronic command and control means, and hence US e-bombs will have limited impacts in North Korea.

North Korea trains about 100 hackers a year and has computer virus battalions in place. These hackers are capable of interrupting US communication networks. In a war game conducted in 1991 by US war planners, North Korea came out the victor with and without nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il has no doubt that his army can beat the US army.

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