Here Is How A U.S. Pre-Emptive Strike On North Korea Could Unfold

Forget the B-1s: TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) and B-2s would probably start an eventual pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang.

Although they have been involved in several “show of force” missions over the Korean peninsula, the B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews), that have been supporting the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission since Aug. 6, 2016, would probably not be involved in the very first stages of an eventual U.S. attack on North Korea.

Indeed, should Washington decide to launch a (conventional) pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang, it would be a pretty standard air campaign, opened by cruise missiles, most (if not all) shot by warships or submarines, followed by strategic and tacair (tactical airplanes).

A North Korean war would probably include four phases:

1) Build-up & intelligence gathering phase (underway)

2) Rain of cruise missiles

3) Strategic bomber strikes

4) Tacair involvement to go after all DPKR batteries and artillery that could fire towards Seoul

Phase 1 involves moving required assets in place and collect the data needed for proper targeting. This phase has already started. Satellites and spyplanes have already been watching North Korea for months; if they really decide to strike, such intelligence activity will only be intensified, to support identification of targets to be hit in the first stages of the air war, especially since NK has already started moving TELs across the country.

Phase 2 would probably see the involvement of the destroyers in the 7th fleet area of operations, each theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles (actually less, because these warships usually carry a mix of attack and air defense missiles). Submarines could also be used to launch the TLAMs.

Some U.S. strategic bombers would probably be launched in global strike round-trip missions from the US (as well as from Guam) to attack specific targets such as bunkers and underground sites (Phase 3): few B-2 Spirit stealth sorties (possibly using the 30,000-lb GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs) to be followed by some more B-1 and possibly B-52 ones.

Phase 4 would see the involvement of tactical aircraft (from land bases or aircraft carriers) involved in the hunt for road-mobile ballistic missiles and any other artillery target required to prevent a retaliatory attack (even a nuclear one) by Pyongyang: not an easy task, considered that many of these could be hidden underground or dispersed. Anyway, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, along with Aegis warships, would have the role to destroy incoming missiles in case of missile launches towards South Korea.

High flying RQ-4 Global Hawk drones flying from Yokota AB, Japan, would perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Some sorties would also be flown by U-2s.

Among the (many) supporting assets, the U.S. Navy E-6 Mercury jets would probably play a major role in a U.S. air war on North Korea.

The 16 E-6B TACAMO (“TAke Charge And Move Out”) are among the most important assets in the U.S. inventory. They are capable to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band, on commercial satellites and on the Internet, using also a secure VOIP system.

E-6s are used to relay instructions to the fleet ballistic missile submarines in case of nuclear war but also act as back ups of the four E-4Bs NAOC (National Alternate Operations Center), working as ABNCP (Airborne Command Post) platforms: in other words, in case of war, terrorist attack, armageddon etc they can direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages): that’s why they are dubbed “doomsday planes.”

Similar to the civilian Boeing 707, but with a 737 cockpit, E-6s have a range of 5,500 miles, and accommodate 23 crew members.

They can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders), they can talk to submarines trailing a 26,000 ft wire antenna, launch commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and perform C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theatre.

When stealth bombers are launched on a round-trip, Global Strike mission across the globe, an E-6 or two (with the second acting as back up) are used to provide command and control support to the B-2s.

Several E-6 are flying at any given time: in spite of their important role, E-6Bs are among the few military planes advertising their position on the Web using full ADS-B. However, whilst some of them are involved in training activities, others may be supporting actual operations, hence it would be extremely difficult to guess something big is about to happen in North Korea even if tracking on or

Top image credit: Christopher Ebdon




About David Cenciotti 4467 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. There wouldn’t bee a US attack without an initial NK attack against the US or one of its allies.

    China would likely intervene and take control of North Korea before a US attack happens.

  2. I’d argue that phase two would have as many MLRS batteries as possible raining hellfire down on those NK artillery batteries. “Steel rain” comes to mind.

  3. Don’t forget to mention or underestimate the role Marine Corps F-35B’s and AF F-35As will play in any attack on the vicious, intolerable Hermit Kingdom and their serial-murdering leader Kim Jong Fat. Along with F-22, the U.S. military will quickly gain uncontested control of North Korean skies. DPRK anti-air missile batteries will be useless, artillery, rocket and missile systems and installations under continuous unabated, unchallenged and unchallengeable attack. Along with B-2 bombers flying out of CONUS, Guam, the NK military machine will be quickly and violently dismantled. As will be their entire leadership structure. Kim will likely not survive.

    One more thing. This will be a military action, if it comes (we hope it does NOT) like the world has never seen before. Do not look towards Gulf Wars 1 and 2 for guidance on what will transpire. U.S. military technology has greatly advanced since those wars, and there are capabilities that will be brought to bear the likes of which the world has never seen. Capabilities like CHAMPS which will shut down all North Korean C4 (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers) facilities, lasers which will turn North Korea into a futuristic killing field, and missile defense systems that will negate any chance NK has of mounting an effective attack against the U.S. or our allies. Bottom line?

    President Trump is dead-set on taking North Korea’s nuclear weapons away from this world-threatening regime. Kim can facilitate that in two ways – by acquiescing in a way that insures the survival of his regime and nation, or by sacrificing his life while overseeing the complete obliteration of everything he seems to hold dear. Everything he was, is, or will ever be. Total erasure. The choice is his, but rest assured, the U.S. military’s full-spectrum superiority will lead to full spectrum dominance on all battlefields be they air, land, sea, space or cyberspace. A total, uncontested, complete, smashing victory! So choose well Kim. The U.S. and most of all President Trump is not playing around.

    • Any idea of how many *discrete* targets would have to be struck by stealth or standoff weapons? I estimate that without tipping its hand, the U.S. could put the equivalent of 1,700 to 2,300 standoff missiles or Mk 82 equivalents on targets without a CSG buildup (i.e. mostly submarines and bombers).

  4. What if NK manage to launch one or two A-bombs in Seoul?. It’s easy for the americans to brawl when their country will not receive nothing, but what about the innocent people below the 38th parallel?

    • This is why we should have overthrown NK decades ago, when SK was a more willing participant and NK didn’t have nuke and missile technology.

    • Very true.This is why it’s now too late to do anything. There are multiple ways NK can get a nuke close to seoul.Surely one of them will work.It’s too risky.
      All we can do now is defend and wait for their regime to collapse.This could take awhile…..

  5. It seems Kim got my message. Good! He must read The Aviationist. I did him a solid.

    We have a long way to go, but luckily the U.S. military has a very long stick. The longest in the world! DON’T make President Trump use it.

Comments are closed.