Tag Archives: Kim Jong-un

U.S. B-1 Lancer Bombers Escorted By F-15 Jets Fly East Of North Korea, North Of The DMZ: Four Reasons Why This Time It Is Interesting.

This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

On Sept. 23, hours after the latest threats from Kim Jong Un who said that Pyongyang will soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.

This time, the show of force is a bit more interesting than usual, for four reasons:

1) it is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century;

2) unlike all the previous ones, the latest sortie was flown at night, hence it was not a show of force staged to take some cool photographs;

3) no allied aircraft is known to have taken part in the mission at the time of writing, whereas most of the previous B-1 missions near the Korean Peninsula involved also ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) and/or JASDF (Japan’s Air Self Defense Force) jets;

4) it was a U.S. Air Force job: no U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jet took part in the show of force this time, even though the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter has taken part in all the most recent formations sent over Korea to flex muscles against Pyongyang. The photo here below shows the “package” assembled for Sept. 14’s show of force.

Munitions from a U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) bilateral mission explode at the Pilsung Range, South Korea, Sept 17, 2017. The U.S. and ROKAF aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced attack capabilities by releasing live weapons at the training area before returning to their respective home stations. This mission was conducted in direct response to North Korea’s intermediate range ballistic missile launch, which flew directly over northern Japan on September 14 amid rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programs. (U.S. Army photo by SSgt. Steven Schneider)

According to the U.S. Pacific Command, today’s mission is” a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat. North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community. We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies.”

Top image shows a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, receives fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker Sep. 23, 2017. This mission was flown as part of the continuing demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of its homeland and in support of its allies and partners. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger)

 

These Spyplanes Are Watching North Korea’s Next Test

U.S. and South Korean intelligence gathering aircraft are monitoring Pyongyang’s next move.

Kim Jong Un says North Korea may soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean and, based on the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders, it looks like several aircraft operating from their deployment bases in Japan and South Korea are interested in collecting signs of missile launch preparation.

In fact, despite their pretty clandestine roles, many U.S. spyplanes can be tracked online, using a standard browser to visit a public tracking website or COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) equipment.

For instance, here are the most interesting aircraft operating around the Korean Peninsula in the last few days. Needless to say, these are the ones whose transponder exposed their presence; many others are probably operating in the very same area, but adhering to stricter OPSEC rules that require the aircrew to completely turn off their transponders.

As already reported in detail, the RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft is the asset whose activities may give a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea.

 

The RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, are able to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, whose purpose was to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography when the RC-135S launched from Shemya AB, Alaska, to monitor the Soviet activities in the Sakhalin peninsula: although the aircraft still feature the black paint on the aircraft’s right hand side, the current electro-optical sensors are able to remove glare from photographs. Moreover, the current Coobra Balls are equipped with optical and electronic sensors on both sides of the fuselage. RC-135S crews are augmented by several ground based, phased-array radar systems, such as the COBRA DANE radar at Eareckson Air Station in Shemya, used to provide radar coverage over the Northern Pacific.

Another aircraft that is often tracked in the region is the WC-135 Constant Phoenix, one of the two aircraft operated by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, with mission crews staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center able to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

The Constant Phoenix, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crew made of up to 33 personnel, flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events. The aircraft was first deployed to Kadena in April this year. Since then it has been tracked mainly in the aftermath of each nuke detonation.

 

The aircraft is equipped with external flow devices used to collect airborne particulate; for this reason, the Constant Phoenix “Nuclear Sniffer” is usually launched after the claimed nuke tests, to detect fission fragments by their characteristic decay radiation and verify the nuclear test and get some important details. For example, by looking for isotopes that could only be produced in a high intensity high energy neutron flux, analysts can determine if bomb was indeed a hydrogen bomb.

These Aircraft Sampled Air For Radioactive Particles To Determine If North Korea Actually Detonated A Hydrogen Bomb

 

Another interesting aircraft that was recently tracked online is the South Korea’s Boeing 737 Peace Eagle airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft. This aircraft (that in the Turkish Air Force service can be spotted every now and then on Flightradar24.com circling at high altitude over southern Turkey most probably monitoring the movements of the Russian and Syrian planes)

Although the aircraft could be involved in routine AEW tasks monitoring the activities of the North Korean assets close to the DMZ, the Peace Eye embeds a variety of ESM (Electronic Support Measure) sensors that can be used to detect, intercept, identify, locate, record, and/or analyze sources of radiated electromagnetic energy augmenting the intelligence gathered by U-2S, RC-135V, RQ-4 Global Hawk, U.S. Navy EP-3E and P-8 and other assets that undertake ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) tasks on North Korea.

Anyway, OSINT as well as the analysis of the aircraft movements by means of ADS-B may give a pretty good idea of what happens around North Korea as Pyongyang prepares for a new test. One may wonder why such missions can be tracked online. This has been the subject of many articles. Considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine, Libya, or Korea, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even everyone can monitor them. It’s a way to show the flag and prove that somebody is watching. Still, we can’t completely rule out the possibility it’s just a mistake.

Anyway, regardless to whether it is done on purpose or not, point your browser to ADSBexchange or follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friends @CivMilAir (who helped with the preparation of this article) and @aircraftspots, to get an idea of what is happening in the airspace around the Korean Peninsula.

 Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Fiction Story: A B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Is Downed During An Air Strike On A North Korean Nuclear Site

A “what if” story.

Disclaimer: this story contains some “poetic licenses” to make the fictional scenario more interesting.

03:19 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 15 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible to radar. But not bullets.

Pulling off target after a massive precision strike on the North Korean nuclear weapons development facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, B-2 Spirit number 82-1067, the “Spirit of Arizona” was leaving the target area at medium altitude and high-speed. The aircraft was configured for minimum radar and signals observability with all lights retracted and emissions restricted. Spirit of Arizona was one of three B-2’s that leveled the nuclear research facility in a massive conventional bombing raid, the largest of the New Korean War so far. While it would take a few hours to collect bomb damage assessment data the satellite images would show the raid was a complete success, with the entire research facility, storage areas and the reactors themselves being completely devastated in a hail of precision-guided 2,000 lb bombs.

Now all the crew of Spirit of Arizona had to do was get themselves and their nearly invisible, completely defenseless, two billion dollar aircraft out of the most heavily defended airspace in the world and back to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in CONUS (Continental US).

03:22 Hr.s Local. 37,800 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 28 miles southwest of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Sojwa (Major) Kim Si Gwok had more hours in MiG-29 Fulcrums than every other North Korean fighter pilot except for two. He did have the most time flying the Fulcrum using night vision goggles, a particular distinction considering the North Korean Air Force did not have enough night vision goggles compatible with the MiG-29 for all the aircraft they owned. That distinction put Maj. Gwok on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in his MiG-29 tonight over the critically strategic target of Yongbyon as part of the air defense for the facility. That the American stealth bombers had already gotten through to hit the nuclear facility was a major failure for the North Koreans.

Maj. Gwok knew Yongbyon had been hit within the last few minutes, likely by cruise missiles or American stealth bombers. Gwok couldn’t do much about the cruise missiles. He read about British Spitfire pilots in WWII who had defeated the first cruise missile, the German V-1, by flying next to them and flipping them over with their wingtip. That would be impossible with the low altitude American Tomahawks. But, if there were stealth bombers in the area that he may be able to shoot down, he was going to try to find them. As a lifelong combat pilot he felt he had a sense of what the enemy’s egress route from the target might be, the shortest distance to the coast.  So that was where he went looking for the “invisible” American stealth bombers.

In March 1999 the Yugoslavians used a combination of ground based observers and expert search radar operators to shoot down an F-117 stealth fighter. It was a lucky shot, a golden BB, and it proved stealth wasn’t invulnerable. Major Gwok knew this. He knew that, other than stealth, the American batwing bombers were defenseless. If he could see one, he could shoot it down.

03:28 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 41 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Mission Commander, Capt. Bill Myers of Pensacola, Florida and Aircraft Commander, Maj. Dave Evans of Boulder, Colorado were getting constant secure updates on the air defense environment through their secure datalinks onboard Spirit of Arizona as she ran toward the coast after hitting Yongbyon. The three strike aircraft followed different egress routes in the very unlikely event an enemy aircraft or air defense crew could somehow visually acquire one of the B-2’s at night. Since the B-2 was a fast, subsonic aircraft, was relatively quiet, painted black to blend with the night sky and operated at altitudes to avoid contrails the chances of an enemy fighter pilot visually acquiring them was almost zero. But not absolute zero. Myers and Evans knew the entire North Korean air defense network would be up looking for them with everything they had. Even with the most sophisticated combat aircraft in history they still had to get out of North Korean airspace without being seen.

A KC-135 Strantotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing refuels a B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing in the late hours of Jan. 18, 2017, during a mission that targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya. The B-2’s low-observability provides it greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft’s sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (9,600 kilometers). (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)

03:29 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 47 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok didn’t really see the American stealth bomber as much as he saw what appeared to be a slit in the night sky. Reflected light from humid air at lower altitudes cast a low, soft glow upward from the ground below. The sky had a gently silver tinge to its black emptiness except for a small sliver of dead black below and to the left of Gwok’s MiG. Not knowing the sensor capabilities of the American stealth bomber, if that is what he saw, Gwok turned gradually to align himself with what he thought was his potential target’s heading. He gently moved the stick forward and, as his MiG closed the distance to the sliver of black the descent also added airspeed. His approach was perfect, high and behind. If he was right, this looked too easy.

03:29 Hr.s Local. 34,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 51 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Myers and Evans knew they were in deep trouble. AWACs told them over secure, stealthy datalink  communications that there was an enemy aircraft high and behind them. There was a remote chance it could visually acquire them. There was nothing they could do except recheck the low observable settings and the make sure the throttles were firewalled so they could get out of North Korean airspace as quickly and invisibly as possible. If it wasn’t already too late.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 49 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok wasn’t quite sure it was an American stealth bomber at first. Through his visor, the night vision goggles and his canopy the image was ghosted and dark. A black slit in the otherwise pixellated sky. Then two bright rectangles of green bloomed in front of him; the exhaust heat from the B-2’s four engines. Even though they are channeled and louvered to prevent a large infra-red signature from below they still pump out a lot of heat as seen from above. That heat lit up Major Gwok’s night vision goggles. His fingers flew over his console to unsafe his GSh-30-1 cannon. The instant the safety selector was slewed to “FIRE” his gloved finger clamped down on the trigger at the front of his stick. The 30 millimeter cannon tore off a succession of white-hot shells in a bright line of arcing white dots perforating the night sky. They expanded out in a wide curve and faded. Gwok jinked hard right, largely from instinct but also to avoid overrunning his target or even colliding with it. He didn’t know if he scored a hit. He pulled hard back and right on his stick, describing a tight circle to come around and see if he could spot the black stealth bomber.

As Gwok finished his tight 360-degree turn and rolled wings level he saw something trailing flame through the night sky, cartwheeling straight down toward the earth like a black, burning boomerang.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 34,400 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 55 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Alarms lit off inside the cockpit. The nose went down and Evans tried to add power and gently pull back but there was no perceivable control response. The aircraft began to shudder, then pivot oddly beneath them. It was falling apart. The G-load increased and the aircraft entered a spin like a boomerang. Evans got one hand between his legs and into the ejection handle as he said, out loud into his mask, “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!”. Myers never heard him. He may have been fighting the losing battle to save the aircraft, he may have been wounded, he may have been dead. He never made it to the ejector seat handles.

The B-2 spun nearly 180 degrees in the air, nosed down and began to topple like a kite freed of its broken string. The top of the flying wing’s fuselage exploded in a spit of flame as Maj. Dave Evans’ ACES II ejection seat rocketed free. It flipped end over end at first, falling through 15,000 feet until it stabilized somewhat. At 10,000 feet the barometric altimeter automatically released Evans from the seat and his parachute began to deploy. The ejection, like all escapes from a crashing airplane, was violent. The severe vertigo was made worse by the darkness. Evans lost consciousness from the centrifugal force of the seat spinning after his egress from the crashing airplane but came back into a hazy state of alertness once his parachute canopy opened and he was scooting along under it at a steady speed with the prevailing winds. He didn’t know it, but the winds were carrying him toward the west coast of North Korea.

A disadvantage to being a stealthy aircraft is that, when the aircraft goes down, it is very difficult for rescuers to know where to look for the surviving crew, if there are any. Major Dave Evan’s ejector seat was equipped with a ProFIND SLB-2000-100 locator beacon. The beacon is a part of the pilot’s survival kit packed into the seat pan of the ACES II ejector seat. It actuates automatically when the pilot separates and dangles below him as a part of the survival kit package. At 9,500 feet above the ground Evan’s locator beacon began to transmit.

03:40 Hr.s Local. 45,000 feet AGL, U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS Aircraft, 21 miles west of North Korean coast.

Airman 1st Class Stephanie “Stuffy Stef” Monroe, an airborne sensor operator oddly prone to allergies on board an E-3 Sentry off the coast of North Korea, saw something on her monitor she had only seen in training. The flashing icon indicated an incoming emergency locator beacon from a pilot’s survival kit. She keyed her microphone to the on-board mission commander. In less than one minute half of the crew of the E-3 were shifting their workloads to a new priority; rescue one of the most sensitive assets in the U.S. military- a stealth bomber pilot.

(TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, OKLA) Airmen from the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron monitor the skies during the E-3 Sentry 30th anniversary flight Mar. 23. The E-3 first arrived at Tinker on Mar. 23, 1977, and Airmen have been conducting the same aerial surviellance mission for the past 30 years. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

This story was originally posted at Tomdemerly.com.

Salva

Analysis And Opinion: What Will Happen With The North Korean Crisis?

What will be the eventual outcome of the current perceived brinkmanship between the United States and North Korea?

For students of history in the region the answer is conspicuous. The outcome will rise from the historical template of national evolution in the region. This history is among the most ancient of civilized man. As a result of this deep historical context and precedent, the script is likely already written, but the acts will unfold on a new stage of hyper-fast media that can exert a dangerous influence.

To the laymen and popular media consumer there will continue to be a forward facing game of media sensationalized military brinkmanship played out above a very subtle, quiet and deliberate process of diplomacy. The likely outcome will be an asymmetrical win-win that will benefit all parties in the broad spectrum, but more so North Korea than any other party. Part of this asymmetry in benefit is earned by North Korea’s increased tolerance for risk in this era.

North Korea finally realizes a need to enter the “Functioning Core” of the world community. Unencumbered by a radical religious mantra their only divinity is servitude to state. They are long overdue from becoming a modern nation state in nearly every way.

Author and scholar Thomas P.M. Barnett broadly divided the nations and governing ideologies of the world into two categories; the “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrated Gap”. Barnett’s theory was presented into a now-famous Powerpoint delivered at the Pentagon called “The Pentagon’s New Map”. In his thesis Barnett describes how nations and cultures of the Non-Integrated Gap who are not perverted by ideological distortion eventually realize they could have things better; they could have easy access to clean water, they could have dependable electricity, safe and abundant food and adequate clothing and shelter. In the greater evolution they could have access to the world community via the Internet. Once that social evolution is complete the citizenry can cross borders at the speed of the Internet, unencumbered by national dogma and censorship. This is their express ticket to the world economy.

North Korea realizes the pitfalls of the Arab Spring.  They are smart enough to have learned from the Middle East, where most countries are worse off following the Arab Spring. Russia and the U.S. are mostly the only ones to benefit during the near term in the Middle East and left with the lion’s share of plunder- albeit at great cost. But the countries and people in the Arab Spring are left destitute, trapped in a vacuum that is a breeding ground for messy, infectious radicalism as difficult to kill as a stubborn mold in a dank cellar. Kim Jung Un has been quiet witness to this phenomenon, and seeks to avoid becoming the next Syria, Libya or Iraq.

There is a subtle, brutal genius to Kim Jung Un’s strategy. He has avoided coups, subverted military conflict and expertly wielded nuclear brinkmanship to his advantage. He has everything to gain, and gain he will. When this is over a year or two from now, North Korea will be substantially more integrated into the global economy. The big losers in the near term will be the North Korean people. They have been subject to poverty and oppression on a titanic scale, unprecedented almost anywhere in the world today except North Africa. Their march into the modern world, from the non-integrated gap to the Functioning Core will take a decade at least, and it will be a grinding procession lubricated by more North Korean peasant blood. But war on a pan-Pacific scale will be subverted.

In the media this evolution will look and feel like brinkmanship, but on the back channels of old-world Asian diplomacy it will be business as usual, not far removed from the age of Niccolò Polo and Maffeo Polo as chronicled by their famous son, Marco Polo.

This article was originally published at Tomdemerly.com

 

Salva

Will The U.S. Preemptively Strike North Korea?

Media Suggests U.S. Could Strike Preemptively: But What Are The Chances?

The U.S. Military could launch precision strikes against specific North Korean targets as early as next month if North Korea continues threats of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development. Military action may be viewed as necessary by the U.S. with growing concern over North Korea’s weapons development and continued threats of using long-range missiles to strike without warning.

Reported elevated readiness of Chinese, South Korean and U.S. military assets in the region have increased tensions and speculation about the likelihood of either the U.S. or North Korea launching a preemptive strike.

What are the chances and indicators of conflict developing soon in the volatile region? What would a U.S. strike, if it came, look like?

Social media and contributory Internet press have painted a somewhat sensational, hawkish picture of tensions in the region. The weekend prior to North Korea’s massive April 15 military parade U.S. media outlet, “Superstation 95.com” erroneously reported that, “There is now a “mad dash” to leave Seoul, the Capital of South Korea.” Spurious reports of military activity in the region have been widely shared across blogs and social media.

These sensational reports reached a climax over the weekend when network media incorrectly reported the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) battle group was en route to the Korean Peninsula. It is unclear whether reports of the Carl Vinson battle group were intentionally misleading as a “feint” or if the media and U.S. government simply did a bad job coordinating press information.

Official Chinese media outlet Xinhuanet is muted in their characterization of an armed conflict being imminent, even though the BBC World News reports that, “China fears North Korea-US conflict ‘at any moment’.”

Despite sensationalized reporting, the North Korean watchdog website 38North.org suggests little remarkable activity within the key Yongbyon Nuclear Complex. This lack of activity pointed to the failed missile test Sunday in North Korea as opposed to a nuclear test near Yongbyon.

On Wednesday, April 19, Flight Service Bureau, a commercial aviation information organization, issued its strongest warning for civilian flights over North Korea, publishing a Notice to Airmen that reads, “With the increased tension on the Korean peninsula in April 2017, we raise the risk level to ‘Moderate’. Historically, the rhetoric has been predictable. That has now changed. With China off-side, and increased US appetite for action, North Korea has begun to act unpredictably.”
Flight Service Bureau’s “Moderate” risk level is their highest level, with the source confirming that, “In assessing risk to flight over each countries borders, two scenarios are predominant for civil flight: 1. Risk of shootdown, inadvertent or intentional; 2. Aircraft emergency requiring a landing. Both these elements are taken into consideration in determining a classification. The highest level of risk here is ‘Moderate’, on the basis that calling it ‘high’ or ‘severe’ would exaggerate the actual level or risk in landing or overflying the territories concerned”.

Notices to Airmen have declared North Korean airspace a “no-fly” zone for commercial operators. (Image Credit: SafeAirSpace.net e-mail bulletin)

The Chinese official airline, Air China, had already suspended flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, but the airline cited falling traffic as the reason, not diplomatic or security factors.

China halted imports of coal from North Korea to China, a potential blow to North Korea’s economy. Chinese media reports the reasons for the import halt were that the limits of Chinese mandated coal imports from North Korea, and that the reported tensions in the region are not related to the halt of coal shipments from North Korea to China.

United States popular media reports that China has moved military units close to the Chinese/North Korean border are disputed by the Chinese government. Official U.S. Pacific Command has refused to comment about any potential Chinese troop movements. China’s foreign ministry called such reports “pure fiction,” with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying, “I have no idea where these reports are coming from” in remarks to the Chinese news outlet Huanqiu.com.

Any attack on North Korea by the United States within the next 60 days would likely be a measured response to nuclear or missile tests. Precision strikes likely using cruise missiles and, to a lesser degree, low observable aircraft like the B-2 Spirit, could destroy North Korean launch and test facilities specifically. Any action by the U.S. must also contain the threat of retaliation by the North Koreans on South Korea and Japan. The South Korean capital is only 35 miles, about 56 kilometers, from the North Korean border along with its 25-million person population, half of South Korea’s total population.

North Korea disclosed it has an inventory of approximately 38.5kg (84.8 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods in May 2008. Two years later in November 2010 they revealed a uranium enrichment program intended to produce low enriched uranium for nuclear reactor fuel to produce electricity. This fuel could be converted to weapons grade materials, although yields would be low compared to the amount of material needed for nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang has conducted five live nuclear weapons tests, one each in 2006, 2009, 2013, and increased testing to two nuclear detonations in 2016. North Korea claimed the latest January 2016 test was a powerful thermonuclear warhead but this has not been verified. It is reasonable to suggest a significant amount of their nuclear material has been expended in testing.

Earlier in August 2013 the key Yongbyon Nuclear Complex started a 5 mega-watt nuclear reactor capable of producing 6 kg. (13.2 lbs) of weapons grade plutonium per year, but the reactor’s operation has been sporadic with satellite imagery frequently showing the plume of cooling steam leaving the reactor has stopped indicating it is not operating at full capacity.

To put this level of weaponized nuclear production into perspective it takes about 198 kg (436.5 lbs) of enriched uranium-235 to produce a warhead of similar destructive force to the warheads employed by the U.S. during the operational nuclear strikes on Japan in 1945.

Given these total numbers of nuclear material production North Korea would likely have a difficult time scraping together enough nuclear material to produce a reasonable number of warheads now. This is especially important when you consider their missile doctrine includes using large numbers of poorly guided missiles as opposed to sophisticated ICBMs with accurate targeting capability. In short, even if North Korea could load a warhead onto a missile with long enough range to reach the U.S., likely Alaska or Hawaii, it is unlikely the missile could be accurately guided to key targets.

Current assessment of North Korean offensive long-range missile capabilities. (Image credit: Created by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies for the Nuclear Threat Initiative – NTI.org)

If a preemptive U.S. attack on North Korea were to happen soon the primary strategic targets would likely be attacked from U.S. ballistic missile submarines using RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM Block IVs). This first wave attack, similar to the surface attack launched against Syrian chemical weapons assets on Friday, April 7, would directly hit nuclear and missile facilities along with North Korea’s ability to strike Seoul. The initial strike would also degrade North Korea’s air defense capability and early warning assets. At close interval to the first wave of Tomahawk missiles a series of airstrikes by U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers using standoff weapons such as air-launched cruise missiles may target key North Korean facilities. Strike package planners would keep survival of the expensive and exotic B-2 bomber force as a primary concern since the U.S. has only 18 currently operational B-2 stealth bombers. Submarine launched ballistic missile strikes would be limited too, with the number of rounds fired from submarines against North Korea being controlled by how many conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles are on board for use against North Korean targets.

Tactical air assets, from both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, would be tasked with the air-policing mission should an attack happen on North Korea. These forces would contain and interdict any attack from North Korea on South Korea and provide a defensive cordon with Japan. Large numbers of North Korean long-range artillery gun tubes can fire on Seoul, so these targets would be destroyed if they began to fire on South Korea. It is unlikely U.S. Marine air assets would be tasked unless Marine Corps ground troops were employed, an unlikely outcome if the primary objective of the strike is degrading North Korean WMD development and capability.

A secondary objective to any strike on North Korea may be regime change. The rogue state has interjected political and economic uncertainty into the region since North Korea first invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. There has never been an official “end” to the Korean War of 1950, only an armistice signed in 1953. Tensions have remained high to extremely high for 64 years since the armistice. North Korea is a candidate for a “decapitation strike” since, unlike conflicts in the Mideast delineated by cultural and religious underpinnings, no such mass religious allegiance for North Korean leadership or culture exists outside the country. Adherence to government doctrine within the country is largely compelled by means of enforcement rather than voluntary compliance. In political and cultural terms North Korea is increasingly isolated and identified largely as a rogue state within the U.S. It’s likely very few Americans would identify with or feel empathy for North Korea if the U.S began military action against the rogue state.

A primary drawback to any regime change initiative is the potential for disastrous collateral humanitarian hardship. Any willful mission of regime change would have to include plans for humanitarian relief for the 25,378,000 people living in North Korea, many of whom live without electricity outside of the capital Pyongyang. The U.S. has not amassed any large humanitarian aid assets in the region to match its military build-up. According to a March 24, 2017 report in USA Today, “chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition and nutrition insecurity continue to be widespread in the North, which ranked 98th out of 118 countries in the 2016 Global Hunger Index. More than 10 million people — or about 41 percent of the North Korean population — are undernourished.”

As many nations have learned in conflicts in Africa, a massive population of malnourished, displaced refugees can actually be a powerful weapon when expended toward neighboring nations, exacting a massive toll on infrastructure. Since North Korea shares borders with only China to the north or South Korea to the south these two countries would receive the burden of a massive refugee exodus from North Korea in the event of major conflict.

The likelihood of U.S. armed intervention in North Korea over the next 60 days may have been moderated by the recent U.S. missile strikes on Syria to destroy chemical weapons and the very large conventional aerial bomb attack in Afghanistan to destroy a cave complex. These actions send a clear message to Pyongyang: the current U.S. leadership is not afraid to use military force, even in a complex political environment such as Syria and its implications with Russian relations. As a result, North Korea may be cautious about how they proceed with provoking the United States. While North Korea may feign weapons tests they would, at this point, be unwise to provoke a U.S administration with a recently volatile record.

 

 

 

North Korea displayed their largest mobile-launch capable long-range missiles this past weekend. (RT.com)

Salva

Salva

Salva