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Posted on Jul 17, 2007 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

The Next War?

By John Antal

North Korean Military doctrine focuses on the conduct of offensive operations to reunify the Korean peninsula under North Korean rule. This doctrine is based on two tenets: The survival of the Kim Jong Il regime and forced reunification. Everything North Korea does is related to Kim’s survival and his dream to eventually conquer of the South.

North Korean military doctrine is a combination of Soviet and Chinese doctrine, modified by the experiences of the Korean War (1950-1953). The North Korean Peoples’ Army (NKPA) was molded by the Soviet Army and then heavily influenced by the Chinese. Since the Korean War, NKPA doctrine has evolved in three general doctrinal stages:

1. Conventional War – Since 1945, the Russian (Soviet) influence has been longstanding. Many North Korean officers and almost all of the General Officers were educated in Russian (Soviet) schools. The early doctrine, therefore, reflected Soviet military tactics adapted to the mountainous, restricted terrain of Korea.


2. Covert Operations – In 1962, Kim Il Sung, the longtime communist leader of North Korea (and Kim Jong Il’s father), changed the military doctrine to one of covert infiltration, assassination and stirring up revolt in the South. This decision shifted he North Korean military from a Soviet-style strategy to a Maoist protracted war of attrition, hoping to topple the South Korean government in a popular uprising and forcibly reunify the peninsula under North Korea rule.

3. Transformation back to Conventional War with emphasis on Firepower and Mobility – In the 1970s, Kim Il Sung realized the Covert Operations doctrine had not succeeded and changed the direction of North Korean military doctrine back to a more conventional force doctrine designed to fight a lightening war to reach a decisive, rapid decision. Firepower was provided in the form of powerful artillery and rocket forces. Tanks and armored personnel carriers formed the striking arm of the mobile force. Both of these forces were supported by hordes of North Korean infantry.

Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and his son, Kim Jong Il, took power. Today, Kim Jong Il is the Supreme Commander of the North Korean military and the absolute dictator of North Korea. Labeled as a “nut-case” by many in the western media (and lampooned by the South Park gang in their movie “Team America”), Kim is an unpredictable leader in charge of a potent military force. Known as “The Dear Leader” and treated like a god by his followers in North Korea, Kim Jong Il has ruthlessly maintained his grip on power since 1994 and constantly improved the capability of his military.

Kim has taken two significant steps since 1994 that have increased North Korea’s offensive capability: First, he increased North Korea’s ability to use chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction by developing and deploying a long range missile force. Secondly, Kim furthered the development of atomic weapons. On October 9, 2006, he declared the test of an atomic bomb.

A Taepodong 2 missile, the type launched by North Korea on Wednesday 4 July 2006

The ability to produce atomic weapons and launch them from long range ballistic missiles, gives North Korea a powerful leverage in any future war on the Korean peninsula.

So what is the North Korea playbook for waging war? Here is as eight point war plan that describes the “best case” North Korean attack plan:

1. The North Koreans would want to attack with strategic and tactical surprise. They would want United States military forces tied down in other operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan and might coordinate their efforts with other anti-U.S. partners to attack during a time of multiple crises for the U.S. The North Koreans would want to launch their attack in bad weather. Keeping the movement of troops to underground staging areas along the DMZ, for instance, will be a critical task.

2. The attack would start at night with assaults by North Korean Special Ops teams and the activation of North Korean “sleeper cells” they have prepositioned in the South. The North boasts a Special Ops force that is estimated to number somewhere between 55,000 to 100,000 soldiers strong. The role of these Special Ops units would be to wreak havoc, destroy vital South Korean and U.S. military targets (especially airfields), assassinate selected South Korean and U.S. political and military leaders, and disrupt South Korea and U.S. communications.

3. The main North Korean attack would open with a tremendous artillery barrage and air attack. Several key routes that lead to the ROK capital at Seoul would be designated as “strike sectors.” These strike sectors would be pulverized by artillery and rocket bombardment. This attack would include high explosive as well as chemical munitions. It is estimated that North Korea has 13,000 artillery sites stationed in secure bunkers, and is capable of launching 300,000 shells per hour on the South Korean capital, Seoul. Almost all of this artillery is protected in hardened artillery bunkers dug into the mountains along the DMZ and these bunkers are nearly impossible to destroy, even with today’s sophisticated precision weapons. North Korea also has 600-750 ballistic missiles ready to fire across the DMZ on short notice.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting scenerio, but what you have failed to address is covert operations. Since by definition, what these operations might consist of is unknown, but doubtless some thought has been given to covert methods of dismantling Pyongyang’s command and control capabilities, possibly including the assassination of key leadership figures. This article also assumes an order of battle that closely follows that of the first Korean conflict. With the availability of UAV’s, stealth aircraft and highly accurate cruise missles, that is unlikely. While poor weather may ground conventional aircraft, it would not necessarily be an issue for Tomahawks with GPS guidance which would no doubt be heavily used against air defense and command and control facilities. The only real threat would be from NKPA infantry and artillery, a significant threat, but one that is heavily reliant on a vulnerable logistics system. As an army commander, I would concentrate my forces, particularly my attack helicopter forces against NKPA supply lines and hope to interdict them to a degree that it significantly slows the advance of infantry units until the weather improves enough to resume air operations.