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

The Next War?

By John Antal

Editor’s Note: In the September 2007 Armchair General magazine, we feature the first installment of an exciting new 4-part Interactive Combat Story (ICS) department storyline. This new storyline posits an attack on U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces in South Korea by North Korea in the near-future time frame. ICS author, Col., ret. John Antal – an acknowledged expert in combat tactics whose article is greatly enhanced by his previous active duty experience on the Korean peninsula – prepared this “primer” on how the North Korean Peoples’ Army (NKPA) fights. This ACG exclusive is a “must read” look inside the workings of one of the world’s most dangerous and secretive military forces. As the ICS series unfolds, use this primer as a readers’ guide to help your choose the correct course of action – or simply read it to expand your knowledge of one of the greatest threats faced today by America and its allies.


North Korean Troops marching in Pyongyang


Consider the unthinkable: Fearing imminent collapse of their political, social and economic structures, communist North Koreans launch a surprise attack on America’s ally, democratic South Korea. The North Korean goal is to execute a short-war campaign — a daring thrust to grab as much territory as possible, demand a power-sharing arrangement with South Korea and insist on the unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces. The North Korean attack is timed during a period of bad weather, fog and heavy cloud cover to negate American air power.

The 2d Infantry Division (2ID), the only U.S. Army force in Korea, is assaulted by North Korean commando teams in their garrisons in the early hours of the morning of the attack. Shortly after these attacks, thousands of North Korean artillery guns, housed in hardened artillery bunkers, blast away at the unsuspecting South Korean defenders. As the dawn breaks on the first day of attack, North Korean forces are swarming over the South Korean defenses along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

Republic of Korea (ROK) forces and the 2ID regroup and fight bitter battles against heavy odds. Despite their heroic efforts, the battle lines move closer to Seoul with each passing day. A stubborn defense is not enough — the North Korean invaders must be forced back quickly or Seoul will be lost. The weather remains abysmal, with thick fog reducing visibility to a few hundred meters, and most aircraft and helicopters are grounded. Somehow the tide of battle must be turned. The ROK/U.S. coalition prepares to launch a ground counterattack, penetrate the enemy’s defenses and knock out as much of his artillery and air defense as possible. The 2d Infantry Division, battered but combat capable, is ordered to spearhead the attack. The United States desperately rushes all available air power to the region — but the bad weather is hampering operations and most of the airfields are temporarily unusable after attacks by enemy commando teams, aircraft and missiles. With most of the US Army tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, significant U.S. ground reinforcements will take weeks to redeploy to Korea.

As his army grinds closer to Seoul, the North Korean attack slows. Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, threatens to use nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on Seoul and Tokyo unless his demands are met. Japanese cities are threatened by North Korean Taepodong missiles and the Japanese are nervous. Facing the possible devastation of Seoul and Tokyo by missile-launched chemical or nuclear weapons of mass destruction, few regional leaders are willing to call the North Koreans’ bluff.

Every American president’s nightmare since the Truman administration – a new major war in Korea – has become a deadly reality.

How likely is this nightmare scenario? With America’s attention largely focused on the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, few people seem worried that North Korea will start a war. After all, North Korea is an economic “basket-case” country that is not even capable of feeding its own population, let alone launching a successful attack on its prosperous neighbor to the south. The fact that the DMZ has separated the two countries since the end of the Korean War in 1953 and that North Korea remains politically isolated from most of the rest of the world seems to support this reasoning.

But, what if hope fails and the nightmare happens?


Today, the threat of war in Korea is very real and it is possible that the world is only one decision away from the nightmare scenario. North Korea maintains the fifth-largest standing army in the world with an estimated 1.08 million armed personnel, compared to about 686,000 South Korean troops, plus 32,500 US troops in South Korea (U.P.I. March 13, 2006). And even though some of its people are starving, North Korea spends more than 20% of its national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the military. The fact remains, that all it takes for war to start is for one man – diminutive, unstable dictator Kim Jong Il — to believe he can win.

So how would Kim Jong Il’s military fight this war?

[continued on next page]

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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.