Tag Archives: north korean military

North Korea Tensions: One Misstep could mean War what the US can deploy to the Theater

The USS George Washington

The tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North Korean sinking of the South Korean Corvette Cheonan on March 26th and the North’s continued bellicose actions are now the highest in years.  Since the United States and South Korea announced naval exercises in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan the North has gone on a propaganda offensive condemn the exercises as a threat to peace and “nothing but outright provocations aimed to stifle the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] by force of arms.” North Korean spokesman Ri Tong Il claimed that the exercise “is a grave threat to the Korean peninsula and also to the region of Asia as a whole,” and “another example of a hostile policy” toward North Korea.

One of a number of Naval Clashes between South and North Korean Navy vessels

The North Koreans announced also that “The army and people of the DPRK will start a retaliatory sacred war of their own style based on nuclear deterrent any time necessary in order to counter the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war,” and while threats of war are common from the DPRK the situation is now so tense that any miscue from either side could spark a war.

The US State Department dismissed the North Korean threats spokesman P J Crowley stated “North Korea has a habit of trying to deflect, you know, responsibility onto others.”  He noted that some U.S. officials were concerned that North Korea might use the heightened tensions and exercises to make further provocations against the South and US Forces.  Some speculate that such measures might include missile tests or nuclear tests or other military measures.  In response to questions that North Korea might take aggressive steps Crowley noted:  “Are they capable of these kinds of steps? Tragically, the answer is yes….And the very kind of actions that we’ve announced in recent days, including military exercises that will be conducted in the near future, are expressly to demonstrate that we will be prepared to act in response to future North Korea provocations. We hope it won’t come to that.”

South Korean Navy LHD Dokdo

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked at a conference regarding the South China Sea in Vietnam that “an isolated and belligerent North Korea has embarked on a campaign of provocative, dangerous behavior…”

The US Forces Korea Commander General Walter Sharp stated:  “These defensive, combined training exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that the ROK and U.S. are committed to enhancing our combined defensive capabilities.”

The Exercise “Invincible Spirit” will include the USS George Washington carrier battle group including the Guided Missile Destroyers USS McCampbell, USS John S. McCain and USS Lassen, as well as South Korean Navy assets including the largest ship in the South Korean Navy the Landing Ship Dokdo. A total of 20 ships 200 aircraft and 8,000 sailors will take part in the exercise which according to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo “will consist of an electronic warfare simulation with members of the US Cyber Command, an aerial refueling and bombing exercise by the Air Force, command control training by the Marines, and a navy anti-submarine exercise.”  It is also likely that the converted former Trident Missile submarines USS Ohio, USS Michigan and possibly the USS Florida are in the area each armed with up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles.  The 4th of these submarines USS Georgia is also deployed and its whereabouts are not known. It is the first time that all 4 subs have been deployed at the same time.   The US Air Force has deployed the F-22 Raptor for the first time to Korea and elements of the 7th Air Force will take part in the exercise.  Invincible Spirit is the first in a series of scheduled summer exercises between the US and South Korea. Admiral Robert F Willard commander of the 7th Fleet said that at the end of the exercise, there will be a counter special-forces exercise. He added “These occur with some frequency in both the East and West Seas, conducted by the [South Korea] and U.S. Navy.” North Korea has a large special-forces establishment and capability.

North Korean YJ-62 Anti-Ship Missile on mobile launcher

The US Navy has additional assets that could be deployed in the event of a major crisis on the peninsula as the USS Ronald Reagan is involved with the RIMPAC 2010 exercises in the Pacific and the carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln are underway off the west coast involved in exercises or deployment work ups.  At this time 123 (43%) of the navy’s 289 ships are deployed and a total of 184 (64%) are underway away from their homeport. Of the submarine force 23 (43%) are deployed and 30 (55%) are underway.  This is a sizable amount of the fleet and represents a significant surge potential should a conflict break out.  In the midst of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan many forget that a significant amount of our national military power can be deployed quickly from the sea to danger spots like Korea where their assets based on history can have a decisive affect.

The USS Ohio and her sisters USS Michigan and USS Florida could play a deterrent role

Ground forces are more spares, the major component of land based forces are those of South Korea, the US now has just a Brigade Combat Team stationed in South Korea although other assets not engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom could be deployed from the 25th Division in Hawaii and Alaska and the 2nd Division based at Ft Lewis Washington.  As of now 1 brigade the 4th BCT of 25th Infantry Division is deployed to Afghanistan as well as the 5th BCT of 2nd Division which also has its 4th BCT deployed to Iraq. The 2nd BCT of 25th Division is schedule for deployment and may already be deployed this summer. The 3rd BCT of the 25th Division is now in a post-deployment cycle after having just returned from Iraq. The deployment of uncommitted assets would take time and the only immediate reinforcements could be a limited number of Marine units from the 3rd Marine Division and III MEF in Okinawa and Kaneohe Bay Hawaii that are not currently engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The North Korean threat of a “retaliatory sacred war” may be the usual propaganda hyperbole used by the North or it may be their “line in the sand.”  It also could be more bellicose than usual because of internal tensions in the North regarding potential successors to the ailing Kim Jong Il. US and South Korea operational planning has contingencies should there be unrest in the North following Kim’s death but a conflict brought on by one of the rival factions the North could plunge Northeast Asia into a regional war. We don’t know what it is but the week ahead could become rather sporty.   China has warned that the exercise could make matters worse on the peninsula and the US apparently in response to China will keep the George Washington in the Sea of Japan.  There are also good tactical measures for doing so to protect the carrier by keeping it out of constricted waters in the vicinity of a good number of North Korean assets should fighting actually break out and the fact that the USS John S. McCain already is equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

The Japanese Naval Self Defense Force (Navy) is sending 4 observers to the exercise a tacit measure of support for them and the Japanese have several ships fitted for the Aegis Ballistic Defense System.

With all of this said we now have to wait and see what happens. Will the North do something to instigate a conflict or will it back down?  We don’t know as it is a very unpredictable country with a penchant for raising the ante in the high stakes world of geopolitical dominance in Northeast Asia. The Obama administration seems to be walking a narrow line between war and appeasement, not that we would consider what we do appeasement but what the North would certainly take it to be. The stakes are high and only God knows what will happen in the next several days. An actual conflict could kill hundreds of thousands or even millions of people; especially should the North successfully deploy and use a nuclear weapon. Thousands of American lives are at stake should a conflict break out and besides our Soldiers, Sailors Marines and Airmen standing in harm’s way many of them are non-military citizens that live and work in South Korea and Japan.

That is all for now, pray for peas.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

The Sinking of the Cheonan and the Escalation of Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

The forward half of teh hulk of the Corvette Cheoson being raised from the Yellow Sea

On March 26th at 2110 hrs local the 1200 ton South Korean Corvette Cheonan (PCC-722) was torpedoed by a North Korean Submarine about 1 nautical mile from Baengnyeong Island. The assailant appears to have been a North Korean Yeono Class miniature submarine using a North Korean CHT-02D 21” torpedo using acoustic homing mechanism set for a detonation under the hull of Cheonan at 6-9 meters depth.  There is the possibility that a Song class coastal submarine could have been involved but the likelihood is a Yeono class boat based on the proximity to land and the observation of a number of “small submarines” departing base a few days before and returning a few days after to their tender. The blast created an underwater shockwave and bubble effect which broke the back of the ship causing it to sink in less than 5 minutes with the loss of 46 crew members.

The probable assailant a Yeono or Yono class Miniature Sub and an Iranian variant below


The sinking of Cheonan was the first sinking of a warship by a hostile submarine since the Argentine light cruiser the General Belgrano was sunk by the Royal Navy nuclear hunter-killer attack submarine Conqueror on May 2nd 1982 during the Falkland war.  The sinking of the Belgrano was controversial but occurred in the context of active hostilities and which posed no real threat to regional destabilization or a war that could easily escalate into a nuclear, chemical and biological conflict. The Cheonan was sunk by the North Koreans in a clear violation of the Korean Armistice and represents such a brazen move by the North Koreans that one has to wonder what purpose that it served.  There are reports that Kim Jong Il ordered the attack in retaliation for a confrontation in the same area in November 2009 in which a North Korean ship was heavily damaged.

The last warship sunk by a hostile submarine

The effects are now being felt following the May 20th release of the international investigation of the sinking which confirmed with hard evidence that the torpedo was North Korean and that there were no other possibilities for the sinking. (http://www.mnd.go.kr/mndEng_2009/WhatsNew/RecentNews/index.jsp#wrap ) The North Koreans reacted with anger toward the report while South Korea, the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the UN made statements condemning the sinking.  In the following days the US and South Korea announced naval exercises (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10150379.stm ) (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2010/0524/Pentagon-dials-up-pressure-on-North-Korea-for-Cheonan-sinking ) and on the 24th the South Koreans suspended economic relations and assistance to the North and announced the renewal of psychological warfare against the North. The North Koreans have responded in kind severing all relations with the South, threatening to attack sites broadcasting into the North and announced that it gave its military the order to prepare for war.  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100525/ap_on_re_as/as_skorea_ship_sinks;_ylt=Alwl3biZwLFab7TyXX4HwRz9xg8F;_ylu=X3oDMTM5NTExM2R2BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNTI1L2FzX3Nrb3JlYV9zaGlwX3NpbmtzBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMgRwb3MDMgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA25rb3JlYXNldmVycw

North Korean Torpedo components from the sinking of the Cheonan

The North on the 21st announced that “From this time on, we will regard the situation as a phase of war and will be responding resolutely to all problems in North-South relations,” and that “If the South puppet group comes out with ‘response’ and ‘retaliation’, we will respond strongly with ruthless punishment including the total shutdown of North-South ties, abrogation of the North-South agreement on non-aggression and abolition of all North-South cooperation projects.” (http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/asia/3725039/North-Korea-declares-phase-of-war-with-south )

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said that the Security Council should take action against North Korea stating “I’m confident that the council, in fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, will take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation.” (http://www.undispatch.com/node/9910 )

The situation seems to escalate by the hour as additional nations condemn the North Koreans and movement in the UN to do sop as well.  With the problem of succession in the North Korean leadership and potential struggles for internal power between the North Korean military and others within Communist Party and government it is hard to say who might gain in this situation. There are reports that part of the reason for the attack was the need for Kim Jong Il to secure the place of his son to leader the regime if he is incapacitated or dies.  The succession of Kim to the leadership was unusual as it was the first time in a Communist nation that the son of the national leader succeeded his father.  It is possibility that senior military or party leadership could oppose such a move.

There are a number of scenarios for this to play out.  Of course one would be for the North to stand down however that would be an act of weakness and loss of face for the regime after sinking a South Korean warship.  The other alternatives include the full fledged resumption of the Cold War on the peninsula or even the outbreak of a regional war which could draw in other nations and involve the use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons on a large scale.   Any such situation would devastate the economies of much of Asia which in tour could cripple the world economy at a time when the European Union is in crisis, the United States is struggling its way out of a recession and many other nations are experiencing economic crisis or downturn.

This is a very dangerous situation and as one who has spent time on the Korean DMZ I can imagine almost nothing worse for the world than a war in Northeast Asia, perhaps a major showdown in the Arabian Gulf with Iran or a major conflict involving Israel and Iran or other Middle Eastern states, but not much other than those scenarios.  The situation has also demonstrated the threat to warships in the littorals from comparatively simple, cheap and deadly platforms firing weapons based on World War Two technology.  The reality for naval surface forces be they in the Korean littorals, the Arabian Gulf or Gulf of Oman is that low tech weaponry on low tech platforms in congested waters can deal deadly blows to unsuspecting warships.

This situation will need to be watched as it has the potential to get worse with dire consequences.

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