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The South Korean Order of Battle

South Korean Marines

This is the second of a two part series on military forces on the Korean Peninsula and supplemental articles on the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The First, the North Korean Order of Battle https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/the-north-korean-order-of-battle/ compliments this article.  Peace, Padre Steve+

The Republic of Korea has a robust military.  It is well trained and equipped but only about half the size of the military of its rival the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). It is composed of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.  It is equipped with indigenously produced equipment as well as that purchased from the United States and other countries. It has deployed troops to Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Vietnam and the Gulf War.

The biggest component of the South Korean military is the Army which is composed of 522,000 soldiers organized into a Missile Command, Special Forces, aviation, logistics and training branches and a Capitol Defense Command.  The Army is composed of 30 Infantry and 5 Mechanized divisions, 4 Armored Brigades, 7 Special Operations Brigades (Airborne), 2 Special Assault Brigades and 6 Special Assault Regiments as well as a host of artillery, engineer, aviation, air defense, chemical, security and logistics commands of various sizes.

K1A1 Main Battle Tank

The Army has over 2500 tanks, 1500 of which are the K-1 and K-1A main battle tanks which were developed from the U.S. Army XM-1, M1, M1A1 and M1A2.  These are supplemented by 880 M-48 Patton Tanks. The Army also is well equipped with over 500 K-9 Self-Propelled 155mm Howitzer systems and about 1000 K55 155mm Self Propelled Howitzers based on the U.S. M109 series.  The Army uses about 2200 of the indigenously produced K200 Infantry Fighting Vehicles which are being supplemented with the first production batch of 466 K21 Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Its Aviation branch operates 600 helicopters.

K-9 155mm Howitzer

The ROK Marine Corps is a semi-autonomous branch of the Navy and is composed of 2 Marine Divisions and a Marine Brigade with strength of 27,000 Marines.  Like the U.S. Marine Corps the ROK Marine Corps has an amphibious mission and is similarly equipped with Amphibious Assault Vehicles, Tanks, and Artillery and Reconnaissance vehicles.  The 6th Marine Brigade garrisons the Islands in the West, or Yellow Sea and was involved in the most recent clash on Yeonpyeong Island.

The ROK Navy has 9 very modern destroyers including 2 ships equipped with the Aegis Air Defense System and 9 Frigates of the Ulsan Class. It has 12 German designed S209 and S214 class Submarines with 12 more of the later building or planned.  The Navy operates about 130 other ships or craft including  23 Corvettes and 73 patrol craft. The Corvette Cheonan was sunk in March by a North Korean torpedo likely fired by a midget submarine.  It also has a robust amphibious capability recently fielding the LPH Dokdo a 14,000 ton helicopter assault ship.  It operates about 10 ASW Aircraft and 50 helicopters.

Dokdo LPH

As of 2008 the ROK Air force operated more than 180 KF-16, 174 F-5E/F, 130 F-4D/E, 39 F-15K fighter jets or fighter bombers. They are also pending the delivery of 21 additional F-15Ks between 2010 and 2012.  The bulk of the Air Force, 6 fighter wings is under command of the Northern Combat Command.

Supplementing the ROK forces at U.S. Forces Korea which include the ground forces of the 8th Army, now consisting of the 2nd Infantry Division (FWD) composed of 1st Heavy Combat Brigade Team, 201st Fires Brigade and 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade and supporting units.  Reinforcements can be drawn from I Corps at Ft Lewis Washington and units of the 2nd and 25th Infantry Divisions.

The 7th Air Force which has 2 Fighter Wings composed of F-16, F-15 fighters and A-10 ground attack aircraft as well as supporting ground units. .  In theater Air Force assets can be reinforced by wings and squadrons from U.S. Air Force Pacific which include the latest F-22 Raptors and other attack and bombing units.  Additionally units of the Strategic Air Command using B-52 and B-2 bombers can be employed.

The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet based in Japan contributes the USS George Washington (CVN 73) and the embarked Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) Surface Combatant Force Seventh Fleet (or Task Force 75) comprised of Aegis Cruisers USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS Cowpens (CG 63) and the seven assigned ships of Destroyer Squadron Fifteen (CDS-15) complete the surface combatant forces.  Submarine Group 7 based in Guam composed of USS Buffalo (SSN 715), USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) and USS Houston (SSN 713) supported by the Submarine Tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) reinforced by USS Ohio (SSGN-726) and USS Michigan (SSGN-727) both Home-ported Bangor, Washington provide both ASW capability against DPRK Submarine Forces as well as attack and guided missile attack capabilities using Harpoon and Tomahawk Submarine Launched Guided Missiles. Amphibious forces include the Sasebo based USS Essex (LHD-2), USS Denver (LPD-9), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) and USS Tortuga (LSD-46) which typically embark the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.  Mine Warfare forces include the USS Avenger (MCM-1), USS Defender (MCM-2), USS Guardian (MCM-5) and USS Patriot (MCM-7).  All can be reinforced by elements of the West Coast and Hawaii based 3td Fleet. Marine Forces of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa and Mainland Japan composed of 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Air Wing and 3rd Marine Logistics Group provide a potent expeditionary force in readiness to support any contingency on the Korea Peninsula.

While the ROK and US Forces undoubtedly would control the air and the sea North Korean ground forces mostly based on the border could launch a devastating artillery and missile attack on the South Korean Capital, Seoul and their large number of special operations forces could make ground operations more difficult despite the qualitative superiority of ROK and ground US Forces.  North Korea does have the capability to spread the war to Japan which could contribute its air, naval and potentially ground forces to any conflict. United Nations Forces could be added to the allied order of battle.

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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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