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Cataclysm in the Land of the Rising Sun

The Tsunami Hits

At 2:46 PM Tokyo time on Friday March 11th 2011 one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the Northeast coast of Japan. The quake which is now measured at 9.1 on the Richter scale caused damage to many structures from Tokyo north to the city of Sendai which bore the brunt of the damage. Had the damage been limited to that caused by the quake itself few would have given it a second thought as Japan has learned to build in such ways that damage from large quakes is minimal; a 7.3 temblor struck the same area on Wednesday with causing no damage. The damage from the quake would have been significant for Japan would have been exponentially greater in almost any other country including the United States. One only has to look at damage from much smaller quakes in the United States, Europe and around the world to verify this fact. The quake was so massive that it moved the coastline of Japan 8 feet.

Fire and Flood after the Quake and Tsunami

Large quakes are not uncommon in Japan but this one was different. It was much stronger than any felt in Japan’s recorded history including the massive 8.1 quake that struck Tokyo on September 1st 1923 the Great Kanto earthquake (Kantō daishinsai) which devastated Tokyo and the surrounding prefects killing between 100,000 and 142,000 people and spawned tsunami some of which were recorded as being 30 meters high.  The bulk of the casualties in that quake were caused in the great firestorms which engulfed the region.

The devastated town of Minamisanriku

The quake which was centered 80 miles offshore at a depth of 6 miles where the North American plate and the Pacific plate meet with the Pacific plate pushing westward and driving under the North American Plate. The North American plate broke under the pressure generated by the Pacific plate and was violently lifted upward creating a massive displacement of water from the Japan Trench creating tsunami. The tsunami struck the coast of Japan quickly but the Japanese tsunami warning system gave residents about a 15 minute notice. The tsunami struck with apocalyptic force sweeping away everything in its path, devastating the city of Sendai burying its airport runway and tarmac while sweeping some towns off the face of the earth with the chaos reaching as far as six miles inland. The official death toll continues to climb to over 1500 but 9,500 people are unaccounted for in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture alone.

Ships washed ashore at Myagi

Yet further threats remain. Large aftershocks some nearing 7.0 on the Richter scale, strong enough to create more tsunami continue to rock the region. The new morning has revealed the extent of the devastation and revealed a potential new catastrophe as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is in danger of losing its remaining battery power to cool down the reactors.  The resultant temperature increase in the containment dome is worrying provoking fears very real fears of a meltdown similar to the one at Three Mile Island caused engineers to vent radioactive steam to lower the pressure in the containment dome. There was a massive explosion in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s building which contains the number one unit. Japanese engineers are attempting to flood the containment chamber with sea water but this appears to be a measure of desperation. With the past several hours the highly radioactive element cesium has been detected which indicates that at least some of the fuel rods have melted at the Daiichi number one unit.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant explodes

The nearby Daini plant has also reported a loss in its ability to control its reactor pressure and Japanese engineers are considering releasing radioactive steam to relieve pressure in these facilities. A state of emergency has been declared at the Daiichi unit, the first in the history of Japan’s nuclear program and residents within twelve miles of the unit have been ordered to evacuate. Three more reactor units at the affected plants are under states of emergency and Japanese engineers are franticly attempting to get power to generators which power the pumps which cool the reactor cores.

Japan has the best civil defense and disaster preparedness system in the world is under tremendous strain. It has mobilized its military in order bolster the rescue and relief operations and asked for international assistance. At the present time 5.1 million homes are without power and over a quarter million people are in emergency shelters, a number which could go up depending on the extent of evacuations near the damaged nuclear plants. The United States has sent warships to provide humanitarian relief efforts including the USS Ronald Reagan, the Command Ship USNS Blue Ridge and several cruisers and destroyers. The USS Essex which had just arrived in Malaysia is getting ready to return to Japan to rendezvous with the USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown off Tokyo to prepare for any humanitarian assistance/disaster relief duties.  The 7th Fleet is working to get relief supplies and equipment into position to assist the Japanese. Likewise elements of the III Marine Expeditionary Force to provide helicopters, heavy equipment, medical support and other humanitarian support to affected areas.

Aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Quake

The situation is still developing and the danger from aftershocks, additional tsunami and disease related to the flooding as well the nuclear situation will complicate an already cataclysmic event. One cannot discount the possibility that the quake could cause other major seismic events. This is not unprecedented in Japan as the 8.6 Hōei quake of 1707 triggered a major eruption of Mount Fuji (Hōei dai funka) a month later.

Of course I always recommend that people pray for the victims of such disasters but everyone can do a little bit to contribute to relief efforts. CNN has published a list of organizations on its website as well as other pertinent information at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/11/tsunami-aid-and-relief-how-you-can-help/ .  Both the Red Cross and Salvation Army have ways to donate $10 via text message with the money being applied to your cellular bill. To donate to the Red Cross text “redcross” to 90999 and for the Salvation Army text either “japan” or “quake” to 80888.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, natural disasters

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.


Filed under Foreign Policy, Military, national security