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OPLAN 5026 - Air Strikes

OPLAN 5026/CONPLAN 5026 has been associated, in the available literature, with surgical strikes against North Korea that would take out crucial targets but would not constitute the initiation of a major theater war.

One scenario for dealing with North Korea's nuclear program would consist of surgical strikes against facilities believed to be involved with the production, storage, or deployment of nuclear weapons. Such strikes might resemble the Israeli preemptive strike on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.

Using B-2 stealth bombers and F-117 stealth fighters the United States could strike multiple targets throughout North Korea, including the reprocessing facilities at Yongbyon. The deployment of F-117s from the 49th Fighter Wing to South Korea and the deployments of B-52s and B-1Bs to Guam brought a significant degree of capability to the region that might have handled contingencies.

During the 1993-1994 Nulear Crisis, defense officials within the Clinton Administration began developing contingency plans for conducting surgical strikes on Yongbyon. Those plans consisted of deploying additional squadrons of aircraft to South Korea, including F-117s, the deployment of several battalions of ground troops to reinforce elements of the 2nd Infantry Division, and the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier battle group with its strike aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles. The plan, which had been developed by the USFK commander General Gary Luck, was designed so that it could be executed within a very short timeframe, a couple of days.

There are a variety of factors that could complicate military strikes against North Korea. First, while there a number of facilities that would be obvious targets there is a high degree of probability that there are more locations than may have been previously identified making it unlikely that a single round of surgical strikes could eliminate the DPRK capability. Enough plutonium to produce roughly two nuclear bombs is still unaccounted for and the materials have most likely been located at different installations.

The abundance of deeply buried underground targets is another issue as a number of suspect sites appear to be under mountains. This limits the type of munitions that could be used as some conventional warheads may not be powerful enough to reach sensitive areas. Entrances to these facilities, once identified, may be targeted resulting in the collapse of those entrances.

The impacts associated with air strikes could be quite significant ranging from the release of radiation to a North Korean retaliation. Strikes on the Yonbyon reactor and other suspected nuclear production facilities could release radiation that could have negative consequences on the region as a whole.

Tailoring the strikes in such a way as to maximize returns but to limit the likelihood of a North Korean retaliation would be extremely difficult. The North Korean leadership is already acutely paranoid and sensitive to US military actions and might be predisposed to respond any air strikes by initiating a full-scale war.

To prevent or minimize a North Korean response the United States might also opt to strike command and control locations as well as artillery emplacements that threaten US troops and South Korean targets including Seoul. Missile garrisons could also be targeted to remove the threat to Japan and the southern areas of the ROK. Depending on the aircraft used, the United States might also have to suppress North Korean air defenses surrounding critical targets, an effort that would be difficult. This presents an additional problem of creating a target list so large that it might be just as simple for the United States to aim for the liberation of North Korea rather than the more limited strikes.

The deployment of additional assets to the South Korea and Guam in early March 2003 brough a great deal of capability to the region that would be usefull if the United States were to conduct surgical strikes. On February 28, 2003 twelve B-52Hs and twelve B-1Bs were ordered to deploy to Andersen Air Force Base at Guam. On March 10 the 3rd Fighter Wing deployed roughly twenty-four F-15Es and 800 airmen from the 90th Fighter Squadron to Osan Air Force Base. On March 14 six F-117s from the 49th Fighter Wing arrived at Kunsan Air Base.

These forces would be sufficient to carry out a number of strikes. Each of the above aircraft have the ability to deliver precision guided munitions, specifically the Joint Direct Attack Munition. The twenty-four F-15E Strike Eagle's could deliver a total of 96 JDAMs (4 per aircraft), the F-117s could deliver 12 JDAMs (2 per aircraft), the B-1B Lancer's could deliver 288 JDAMs (24 per aircraft), and the B-52H's could deliver 216-360 JDAMs (18 per aircraft and depending on the use of external implacements). If all of these assets are used the United States would have had the ability to strike between 612 and 756 aim points.

This of course does not include the B-2 Spirit, deploying either from Whiteman Air Force Base or from Guam. Each B-2 can carry 16 2,000lb JDAMs. As the B-2 is usually involved in the first strikes of a campaign it is likely that the aircraft would be used. Any estimates on the number of B-2s that would be used in a strike against North Korea would be highly speculative. Previous operations, specifically Afghanistan and Iraq used anywhere from 2 to 4 aircraft.

The inclusion of assets normally stationed at Kunsan and Osan Air Bases will only slightly increase the total number of JDAMs that could be used as only two of the three F-16 squadrons, the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan, is an F-16CD Block 40 that has been updated so that it can use the JDAM. The 80th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan flies the Block 30 F-16CD but has been upgraded so that it can use laser-guided munitions and on July 8, 2003 the 80th demonstrated upgrades that allow its aircraft to deliver JDAMs. The 36th Fighter Squadron has no such capability. The inclusion of the 35th Fighter Squadron and 80th Fighter Squadrons in any surgical strike will add 192 JDAMs to the total of 800 to 944 aim points.

Finally, the US has a number of ships and submarines available that can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. As of mid-June the United States had two carrier strike groups in the Asia-Pacific region consisting of roughly 15 ships. Exluding the aircraft carriers there are two Ticonderoga class cruisers, three Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers, two Spruance class destroyers, and four Oliver Hazard Perry guided missile frigates. [This does not include the ships at Pearl Harbor.]

The Kitty Hawk and elements of its strike group returned to Yokosuka in early May and has since begun an extended period of maintenance making the Kitty Hawk unavailable until sometime in November at the earliest. The readiness of the rest of the strike group is difficult to determine as some ships have undoubtedly begun yard periods while others have not. There are 466 VLS cells capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The USS Carl Vinson and an element of its strike group are currently deployed to insure a credible deterrent while the Kitty Hawk was deployed supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and while it undergoes repairs. During its deployment the Carl Vinson has conducted operations in multiple areas in the Pacific including off the coast of South Korea. While it might conduct operations in the South Pacific elements of its strike group can be retasked for maritime interdiction operations. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group has 307 VLS cells capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Determining what strikes against North Korea would look like or consist of is dependent on whether the target list is limited to WMD facilities or if it includes other targets such as surface-to-air missile batteries, air defense radars, and command and control locations. The degree of risk to the pilots may also play a role in deciding how large or small the raids will be.

A strike against North Korea could consist of a number of land attack missile being launched by cruisers, destroyers and submarines striking fixed targets throughout the country. With EA-6B Prowlers, staging from either of the two aircraft carriers, suppressing North Korean radar emissions and communications B-2 and F-117 stealth aircraft could penetrate North Korean airspace proceeding to strike high priority targets as other heavy bombers, such as B-1Bs and B-52s, begin striking other targets.

By late May to early June 2003 nearly all of the aircraft that had been sent to South Korea or Guam in support of exercises or to bolster the US deterrent had returned to the United States.



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