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OPLAN 5027 Major Theater War - West

Phase 1-DPRK Attack

The disclosure of North Korean attempts to develop nuclear weapons has once again raised the possibility of military conflict on the Korean peninsula. Both the United States and DPRK have publicly stated a desire to resolve the situation diplomatically. Should negotiations fail, military conflict would be a potential course of action.

The North Korean leadership believes that the North can defeat the South in a war, thus enabling them to find an exit route from collapse, even in the worst case. The chances that North Korea might provoke a crisis remain high because Kim Jong Il rules the country based on support from the military. Because North Korea is aware that South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia do not want to a crisis to turn into a war, North Korea can exploit this willingness to maintain peace by threatening to go to war as a means to receive concessions from the external world, as in the nuclear crisis of 1994.

North Korea could initiate conflict to achieve limited strategic aims, rather than the outright conquest of the peninsula. Pyongyang might think that some desperate situation could turn out well, with the PLA helping to produce the desired result. Although China sent the PLA into Korea in the early 1950s, the situation today is much different from 1950. Following the 1994 nuclear crisis, Beijing began clarifying the absence of obligations under the Mutual Cooperation Treaty. In 1995 and repeatedly thereafter, Beijing made it clear that China would not use the PLA in support of hostile action against South Korea by the Korean People's Army (KPA). The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman announced in the latter part of 1995, "China does not believe the friendship treaty between Beijing and Pyongyang is a treaty requiring the dispatch of military forces." In early 1997, then Vice Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (later the foreign minister by 2001), in South Korea on an official visit, said for public consumption that China was not willing automatically to intervene if North Korea were to start a war. Tang said the PRC-DPRK treaty was a "dead document." In May 1997, Premier Li Peng in a public statement described North Korea as only a neighbor, not an ally. If the United States were to move across the DMZ, the reaction by Beijing would be dependent on the status of US-China relations and of US intentions. If the relationship were hostile, and a threat to China appeared to be present, Beijing would have to act.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) possesses larger forces than Iraq, and they are already deployed along South Korea's border. A war could explode after a warning of only a few hours or days, not weeks. Unlike in the Persian Gulf, this attack would be prosecuted along a narrow peninsula on mountainous terrain. It would probably be accompanied by massed artillery fire, commando raids, and chemical weapons. Initially, the primary battlefield would be only about 125 kilometers wide and 100 kilometers deep. The DPRK attack would be conducted against well-prepared ROK forces in fortified positions and against larger U.S. forces than in the Persian Gulf. Most probably, the DPRK attack would aim at seizing nearby Seoul by advancing down the Kaesong-Munsan, Kumwa, and Chorwon corridors. If successful, North Korean forces might also try to conquer the entire peninsula before large U.S. reinforcements arrive.

North Korea has deployed more than 55 percent of its key forces in forward bases near the border. North Korea's short-term blitzkrieg strategy envisions a successful surprise attack in the early phase of the war to occupy South Korea before the arrival of US reinforcements on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean ground forces, totaling some 1 million soldiers, are composed of some 170 divisions and brigades including infantry, artillery, tank, mechanized and special operation forces. Of the total, about 60 divisions and brigades are deployed south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line. This means a surprise attack on South Korea is possible at any time without a prior redeployment of its units. North Korea has about 500 long-range artillery tubes within range of Seoul, double the levels of a the mid-1990s. The North Korean navy has also deployed 430 surface combatants and about 60 percent of some 90 submarine combat vessels near the front line in forward bases. With about 40 percent of its 790 fighter planes deployed near the front line, the North Korean air force could launch a surprise attack on any part of South Korea within a short period of time.

The basic goal of a North Korean southern offensive is destruction of allied defenses either before South Korea can fully mobilize its national power or before significant reinforcement from the United States arrives and be deployed. The primary objective of North Korea's military strategy is to reunify the Korean Peninsula under North Korean control within 30 days of beginning hostilities. A secondary objective is the defense of North Korea against a potential counter-offensive.

To accomplish these objectives, North Korea envisions fighting a two-front war. The first front, consisting of conventional forces, is tasked with breaking through defending forces along the DMZ, destroying defending ROK forces, and advancing rapidly down the entire peninsula. This operation will be coordinated closely with the opening of a second front consisting of SOF units conducting raids and disruptive attacks in ROK's rear.

In developing the force to fulfill this two-front strategy, North Korea's leaders realized that they could never reach technological parity with the United States or U.S.-supplied South Korea. Instead, they focused on speed, and overwhelming quantities of troops and firepower coupled with a well-trained SOF.

The operational objective of DPRK forces in the offense is the destruction of ROK forces in a short duration, high intensity campaign employing maneuver warfare. To achieve these objectives, the DPRK has developed a mobile ground force emphasizing the utilization of overwhelming firepower. The latest evolution in force structure and doctrine, begun in the late 1970s, has resulted in two distinct force organizations: a large, mobile active force (including SOF) organized, trained, and deployed to carry out offensive operations against the ROK, and an extensive, well trained reserve force to defend the DPRK.

The DPRK offensive against the ROK will consist of three phases. The objective of the first phase will be to breach the defenses along the DMZ and destroy the forward deployed ROK forces. The objective of the second phase will be to isolate Seoul and consolidate gains. The objective of the third phase will be to pursue and destroy remaining ROK forces and occupy the remainder of the peninsula.

The four forward conventional corps, I, II, IV, and V, are considered the "warfighting" corps. They are expected to conduct the initial attacks with the primary mission of annihilating ROK forces north of Seoul. The concept of annihilation is the key to the DPRK doctrine, as it continually states the necessity to destroy enemy forces in place. The forward corps' follow-on mission is the defeat of ROK forces in depth.

The remaining conventional corps, III, VI, VII, VIII, and the Capital Defense Corps (CDC) have several possible missions. These missions include providing follow-on forces, round-out forces, and serving as coastal, rear area, or capital defense forces. Dependent on the forward corps' success, the rear corps will release units to serve as replacements. Two mechanized corps and part of the armor corps will provide the exploitation forces to carry the battle beyond Seoul. The remaining mechanized corps and armor from the armor corps could provide the strategic reserve north of the DMZ.

North Korea is also believed to have a fairly substantial number of special operations troops. However, it is not believed there is enough of these troops, or means to effectively deliver them, to damage ROK defensive positions. These forces would likely be utilized in harassing maneuvers. It is unlikely these SOF forces would have a significant affect against ROK defenses. SOF forces may be able to inflict moderate infrastructure and civilian damage.

Just prior to the initiation of hostilities, two army-level commands may be established. These commands are expected to control operations from the DMZ to the port of Pusan. Army Group I would be responsible for conducting the main attack into the western portion of South Korea and destroying the bulk of ROK forces north of Seoul. Army Group II would be responsible for conducting supporting attacks down the eastern portion of the ROK and securing the left flank of Army Group I.

The DPRK is expected to use three primary avenues of approach into the ROK. They are the Kaesong-Munsan approach, the Chorwon Val-ley approach, and along the east coast. There are several sub-maneuvers.

Army Group II would most likely consist of the following forces:

  • First Echelon: Will consist of the forward corps. Their mission will be to conduct the initial infantry assault across the DMZ and break through ROK defenses.

  • Second Echelon: Will consist of mechanized and armor forces. The primary mission of these forces will be to envelop and destroy forward deployed forces.

  • Third Echelon: Will also consist of mechanized and armor forces. The mission of these forces will be to pursue and destroy the remaining ROK forces and to occupy the entire peninsula. Additionally, strategic reserve forces or follow-on forces exist to augment all echelons if required.

Although the DPRK places great emphasis on maneuverability, it has elected not to rely on extensive mechanization of its infantry forces. DPRK mechanizations is designed to provide rapid "protected" movement of an infantry force. For the most part, personnel travel in armored personnel carriers or trucks, not infantry fighting vehicles. Once the force reaches its destination, troops dismount to conduct traditional infantry operations rather than Russian-style infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) tactics while fighting a mounted battle, whenever possible, through the enemy defenses. Selective mechanization has been accomplished through the use of self-propelled artillery and antiaircraft systems and tanks, but not large quantities of armored personnel carriers or IFVs. As in the past, the DPRK ground force of the 1990s relies on the foot soldiers' ability to exploit nontrafficable terrain. The objective is to overwhelm ROK units with conventional forces and exploit breakthroughs with mechanized assets without becoming road bound.

Exploitation Forces

To support offensive operations of the forward corps, the DPRK has created four mechanized corps and an armor corps. Two mechanized, the 806th and 815th, and the 820th armored corps are positioned to support strikes by the forward conventional corps and are considered to be tactical exploitation forces. Individual mechanized brigades may be turned over to the control of the forward corps to exploit breakthroughs achieved by the infantry. Their main objective is to drive deeply behind ROK lines and set up blocking positions to cut off withdrawing or reinforcing ROK forces. Each mechanized brigade is capable of independent operations behind enemy lines.

Successful destruction of ROK forces north of Seoul will enable the DPRK to commit its operational exploitation forces. This force will operate under the control of an army command and conduct corps level, cohesive operations. They are expected to be committed at the time forward ROK forces are annihilated. Their mission is to quickly seize and secure key terrain leading to control of the area between Seoul and Pusan.

The DPRK will seek force ratios of 3-5 to 1 in armor, 6-8 to 1 in artillery, and 4-6 to 1 in infantry forces to mount an attack. In attempting to breach a well-prepared defensive position, the DPRK may be expected to seek even larger ratios. This undoubtedly would be the case in attempting to break through DMZ defenses.

Combined-arms operations constitute the foundation of tactical battle in DPRK doctrine. Utilization of the forward conventional corps, reinforced by the mechanized and armor corps, to fight from the DMZ to Pusan is called the Strike Force concept. This concept embodies how the DPRK is expected to fight, especially south of Seoul or in defense of the DPRK.

The DPRK has devised a strategy to compensate for deficiencies, ROK strengths, and terrain considerations. Using a task organization approach, the DPRK fields, trains, and exercises a large ground force, designed to overcome the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of ROK forces. Strike Forces/Groups are formed around a core unit either a corps, division, or regiment/brigade. As the situation develops, additional units, such as armor, or artillery, may be diverted to significantly increase available fire support. Again, this will manifest itself in a three part DPRK force structure: a forward element (most likely reinforced light infantry), which is a self-contained maneuver force and two maneuver elements. Although the second maneuver element is sometimes referred to as the reserve, it contains sufficient combat weight to assume the lead of the main attack should the first maneuver element fail or stall, or to attack another objective.

US Forces

Knowing the American aversion to casualties, the North will launch operations designed to maximize US losses at the outset of hostilities. In the event of a conflict with North Korea, the public would focus overwhelmingly on the 2d Infantry Division (2ID). As the primary US ground combat formation in Korea, 2ID's casualties during the first days of this conflict would be the public's key barometer of the Army's performance, and the prospects for the outcome of the war.

Although North Korea may not be in the position to stage an all-out military invasion, other forms of military provocation by the North cannot be ruled out. One possibility is a limited or all-out artillery and/or missile attack. North Korea' forward-deployed short and medium range artillery pieces and missiles along the DMZ can cover most of the Seoul metropolitan area. The North has forward-deployed SA-5 surface-to-air missiles with a range of 250km, FROG-5/7 ground-to-ground free rockets with ranges of 50-70 km, 170mm self-propelled artillery, and 240mm multiple rocket launchers. North Korea could stage artillery/missile if South Korea, the United States, and Japan abandoned a soft-landing or engagement policy and actively sought a hardline posture of containment and punishment, or if United States undertook strikes on suspected nuclear or biochemical weapons facilities.

Without moving any of its more than 12,000 artillery pieces, "Pyongyang could sustain up to 500,000 rounds per hour against Combined Forces Command defenses and Seoul for several hours" Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz said in testimony in March 2001 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schwartz heads the United Nations and ROK-US Combined Forces Commands and US Forces Korea.

Towards the end of the Korean War fighting in 1953, the Chinese were able to fire approximately 100,000 rounds per day against US forces, and the number of rounds per day was increasing. A 100,000 round day would be a light day in a new war.

In 1993 and 1994, when the North Korean nuclear question emerged as an international issue, the North deployed large numbers of improved 170mm self-propelled guns and 240mm multiple rocket launchers to forward positions close to the DMZ. This was apparently meant to threaten South Korea's security while calling for nuclear negotiations with the US.

Most of the KPA's Hardened Artillery Sites [HARTS] are not in the area where they can hit 2d ID (Camp Casey). If the KPA was to bring up the D-74s (122mm guns) the 130mm or even the Kokson guns, the mountains to the north-west of Camp Casey would provide a shield, since long range fires require low trajectories. Camp Casey is in a valley that runs from west to east, and the mountains to the north of Casey provide no protection from long range artillery fires from the west. The North Korean's could engage Casey with the long-range Koksan gun, firing on a west-to-east axis, from firing points at least 5 km west of the DMZ. In reality, the place typically depicted as "where the guns could be" isn't suitable for artillery, since it has very steep slopes, and the direction of the mountains make the orientation of HARTS where artillery could be fired unsuitable.

Other camps, like Camp Greaves, Camp Giant, and Camp Edwards West, are within easy range of the North Korean artillery. Camp Gary Owen [formerly Camp Pelham] is within range of artillery emplaced west and north of the Han River Estuary Neutral Zone. As recently as the mid-1980s large numbers of troops were still scattered about the camps in 15-20 man quonset huts, but currently they are housed in 100 and 200 man barracks.

The Precision/Rapid Counter - Multiple Rocket Launch ACTD, completed in 1997, successfully developed and demonstrated an adverse weather, day/night, end-to-end, sensor-to-shooter, precision deep strike capability to neutralize the threat of 240mm Multiple Rocket Launchers and 170mm Self-Propelled Guns, such as those deployed just north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The FY 96 Korea Demonstration proved this ACTD's 'system of systems' resulted in significant reductions in sensor-to-shooter timelines and provided effective orchestration of ground, air and sea components in successfully attacking the designated threats. The residual capability is operational in South Korea.


Approximately forty percent of the South Korean population resides within 40 miles of Seoul. The Seoul corridor, including the Seoul inner city and suburbs, has an outlaying population of over 22 million. While rice paddies offering limited off-road mobility dominate the terrain north of Seoul, the terrain west of Seoul is a wide coastal plan with the main invasion routes to Seoul. North Korean forces attacking Seoul through the Chorwon or Munsan corridors would have to cross the Han or Imjin rivers (while these rivers freeze in the winter, the ice is not strong enough to support heavy armor). The narrow eastern coastal plain is lightly settled and less heavily defended, though mountains make movement of forces from the east coast difficult.

North Korea does not have to achieve a breakthrough across the DMZ to cause significant damage to South Korea. Seoul is within artillery and missile range from the north and most assessments conclude that the DPRK would likely bombard Seoul with a significant number of artillery pieces and missiles. As previously stated, the north is believed to have some 500 artillery tubes in a position to fire upon Seoul. These tubes would likely be able to fire several thousand rounds on the capital before being targeted by defensive forces. Even following targeting, these artillery pieces would likely survive for some time before all could be destroyed.

Estimates vary as to the extent of the potential damage on Seoul. This likely depends on the exact number of pieces that fire on Seoul and the intensity of that fire. However, most assessments agree that an artillery and missile attack on Seoul would greatly damage (both short term and long term) the ROK economy and cause significant civilian casualties (depended on the prior warning to any attack). When the Clinton administration mobilized forces over the reactor at Yongbyon in 1994, planners concluded that retaliation by North Korea against Seoul could kill 40,000 people. Suggestions that North Korea could unleash " ... an artillery attack on Seoul ... that could conceivably kill hundreds of thousands of people in the first few hours ... " would appear to represent a worst-case estimate that is unlikely to result in the absence of DPRK use of chemical munitions.

According to one report, a South Korean security analyst suggested that DPRK artillery pieces of calibers 170mm and 240mm "could fire 10,000 rounds per minute to Seoul and its environs." The number of Koksan guns is not publicly reported, but it is reliably reported that North Korea has about 500 long-range artillery tubes within range of Seoul, double the levels of a the mid-1990s. Large caliber self propelled artillery pieces typically have a sustained rate of fire of between four and eight rounds per minute. This suggests a total rate of fire of artillery alone of between 2,000 and 4,000 rounds per minute. The DPRK's two hundred 240mm MRLs fire either 12 or 22 rounds, providing a maximum single salvo of no more than 4,400 rounds.

Given all of North Korea's artillery along on the DMZ, it has been estimated by one source that the KPA could fire over 5 million artillery shells per hour. This number would appear to be in error. The roughly 8,000 regular artillery pieces [towed and self-propelled] might be able to fire roughly a half-million rounds per hour [8,000 times an average of six rounds a minute for 60 minutes]. The roughly 2,500 multiple rocket launchers could probably provide some appreciable fraction of this rate of fire [given longer reload times], but surely not some multiple of this rate of fire.

The Precision/Rapid Counter-Multiple Rocket Launch (PRC-MRL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD), which started in 1995, addressed the North Korean multiple rocket launch threat along the DMZ in Korea. In 24 months, the ACTD demonstrated and fielded significant improvements in capability related to rocket launch detection, command and control, and counterfire necessary to effectively neutralize the threat. This ACTD was performed to specifically attack the North Korean 240-mm Multiple Rocket Launcher System (MRLS) and 170-mm self-propelled gun. Times required to respond to multiple launch rocket attacks were reduced from 15-20 minutes to 3-4 minutes and the accuracy of the counterfire was increased dramatically. By reducing sensor-to-shooter timelines by a factor of three, increasing counterfire accuracy, and providing orchestration of air and naval forces, PRC-MRL significantly reduced this threat to Seoul and to deployed U.S. and coalition forces. The ACTD contributed to an overall understanding of short sensor-to-shooter timeline concepts of operation in all Army areas of responsibility. The systems developed and deployed in PRC-MRL are standing watch with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. The technology is being transitioned into Army baseline systems. This ACTD was initiated as an all Army effort but, as it progressed, was expanded to include significant participation and contribution by both Navy and Air Force units. Major General Franks, the Commanding General of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea said, the way we need to put technology into the Army for the future is just the way we did it for this Counter MRL ACTD. In the Precision/Rapid Counter Multiple Rocket Launcher ACTD, DOD did not overcome reluctance and, in turn, missed out on an opportunity to acquire important warfighting capabilities with joint applications. This project successfully demonstrated improved capability in rocket launch detection, command and control, and counterfire necessary for countering the threat from North Korean multiple rocket artillery with a system called the Automated Deep Operations Coordination System (ADOCS). Following the demonstration, the Army-the lead service for the project-decided not to formally acquire technologies since it was pursuing a similar development program. Moreover, the Navy, the Air Force, and the United States Forces, Korea, have acquired and deployed their own unique versions of the software.


The potential use of weapons of mass destruction by DPRK seriously complicates any potential assessment on a North Korean offense against the south. It is difficult to adequately determine the potential damage caused by a WMD because of the large number of variables surrounding the delivery of such weapons. If North Korea uses WMD, chemical agents are the most likely to be deployed. This is likely for several reasons. The state of North Korean nuclear weapons is not precisely known, but is it generally believed that they are presently too large to be deployable. Similarly, North Korean biological weapons are not considered as viable as chemical weapons because of the complexity of the delivery biological programs and the fact that the DPRK biological program has not received the same attention as the DPRK chemical program. Chemical Program

Like its biological warfare effort, we believe North Korea has had a long-standing chemical warfare program. North Korea's chemical warfare capabilities include the ability to produce bulk quantities of nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents, using its sizeable, although aging, chemical industry. North Korea is believed to hold a significant stockpile of agents and weapons.

North Korea is believed to be capable of weaponizing chemical weapons to suit a variety of delivery means. These would include not only ballistic missiles, but also artillery and aircraft, and possibly unconventional means. In fact, the United States believes that North Korea has some long-range artillery deployed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and ballistic missiles, some of which could deliver chemical warfare agents against forward-based U.S. and allied forces, as well as against rear-area targets. North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. These chemical defense units have both detection and decontamination systems. Their missions include reconnaissance and the training of personnel in the use of protective equipment. Chemical training and exercises for both military and civilian personnel have increased consistently over the years. North Korea's chemical weapon (CW) production capability is estimated to be about 4,500 tons per year, though this could increase to 12,000 tons per year in case of war. North Korea appears to have emphasized the weaponization of mustard, phosgene, sarin, and V-type chemical agents. Reports indicate that North Korea has some 12 CW facilities where raw chemicals, precursors, and actual agents are produced and/or stored, and six major storage depots for CW ordnance. North Korea also has placed thousands of artillery systems-including multiple launch rocket systems that are particularly effective for CW delivery-within reach of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Seoul. Pyongyang has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:34:07 Zulu