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KPA Concepts of Operations

A number of distinct operational forms of the threat are salient in current U.S.-ROK planning; some would be complementary in an offensive, others are mutually exclusive.

KPA offensive doctrine calls for the annihilation (destroy in U.S. terminology) of the enemy at any cost by continuing the pursuit, staying close to the enemy to reduce the likelihood of the latters superior artillery and close air support coming to the rescue, and continual contact to prevent the enemy from withdrawing or regrouping for a future attack. The taking of terrain is secondary to the enemys destruction. In the KPAs seven designated offensive movementspenetration, thrust, holding, turning, infiltration, besetment, and encirclementthe focus is on the destruction of the enemy or the movement of ground forces in order to set up another maneuver that will aid in the enemys annihilation.

UnitFrontage, kmDepth, km
km kilometers
The KPA defines an area of operations (AO) as the geographical area and associated airspace within which a commander has the authority to plan and conduct combat operations. An AO is bounded by a limit of responsibility beyond which the organization may not operate or conduct fires without coordination through the next-higher headquarters. AO boundaries may be linear or nonlinear and may or may not be contiguous. Linear AOs can contain subordinate nonlinear AOs, and nonlinear AOs can contain linear AOs. Contiguous or noncontiguous boundaries are dependent on the mission and situational conditions of an OE and typically include more than military considerations, such as political declarations on sovereign territory, formal objections by multiple actors on disputed resources, or rogue actors operating in global commons and jeopardizing regional stability.

A combat order normally defines an AO and zones within the AO by specifying boundary lines in terms of distinct local terrain features through which a line passes. An order specifies whether each of those terrain features is included or excluded from the units AO or zones within the AO. A higher headquarters commander may retain control of airspace over an AO assigned to a subordinate headquarters. This decision would be stated in standard airspace management measures.

1. Deliberate (Prepared) Offensive

The first front would consist of a massive conventional assault across the DMZ, using substantial firepower and chemical attacks on selected forward-position targets to isolate Seoul before moving farther south. Additionally, ballistic missile strikes including missiles with chemical warheads could hit South Korean and U.S. air bases, ports, and C2, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets throughout South Korea and in Japan. There is also a possibility that North Korea may attempt to use offensive biological weapons in its attacks or launch intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at U.S. targets in Hawaii, Alaska, or even the California coastal cities.

It is envisaged that twelve or more North Korean divisions would attack down one of the major invasion corridors leading to Seoul (Ch'orwon or Kaesong) in the first phase of such an offensive. Each of the corridors is now defended by a single Corps of three or four divisions. North Korean regular infantry formations supported by armor and heavy artillery fire would seek to overwhelm the Corps in their path to open the way for a follow-up armored breakthrough to Seoul.

2. "Bolt Out of the Blue"

This presumes surprise. The KPA will attempt to attack its enemy in an unexpected place, time, or means. The characteristics of a surprise attack could include the use of inclement weather, nighttime operations, or rugged terrain; a detailed deception plan; skilled infiltration units to include SOF units; parachute or air assault operations; massing of fires; quick concentration of forces at the decisive point and time; or the unexpected employment of large-scale mechanized or armor forces.

Reconnaissance is very important to the KPA. The military will strive to conduct reconnaissance continuously at all levels, including in the enemys rear areas, in order to achieve surprise when attacking and to prevent surprise when on defense. Each forward-deployed KPAGF infantry corps fields a reconnaissance battalion, each infantry division contains an organic reconnaissance company, and each infantry regiment possesses its own reconnaissance platoon. There are also three independent reconnaissance brigades that could be deployed anywhere on the battlefield for additional intelligence-gathering operations.

In the absence of adequate warning, the assigned ROK regular forces could not fully man the barrier defenses in the Seoul corridors, and the militia could not carry out its planned task of laying minefields. Accordingly, given surprise successfully achieved, it is envisaged that the North Koreans would attempt a classic, high-speed, deep-penetration offensive by massed formations of battle tanks, to break through the anti-tank barriers before they could be closed and adequately defended. Since the North Koreans could deploy their forces in jump-off positions without being detected, and since front-line ROK forces are now concentrated in a forward perimeter defense, this threat is particularly salient. To be sure, the barrier systems on the Seoul corridors are laid out in depth from the DMZ to the city outskirts. But the defense of these barriers depends in part on troops that must withdraw to hold them in sequence. It is feared that the high-speed elements of the armor "Blitzkrieg" (and/or airborne assailt troops) could seize the barriers before they can be fully manned by either withdrawn troops, or by allocated reinforcements.

3. In-Depth Infiltration and Guerilla Threat

In addition to these regular-force threats, it is believed that the North Koreans might also launch a campaign of sabotage and guerilla-type raids against both military and civilian targets in the deep interior of the ROK. In a variant perception, this threat is thought to be directed against Corps rear areas. Such raids and sabotage missions would be carried out by activated in-country sympathizers (rural guerillas and urban terrorists) and also by troops of the North Korean 8th Special Corps, infiltrated by air or by sea.*

KPA doctrine calls for a two-front war, but not in the traditional sense of the term such as in World War I or World War II with one force fighting in two different directions. The second front would be an attack by KPA SOF units throughout the South Korean rear area with assistance from prepositioned North Korean clandestine operatives. The SOF could reach South Korea by various means, including helicopter, hovercraft, light plane, parachute, small boat, submarine, or infiltration tunnel. These personnel could potentially, but not likely, attack U.S. bases in Japan. In addition, North Korea would focus on asymmetric warfare attacks on perceived areas of U.S. weakness as seen in recent U.S. overseas operations.

Due to the inferiority of much of its equipment compared to its foes, the KPAGF regular forces will attempt to avoid infantry and armor units and instead attack enemy combat support and rear service units. The KPA believes that, without logistical support, U.S. frontline units will collapse due to lack of supplies. This belief that U.S. Soldiers will quit fighting when surrounded by the enemy or without a large logistical advantage dates back to the Korean War and a Chinese/KPA assessment of U.S. combat units during that period. The large number of KPA SOF will also concentrate its attacks in rear areas against combat support, rear service, or other high-value targets. These can include missile and radar sites; C2 cells; chemical or nuclear facilities; airfields; petroleum, oils, and lubricants facilities; dams or power plants; bridges; isolated communications relay sites; and logistical bases. The KPA believes its best chance for success on the battlefield is to break the U.S. logistical system and thus render the infantry and armor units combat ineffective due to lack of ammunition, fuel, and other supplies that U.S. Soldiers rely heavily upon in battle.

4. Harassment of the Seoul Capital Area

The North Korean inventory includes FROG unguided rockets with a range sufficient to reach the Seoul area. In addition, it is possible that some Soviet-built 180mm long-range gun-howitzers are also in service. It has been suggested that these weapons, (and possibly also the 130am guns) might be used for the long-range bombardment of the Seoul area with RAP rounds. The harrassment of the Seoul area by remote firepower might take place in conjunction with the other threats (in order to demoralize the defense); or, alternatively, it might be carried out in isolation in a counter-value role or for psychologic purposes, possibly as a bargaining chip in intra-war negotiations. In any case, high accuracy would not be a requirement for such long-range bombardments.

5. Maneuver

The KPA wants to fight and win a quick, decisive war. To achieve this objective, the KPAGF emphasize maneuverability as a basic element of combat power during training. In combat, units will seek to use the terrain to their maneuver advantage. The KPAGF will employ ground vehicles to quickly reposition artillery, armor, and infantry on the battlefield using existing high-speed networks or aircraft. SOF or other forces will conduct raids to seize key transportation nodes. However, the KPAGF will also conduct night moves and use minor roads and the rugged terrain to surprise the enemy.

6. Initiative

The KPA stresses to its leaders using deception and information denial oras the Koreans call it cunning and personified tactics in all planning for its troops. The emphasis to KPA leaders is to use initiative and aggressiveness with no hesitation in all situations. While the KPA conducts comprehensive planning and keeps these plans close hold, the leadership expects subordinates to make quick estimates and conduct bold operations that will result in a quick, but decisive, war. However, if a KPA commander deviates from the original plan and it results in failure, the commander will suffer the consequenceswhich could result in relief from duties or even execution for disobeying orders.

7. Operational Security (Secure Secrets)

The KPA places emphasis on operational security (called secure secrets) and teaches its members to keep their secrets and plans secure at all times. North Korea not only keeps a close hold on all plans, but also distributes false information to confuse the enemy as it attempts to protect and secure its secret information. Activities to safeguard the KPAs secrets may include reconnaissance, counterreconnaissance, deception, counterintelligence, and cover and concealment measuressuch as conducting operations in inclement weather or darknessat all levels of command (tactical, operational, and strategic).

8. Combined Operations

KPA doctrine emphasizes that all actions, conventional or otherwise, must be coordinated at all levels and between the different types of units. Much of this coordination will be done through liaison or courier, which reduces the likelihood that an enemy can learn KPA intent by an increase in radio chatter or the interception of electronic signals. The KPA has many specialized units, including river crossing brigades and regiments, sniper brigades in all three services, and large numbers of SOF units. Any major attack will coordinate the use of all the different arms to attack the decisive point at the proper time.

9. Echelon Forces

The KPA takes from Soviet/Russian doctrine in its use of echelons during both offensive and defensive operations. In a division offensive operation, the KPAGF will likely place two-thirds (67 percent) of their forces in the first echelon and two-ninths (22 percent) in the second echelon, with only one-ninth (11 percent) in operational reserve or as a third echelon. At the corps level (KPA Army Group), KPAGF doctrine describes a first echelon of four infantry divisions; a second echelon of two infantry divisions and a tank regiment; a third echelon of two mechanized infantry regiments; and a reserve of divisions not likely to be involved in the offensive operation. See Chapter 6 for examples of echelons in offensive operations.

The ground forces will also use echelons when forced to go on the defense, as the KPA believes echeloning its forces provides for defensive depth with rapid counterattack possibilities. Approximately one-ninth (11 percent) of a divisions defensive force will be positioned as a forward security force, five-ninths (56 percent) will be in the first echelon, two-ninths (22 percent) in the second echelon, and the final one-ninth (11 percent) held in reserve for unforeseen events. The corps will be similarly arrayed in echelons.

10. Adaptive Operations

Any coalition that faces North Korea on the Korean Peninsula will likely field a technological advantage but a considerably smaller quantity of equipment to meet the KPA on the conventional battlefield. North Korea will adapt its operations to mitigate its limitations and lesser capabilities, especially in technology. North Korean operational planners identify conditions, circumstances, terrain, and times that provide opportunities to optimize the countrys own capabilities and degrade those of the enemy. The country task-organizes and tailors its forces for specific missions against enemy vulnerabilities. Many North Korean operations have an overarching intent to disrupt, defeat, or destroy the enemys C2 framework and logistics.

The types of actions and methods that characterize adaptive operations can also promote success in regional or transitional operations. North Korea has conducted adaptive operations since the 1953 armistice, including assassination attempts on the South Korean president, the deployment of SOF personnel to start an insurgency in South Korea similar to that of Vietnam, and infiltration of SOF for direct actions in South Korea. Should war break out on the Korean Peninsula, it is likely that North Korea would attempt to conduct adaptive operations if its country was invaded by outside forces.

The North Korean policy is that if any country decides to invade it and the KPA is defeated, every North Korean citizen should do his or her duty to resist the invader. KPAGF soldiers learn that if their unit is no longer functional, the remaining soldiers should turn to guerrilla warfare and continue to fight the enemy through stay-behind ambushes, harassment, or destruction of enemy supplies. KPAGF soldiers will most likely fall back to the thousands of subterranean facilities located throughout the country, complete with prepositioned supplies, as part of the countrys defensive plans. Civilians are also taught that they should do everything they can to resist the enemy and continue the fight to the best of their ability with any available resources.

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Page last modified: 09-11-2020 18:38:22 ZULU