Old 3rd Apr 2017, 21:00
  #1136 (permalink)  
Uncle Fred
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Vendee
Posts: 137
I certainly do not agree with all of the following and I have no idea where Schilling gets his priority #4 for the NK regime but he does continue the discussion thusly:

John Schilling says:
April 2, 2017 at 10:10 pm ~new~
For everyone following the last three OTs, we should all be on the same page regarding what sort of nuclear missiles North Korea has. As I said last time, that’s the easy part. It’s rather harder to figure out what they are going to do with the things, but that is going to be increasingly important over the next four years or so as most of the readers here find themselves living within range of the nuclear missiles of a nation they are technically still at war with.

I have often referred to North Korea’s nukes as the House Kim family atomics, and I’m not joking. The North Korean regime has made it abundantly clear, in its words and its actions, that their absolute number one priority is the preservation of the present regime and its uncontested rule over North Korea. If you expect them to step down from power, adopt democratic rule and stand for election, be deposed in a popular revolt or military coup, or anything along those lines, that will happen over their dead bodies, and if at all possible yours as well. Hence the nuclear missiles.

If you’re wondering whether House Kim cares about anything at all beyond the survival of House Kim, then yes, they do. They are intensely and I believe sincerely nationalistic Koreans, which means that beyond survival their priorities are, 2: maintain the absolute territorial integrity and political and economic independence of North Korea, 3: ensure that North Korea is recognized as a great regional power at least equal to South Korea or Japan, 4: provide wealth and prosperity to the North Korean people, and 5: arrange the reunification of North and South Korea under the Kim regime.

Note that Korean reunification is at the bottom of that list. Not that it isn’t important; it is. But it is important the way Chinese reunification is important to Beijing, as a historical inevitability that will come about when the decadent separatist regime collapses into chaos and the long-suffering population returns willingly to the fold. Not as an excuse to invade at the next opportunity. And absolutely not at the cost of endangering the regime. So, there’s not going to be a salvo of nukes to soften up South Korea’s defenses as preparation for invasion.

Nor are we ever going to see North Korea’s nuclear weapons traded away for economic aid, because priority #1 vs priority #4 is not a contest. Moving up to #3, the nuclear missiles do to some extent provide a level of prestige than is lacking in pretty much every other aspect of North Korea’s international relations. They don’t even need to be fired for that, probably. And there is a sort of trade under way, with North Korea turning rockets into prestige by way of a space program rather than an explicit arms race.

Which leaves the potential use of nuclear weapons strictly for national and regime defense. We may consider the state of war with North Korea to be a quaint technicality; for them it is very real and personal. They’ve been asking for a peace treaty, and they see us as demanding surrender. They understand the inferiority of their conventional forces. They understand what “Axis of Evil” means, what the death of Gaddafi means, why their Southern colleagues offer video of cruise missiles flying through windows. Kim Jong Un and his colleagues have a very rational expectation that they will be killed or imprisoned and their nation dismantled, unless they maintain the means to make it intolerably, painfully expensive for their enemies to attack them. The question is how they are going to do that.

It probably isn’t going to be a single apocalyptic exchange of nuclear fire, because that inevitably ends with the demise of the North Korean regime and their top priority is avoiding that fate. By the same token, it’s not going to be “we were just bluffing; of course we surrender”. They have been planning and training to fight a nuclear war, and they expect or at least hope to survive the experience. And that isn’t entirely implausible.

The North Koreans are fairly clear on who their enemies are. The South Korean government but not its people, the United States of America, and the Japanese. They aren’t wrong about this; every credible war plan against North Korea involves the combined efforts of those three nations. This affords Pyongyang a strategic opening. If they can split any one nation from the alliance, their odds start looking pretty good. And nuclear missiles can make a persuasive argument, both in directly and separately threatening each of the allied nations, and in causing them to doubt that the other allies would make the ultimate sacrifice to defend or avenge them.

North Korean propaganda repeatedly and explicitly threatens to turn the capitals of all three nations into “seas of fire” in the event of a war. But, at least in the case of Seoul, if you read the fine print they are talking about destroying South Korea’s centers of government, not randomly devastating the city at large. They have also “accidentally” revealed some of their other high-priority targets. The South Korean port of Busan. The US air base at Iwakuni, Japan. The island of Guam, a major US air base and logistics hub. Pearl Harbor. San Diego, home of the US Pacific Fleet. Barkesdale AFB, home of the US Global Strike Command.

Extrapolating from this, the North Koreans plan to use their long-range missiles against air bases from which strikes against North Korea would be conducted, against logistics hubs from which military operations against the North would be supported, and against their enemy’s top-level military and civilian command centers. Short-range missiles like the Toksan are likely meant for use against major elements of an invading army. This isn’t a matter of finding “military targets” to justify nuking cities full of people you hate, this is a sound strategy for degrading allied warfighting ability.

If North Korea is going to be selective about what they destroy, they are going to be selective about when as well. Firing off everything at once, leaves the regime defenseless and doomed. The only strategy that has a chance of keeping the regime intact, is to not merely hurt and weaken their abilities, but to promise them still worse to come if they don’t back down. The North Koreans are developing missiles with high cross-country mobility and rapid response time, they’ve built a tunnel network the dwarves of Moria would envy and practiced launching missile salvos from just outside the entrances, and now they are working on ballistic-missile submarines. These are not first-strike weapons, they are weapons for someone looking forward to a second or even third or fourth strike even after their enemies take their best shot at them.

North Korea’s first strike probably won’t even be nuclear. We know from defector interviews that their corps-level commanders have the authority to use chemical weapons in response to any attack on North Korean soil, without waiting for permission from Pyongyang. When it comes time to unleash the long-range missiles, and those do require orders from the top, there are many hundreds of missiles but only a few dozen nuclear warheads, so probably the first salvos will be something less than nuclear as well. But if none of the allies takes the opportunity to back down when their punishment is “merely” a few thousand dead from a nerve gas attack, North Korea will eventually break out the nukes.

Depending on the nature of the evolving conflict, that first nuclear strike could be a tactical nuclear weapon directed against the spearhead of an invading army (maybe even on North Korean soil), or a demonstration shot against e.g. a sparsely-populated contested island. Most likely it would be against a strategic military target in one of the three allied nations. But only one, at first, because the winning move is to break the alliance. If it turns out one nuke isn’t enough, there will likely be other opportunities.

The allies, of course, are not just going to sit there and take it. The moment the war reaches the level of direct attacks against an enemy nation, the US and ROK at least are going to be targeting anything in North Korea that looks like it might be hiding a missile launcher, along with any air defense system that might get in their way. They’ll probably have a few days while we concentrate on reducing their air defenses; beyond that the pace of Scud-hunting on the 21st-century Korean peninsula is a very big unknown. Best case, it goes faster than anyone expects and North Korea’s missiles are destroyed while they are still figuring out what to do with them. Worst case, they only think it’s happening that fast, and are pressured into launching all their nukes before they lose them on the ground.

If we can’t destroy the missiles on the ground, we’ll shoot them out of the sky. Mostly. Well, we’ll try. The Patriot missile system was notoriously problematic in stopping Iraq’s Scud missiles during Operation Desert Storm, but that was a quarter of a century and two upgrade cycles ago. The latest versions work much better – there’s a war going on right now in which over fifty Scuds and Tochkas have been fired at a US ally, with almost 75% being destroyed in flight by Patriot missiles. South Korea and Japan are defended by an integrated system of Patriot, Aegis, and now THAAD, which should be better than 90% effective under similar conditions.

Unfortunately, the conditions won’t be similar. First, we’ll be dealing with Scud-ER and Nodong missiles, which deliver detached warheads at up to twice the speed of classic Scuds. Unclear how much of a difference that makes. Their ICBMs, eventually, will fly fast enough that only the Alaska-based NMD system will have much chance against them, and NMD only scores 50% in peacetime tests. Second, Yemeni Scuds come one at a time; North Korea has been practicing volley launches and time-on-target salvos. THAAD and Patriot have been successfully tested against a five-missile salvo, once; North Korea can probably deliver twenty simultaneous missiles from five different launch sites. They won’t all be nuclear, but that’s not a shell game anyone wants to play.

Finally, the North Koreans aren’t likely to let us take free shots against their missiles. They will probably consdier targeting the missile defenses themselves – particularly the single THAAD site covering the Korean peninsula. Beyond the purely tactical effect, that’s an ideal target for “are you sure you want to fight this war?” last-ditch deterrence. They’ve got options, starting with coordinated salvo firing until they get lucky. Their ballistic-missile submarines won’t have to go far offshore to strike from outside THAAD’s engagement arc. And they have formidable special-operations forces, capable of insertion by land, sea, and air and of striking the most valuable targets in South Korea. Do THAAD crews practice missile defense while under close-range mortar fire?

TL,DR: North Korea isn’t likely to launch anything nuclear unless they believe they are under attack; then all bets are off. They will likely start with chemical weapons, then step up to single nuclear strikes against military targets in one of the allied nations. If that doesn’t work, broader attacks against airbases, logistics hubs, and command centers, many of these in or near cities, until at least one of the allies decides maybe this isn’t their fight after all and the North Korean Army drives off the degraded remnants of a broken alliance. That’s the plan, which we will confound by destroying their missiles on the ground and in the air. They’ll confound our plans with shoot-and-scoot tactics from hidden tunnels, coordinated missile salvos, and attacks on missile defense sites. There are huge unknowns in how all of this will work in practice.

Or maybe we’ve gotten this all wrong, and Kim-Muad’Dib will end up using the atomics against a natural terrain feature that is in his way. As I said, discerning plans is harder than discerning technical capabilities. But this is my best guess, and that of the people I work with. Maybe we’ll find out if we were right.
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