DPRK’s New Nukes & Missiles Force US, South Korea to Rethink War Plans - Report
© AP Photo / South Korea Defense MinistryЗапуск южнокорейской баллистической ракеты малой дальности Hyunmoo II в ходе совместных военных учений США и Южной Кореи
© AP Photo / South Korea Defense Ministry
US and South Korean defense chiefs are expected to propose beginning to draw up new war plans in case of a conflict with the North that takes into account its advances in nuclear weapons and missiles made in recent years.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed at Osan Air Base south of Seoul on Wednesday for a three-day visit that will include the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), an annual meeting between defense chiefs of the US and the Republic of Korea (RoK), South Korea’s formal name. Austin is expected to float the idea of revising the operation plan (OPLAN) with his counterpart, Defense Minister Suh Wook.
Also on Wednesday, the RoK Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul will hold the 46th Military Committee Meeting (MCM) with his American counterpart, Gen. Mark Milley.
“The DPRK has advanced its capabilities. The strategic environment has changed over the past few years,” a senior defense official told reporters during an in-flight press gaggle on Tuesday, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). “It’s appropriate and necessary that we have an OPLAN that is updated.”
Another defense official said that while the review isn’t in response to any new threat, a new OPLAN will need to address “advances in North Korean capabilities, particularly with respect to missile delivery capability.”
Those advances include tests of a new cruise missile, a new hypersonic glide vehicle, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and a railcar-launched short-range ballistic missile, all of which have occurred in the last three months. However, other advances need to be considered as well, since the existing plan is 10 years old, dating to a time when the DPRK didn’t have thermonuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or short-range ballistic missiles it claims can evade US air defense systems.
© KCNAA new submarine-launched ballistic missile, provisionally designated the Pukguksong-5, is unveiled in a military parade in Pyongyang, DPRK, on January 14, 2021
A new submarine-launched ballistic missile, provisionally designated the Pukguksong-5, is unveiled in a military parade in Pyongyang, DPRK, on January 14, 2021
Washington and Seoul have a number of OPLANs prepared for possible situations on the peninsula, ranging from an invasion of the South by the North to a sudden internal collapse of the DPRK’s socialist government, as well as the possibility that China might or might not join the DPRK in a given conflict, as it did when the US-led invasion of the North neared the China-DPRK border in November 1950.
Getting Control Over its Own Army
One of the primary purposes of Austin’s visit is to draw up plans for evaluating if Seoul can be given wartime operational control (OPCON) - that is, the right to command its own troops in battle, Yonhap News Agency reported. When the US joined the Korean War in 1950, then-South Korean President Syngman Rhee handed control over the fledgling South Korean military to the Pentagon, and the ceasefire agreement in 1953 saw the US retain that control after the shooting stopped.
A permanent peace treaty has never been signed with the DPRK, which Pyongyang cites as one of the primary reasons it needs nuclear weapons: to guarantee its safety from a US-RoK attack.
The US - technically United Nations Command, which served as a front for the US intervention in Korea - retained control until 1978, when the Combined Forces Command was created as part of then-US President Jimmy Carter’s plans to eventually pull US troops out of South Korea. Those plans were scrapped by Ronald Reagan, who increased US troop numbers as part of an across-the-board strategy to ramp up tensions with the Soviet Union and its socialist allies.
The CFC gave Seoul operational control during armistice conditions beginning in 1994, but under the agreement that remains in force at present, that control would revert to Washington in the event of a shooting war.
The first steps of that transfer were taken in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic put them on hold. However, the DPRK isn’t the only concern: Seoul must demonstrate it could also handle its own forces in the event of a war with China, too.
According to the defense officials, one of the remaining worries is whether Seoul can take over issues “related to ballistic missile defense” from the United States.
© AP Photo / South Korea Defense MinistryIn this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, right top, flies over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean fighter jets and U.S. fighter jets during the combined aerial exercise, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, right top, flies over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean fighter jets and U.S. fighter jets during the combined aerial exercise, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017
© AP Photo / South Korea Defense Ministry
Seoul has bought Patriot air defense systems from the United States and developed its own KM-SAM or Cheolmae-2 system using technology borrowed from Russian arms makers Almaz-Antey and Fakel, which produce the 9696 missile used on the S-350E and S-400 air defense systems. They have also worked to develop their own analogue to Israel’s Iron Dome system for intercepting expected North Korean rocket and artillery barrages, which maker LIG Nex1 unveiled in October as the low-altitude missile defense system (LAMD).
However, Seoul remains dependent on the US’ Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which got an upgrade in May. THAAD has a much longer and higher range than the Patriot, with its radar capable of seeing up to 3,000 kilometers away, giving it the ability to help Patriots prepare to engage targets before their own radars could see them when the two systems are linked.
Separately, the Biden administration has also approved a new Global Posture Review which, while classified, reportedly calls for shifting more US military resources from other theaters into the Indo-Pacific, according to Defense One. That is in line with the strategy laid out by the prior Trump administration, which described a shift from the War on Terror toward great power competition with Russia and China while addressing other challenges from the DPRK, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, among other nations that refuse to cooperate with US foreign policy.