North Korea invade South Korea?…not likely and they’ll lose

The Vuurwapen Blog links to a fascinating article about the ability of North Korea to make good on their promise to turn Seoul into a sea of fire.

In short the prospects aren’t great. The report is highly technical but really fascinating.

Three Primary Factors

  1. Range – Only about 1/3 of Seoul is presently in range from artillery along a DMZ trace.  The northern reaches of Seoul within artillery range have much lower population densities than Seoul proper;
  2. Numbers – Even though KPA has a tremendous number of artillery pieces, only a certain number are emplaced to range Seoul.  KPA can’t emplace every weapon near Seoul or the rest of North Korea’s expansive border would be unguarded and even more vulnerable.  Moreover, an artillery tube immediately reveals its location as soon as it fires. Therefore only about two-thirds of artillery will open fire at a time.  The rest are trying to remain hidden;
  3. Protection – Artillery shelters for twenty million people exist in the greater Seoul metropolitan area.  After the initial surprise has worn off, there simply won’t be large numbers of exposed people. Even during the initial attack the vast majority of people will either be at work, at home, or in transit.  Few people will be standing in the middle of an open field with no protection whatsoever available anywhere nearby. 

Three Secondary Factors

  1. Dud rate – the only numbers available—to the DPRK as well as the rest of the world—indicate a dud rate of twenty-five percent.  It’s like immediately taking every fourth artillery tube away.
  2. Counter-battery fires – shortly after the KPA artillery begins firing, and the political decision has been made, South Korean artillery, Air Forces, and others will begin destroying artillery at a historical rate of 1% per hour.  South Korea has had approximately 50 years to figure out where North Korean artillery tubes are emplaced using every sense available to man and machine.
  3. Logistics – in order to move south from the DMZ trace and place the rest of Seoul at risk, KPA must expose approximately 2,500 thin-skinned vehicles each day along three well-defined transportation corridors.  Otherwise, KPA grinds to an almost immediate halt without a way to transport fuel, ammunition and spare parts needed to continue moving south.  Alternatively, KPA can scavenge from ROK fuel stores and depots if they have not been previously destroyed.

It is calculated that North Korea has zero capability of actually delivering a nuke. They do however have chemical and biological capability. Unsurprisingly the war is likely to be won in the air. That is bad news for North Korea.

Given a battlefield air interdiction rate approaching 0.5 [13] and that ROK has 467 aircraft, [14] the ROK alone can destroy approximately 230 targets per sortie. The ROK would likely get one to two sorties before the DPRK attempts to shut down ROK airfields by conventional means or by escalating to chemical or biological weapons.

However, the cost to the DPRK of resorting to chemicals or biological weapons is extremely high.  Moreover, in the end, it will not significantly impact the military outcome, even though it would certainly impact the political outcome.  The vast majority of U.S. aircraft are not on the Korean peninsula and are out of DPRK range.  If the U.S. were to bring only half of the Air Force fighter and bomber fleet [15] to bear, the DPRK would likely lose another 500-700 targets per day in addition to those lost to direct, indirect and counter-battery-fire and various other reasons.  And even assuming the forces are successful, they will likely run out of fuel and ammunition in one to two weeks unless the DPRK leaves ROK stores intact and scavenges ROK fuel supplies. These calculations exclude Naval and Marine aircraft as well as TLAMs.  The DPRK would likely lose 20% of their tanks and artillery per day which is consistent with Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.  In particular, the DPRK would suffer the majority of the damage in the first week, starting as soon as they leave their covered positions.

The mathematical calculations of death rates is morbid but fascinating to see how these things are calculated.


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  • thor42

    I agree – it’s very unlikely.

    Much *more* likely is that Kim and his fellow thugs will just continue to trough it up large and ignore everyone else. Not even China seems to be able to get them to change.

  • Dion

    Hey, at least they have Keith Locke on their side.

  • Orange

    Does the DPRK read these reports and go “oh crap they know where our shi4 is!”?

  • Patrick

    North Korea attacks South Korea, SK retaliates, the Chinese supply weaponary to the DPRK, the Yanks support the South & before you know it here we go again – the world starts lobbing bombs at each other & millions of young men are killed fighting a “just cause”.

  • Michael

    China will stop backing DPRK stupidity and tell them if they invade ROK territory they will be doing it on their own. The Chinese know the US Air Force can level Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou long before China gets anything near Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

    • Dan

      I wouldnt underestimate the power of China. China I would imagine would lend most of the money that the U.S use to fund their Defence.. on top of that China has one major allie that would the U.S prob dont wanna piss off. Russia.

  • Mr_Blobby

    North Korea to China, is like Americas Israel. They don’t really like them, but strategically they have no choice but to support them.

    The answer is 10-15 low yield tactical nuclear warheads.

    South Korea would have plans in place, to close the border, to deal with the millions that would take the opportunity to head south. How would you integrate millions of people into your society that would not know how to operate, simple things like a TV remote, a DVD or a microwave.

  • J.M

    NK knows they can’t win, so will just carry on as normal. JUst hoping there is not a 4th generation Kim in power in 30 years time.

  • Ururoa

    Doesn’t the DPK remind you of a toddler that just wants attention, irrespective of whether its good or bad? The best thing the world could do with these fruitcakes is just ignore them; let them jump up and down as much as they like. If you ignore them when they behave badly, sooner or later they will realize if they want attention, they will have to start behaving properly.