The US Army in the Second Nuclear Age: What is its role in South Korea?

By Ed Timperlake

With North Korea now a nuclear power with evolving strike missile capabilities, the past is not prologue to the defense of South Korea.

The US Army is not simply a barrier force to the invasion from North Korea; it needs to be shaped as part of the joint force solution to maneuver warfare and the strike and defense enterprise. 

Deterrence will rest on the ability to dismantle the offensive strike forces of North Korea and to pull apart its command structure.  It is not about preparing for a new version of the battle of the Marne.

As the US Army considers its contribution moving forward it is less about the armored forces than about the mobile defense forces.  It is less about the tank and more about the THAAD.

Recently, we published an interview with the THAAD commander on Guam and his treatment of the evolving role of Army Air Defense (ADA) provided a window into the evolving Army role. Lt. Col. Cochrane, the THADD Task Force commander who is currently based on Guam, provided insights into the efforts to shape a flexible, mobile defense force in front of the strike forces.

Missile defense is more than just one platform or system.  It is a classic case of what you call no platform fights alone.  It is a system of systems.

We combine Aegis, with THAAD with short-range defense systems, etc.

For example, at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, the 94th AAMDC and the 613 AOC coordinate air and missile defense for the Pacific Theater. The Navy and the Air Force all come together and conduct that coordination in terms of how we protect and coordinate our defense so that we are maximizing our capabilities.

It is not just a single system standing alone or operating independently.

It is the inter-dependence and the inter-operability of all these systems to all three of the branches that are actively engaged in missile and air defense.

In my unit, we are looking aggressively at how to cross link with Aegis, for example. 

This is suggestive of an evolving and significant role for ADA in Pacific defense.

One just has to look at the geography of the Pacific and ask why just Guam and does a THAAD Battery always have to be moved by truck?

The answer to this question is part of a larger question: how does Army missile defense play in the attack and defense enterprise within the strategic quadrangle?

With the significant capabilities, which the South Korean ground forces have put in place, the US Army can migrate to play a significant role in the attack and defense enterprise.

If Big Army sends ADA it is recognition of the trust in the combat success of seven decades of capability building partnership with South Korea.

Sending ADA is very important, vice the expense of heavy lift on the USAF moving heavy armored US Army forces.

THAAD  is a new and developing technology, and a strong signal of complete US command confidence in South Korean military capability…..

How Does ADA Play a Key Role?

Everything has changed since the last Korean War–deterrence and war fighting using a US  Big US Army solution has gone from being  the cold war “trip wire force”–like Berlin Garrison and troops in West Germany — to now being a “hostage” force if the Dear Leader resorts to throwing a nuc or two.

Even a remote possibility of that happening changes the entire dynamic of a possible second Korean War.

It is imperative, because of the time factor of deterrence, that the North Korean Leadership be totally targeted and killed from their first round going down range and they must know that the threat to do so is real and credible.

Big Army as a Seitzkreig defense force brings nothing to that fight and in fact it sends the exact wrong signal: We are accepting a protracted ground war in which the North Koreans can introduce nuclear weapons at a war winning moment.

The second Korean War has the possibility of being won using conventional airpower and weapons employing joint and coalition airpower.

A significant contribution of US Army ADA rather than armored forces is the contribution, which the Army could make to an effective deterrent, and war winning strategy.

“In 2014 our adversaries – state and non-state – will know that to confront the US and its allies in a conventional, force-on-force fight will be to lose; as Professor Colin Gray has said,  ‘If an enemy chooses, or has no practical alternative other than to wage warfare in a regular conventional way, US air power will defeat it long before US ground power comes into contact.’”

It also has to be the right type of airpower. Army helos getting close to or over flying across DMZ makes no sense. Even ZSU-23s will chew them up let alone MANPADS. The Army Longbow failed attack in Iraq proved that point.  An F-22 can toss a SDB out from 40+ miles away and a B-1 can independently toss out over 100 SDBs in one pass.

An enhanced contribution by the right Army branch–ADA- can provide for runway survivability in depth which can empower the kind of air strikes to  take out their leadership.

Without Dear leader would the North Korean Army still fight?

US airpower targeting should plan on quickly finding that out as the first enemy salvo goes down range.

For the complete piece on the debate about the shifting role for the US Army in the defense of South Korea see the following:


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