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If tensions between the U.S. and North Korea reach the point where America uses its mighty air power against the rogue nation, it won’t be much of a battle, experts told Fox News.
In recent weeks, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned that all options “are on the table” should the communist dictatorship continue to threaten its neighbors and the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence echoed that sentiment, saying “North Korea would do well not to test [President Trump’s] resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
If that strength includes U.S. airpower, North Korea’s antiquated Korean People’s Army Air Force (KPAAF) wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight.
According to a 2015 Pentagon report, “The North Korean Air Force (NKAF), a fleet of more than 1,300 aircraft that are primarily legacy Soviet models, is primarily responsible for defending North Korean air space.
“However,” the report continued, “because of the technological inferiority of most of its aircraft fleet and rigid air defense command and control structure, much of North Korea’s air defense is provided by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and antiaircraft artillery (AAA).”
Still, the so-called Hermit Kingdom has some impressive defense capabilities, according to Col. David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“The one important capability that they have that is more important than their aircraft is their integrated air defense system.” Maxwell told Fox News. “These radars, missiles, and gun systems will have to be immediately suppressed and destroyed when hostilities begin. The air defenses are more of a threat than their Air Force.”
The Pentagon report states that North Korea’s military has not acquired new fighter aircraft “in decades” and states that their most capable combat aircraft were procured from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.
Compounding matters, North Korean pilots are poorly trained. Some reports state they receive less than 20 hours of flight time per year, a small fraction of what a U.S. pilot would receive. A big reason for their lack of flight hours is sanctions on fuel imports into North Korea. Lack of fuel means a lack of flying hours.
Should the U.S. use airpower to attack, North Korea would most-likely attempt to engage them, Maxwell said. But there is a good chance every one of our pilots could “become an ace very quickly after hostilities begin,” Maxwell said.
North Korea threatened Sunday to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military prowess as two Japanese Navy ships joined a U.S. strike group for exercises in the Philippine Sea.
“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” according to North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s newspaper, the Rodong Sinmum.
The paper also likened the USS Carl Vinson to a “gross animal” and said a strike on the carrier would be “an actual example to show our military’s force.”
President Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson to sail to waters off the Korean Peninsula in response to the rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests and threats to attack the U.S. and its allies. Vice President Pence said Saturday that group would arrive “within days.”
The Vinson and two other U.S. warships were joined by two Japanese destroyers as they continued their journey north in the western Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The U.S. group also includes a guided-missile cruiser and a guided-missile destroyer.
The aircraft carrier had canceled a scheduled visit to Australia to divert toward North Korea in a show of force, though it still conducted a curtailed training exercise with Australia before doing so.
The Navy called the exercise “routine” and said it is designed to improve combined maritime response and defense capabilities, as well as joint maneuvering proficiency.
The Vinson group has conducted three previous bilateral exercises with the Japanese Navy since leaving San Diego on Jan. 5 for a western Pacific deployment. The most recent one was in March.
Analysts believe that North Korea could be gearing up for its sixth nuclear test in wake of a failed missile launch and ahead of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, which takes place Tuesday.
North Korea conducted two of its five nuclear tests last year and is believed to be working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach the mainland U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
And that conventional weaponry is reliable, unlike North Korea’s missiles, and could cause major devastation in South Korea, which is a staunch ally of the United States.
“This becomes a very limiting factor for the U.S.,” said Carl Baker, a retired Air Force officer with extensive experience in South Korea.
As tensions between North Korea and the outside world have risen over the past month, there has been increasing talk about the United States using military force either to preempt a North Korean provocation or to respond to one.
That talk continues even after it emerged that the Navy had not sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, as officials, including President Trump, had implied.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said this week that he supported striking North Korea to stop it from developing the capability to reach the United States with a missile — even if that came at a huge cost for the region.
“It would be terrible, but the war would be over [in South Korea], it wouldn’t be here,” Graham said in an interview with NBC.
Although most of the recent focus has been on North Korea’s ambition to be able to strike the continental United States with a missile, the people of South Korea have been living under the constant threat of a conventional North Korean attack for decades.
North Korea has “a tremendous amount of artillery” right opposite Seoul, said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior imagery analyst at 38 North, a website focused on North Korea.
The Second Corps of the Korean People’s Army stationed at Kaesong on the northern side of the DMZ has about 500 artillery pieces, Bermudez said. And this is just one army corps; similar corps are on either side of it.
All the artillery pieces in the Second Corps can reach the northern outskirts of Seoul, just 30 miles from the DMZ, but the largest projectiles could fly to the south of the capital. About 25 million people — or half of the South Korean population — live in the greater Seoul metropolitan area.
“It’s the tyranny of proximity,” said David Maxwell, who served in South Korea during his 30 years in the Army and now teaches at Georgetown University. “It’s like the distance between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Imagine a million-man army just outside the Beltway with artillery they could use to terrorize Washington.”
About half of North Korea’s artillery pieces are multiple rocket launchers, including 18 to 36 of the huge 300mm launchers that Pyongyang has bragged about. State media last year published photos of the system during a test firing that Kim attended.
The 300mm guns could probably fire eight rounds every 15 minutes, Bermudez said, and have a range of about 44 miles.
“This could do a lot of damage,” he said. “If they hit a high-rise building with a couple of rounds of artillery, people get into their cars, causing huge traffic jams, so North Korea could target highways and bridges in cascades.”
If North Korea were to start unleashing its artillery on the South, it would be able to fire about 4,000 rounds an hour, Roger Cavazos of the Nautilus Institute estimated in a 2012 study. There would be 2,811 fatalities in the initial volley and 64,000 people could be killed that first day, the majority of them in the first three hours, he wrote.
Some of the victims would be American, because the U.S. military has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. The higher estimates for the 300mm rocket launcher’s range — up to 65 miles — would put the U.S. Air Force base at Osan and the new military garrison at Pyeongtaek, the replacement for the huge base in Seoul, within reach.
This prospect of extensive damage and casualties has restrained successive U.S. administrations, however provocative North Korea has been.
“Every U.S. administration, as they have looked at this problem, has said that all options are available. But that’s not really true,” said Baker, who is at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We really don’t have a military option.”
Vice President Pence, speaking in Seoul this week, said that all options are on the table for dealing with North Korea, echoing statements that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made in Seoul last month.
There was a similar discussion in 1994, when North Korea threatened to go nuclear, sparking talk of surgical strikes.
“People in Washington were saying, ‘We have the capability to do this,’ but those of us who were sitting in Seoul said, ‘You can’t do that,’ ” Baker said.
It is not just South Korea that would suffer. Such action would be devastating for North Korea, too, because the U.S. and South Korean militaries have spent decades developing their counter-battery capability, as well as developing plans for airstrikes to take out North Korea’s facilities.
“Defending Seoul against such a threat is the top priority for the alliance,” said Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general in the South Korean army who served as commander of South Korea’s Special Warfare Command.
“The U.S. and South Korean response would be immediate. We have assets along the DMZ dedicated for doing this job and counter-battery units trained to conduct these missions,” Chun said.
Although the White House has doubled down on its statements on the USS Carl Vinson heading to the Korean Peninsula — “It’s happening,” spokesman Sean Spicer said this week — former military officers on both sides of the alliance say they are sure that Trump will not put South Korean lives at risk.
“I believe that General [Jim] Mattis and General [H.R.] McMaster are well aware of this,” Maxwell said, referring to the defense secretary and the national security adviser.
“Of course it concerns me,” Chun said of the recent talk about strikes, “but I’ve always believed that, with good common sense and engagement, cooler heads will prevail.”
North Korean state media threatened to launch a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” that would reduce South Korea and the United states “to ashes.”
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper for North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, wrote, “In the case of our super-mighty pre-emptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” according to Reuters. The rogue nation also claimed the U.S. and its allies “should not mess with us.”
The threat came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. was exploring ways to pressure North Korea to the negotiation table over its nuclear program.
“We’re reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us,” Tillerson said on Wednesday. “But re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held.”
The seretive regime also released a propaganda video over the weekend that showed a simulated nuclear missile attack destroying an unidentified American city. A cemetery and American flag appeared with flames superimposed over the footage.
Tensions continue to mount as Trump takes a harder stance against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Last week, the president made comments to Fox Business that he was sending an “armada” to deter Pyongyang.
“We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier,” Trump told the Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo last week. “We have the best military people on Earth. And I will say this: [North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un] is doing the wrong thing.”
The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday the carrier, USS Carl Vinson, was heading toward the Korean Peninsula, but only after it passes through Australia.
Pyongyang has promised to continue building its “nuclear deterrant” to prepare for any perceived or real attacks, adding that Trump’s administration was “more vicious and more aggressive” than the administration under former President Barack Obama.
On Sunday, the country attempted to launch an intermediate-range Musudan missile, but it blew up within seconds, one official said. The test occured at an air base near the city of Wonsan North Korea’s east coast along the Sea of Japan.
Vice President Mike Pence touched down in South Korea Sunday for his 10-day tour of Asia, where he said the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea was over.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan echoed the same sentiment during his visit to London. Ryan said allowing Kim to “have that kind of power” was unacceptable.
Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have criticized Pyongyang’s recent “reckless” acts, reassuring allies in the region that under Donald Trump the US will stand up to its enemies with its allies.
Two top US officials have addressed ongoing concerns with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, as tensions in East Asia ratchet up following the tough line President Donald Trump has taken toward Pyongyang in recent weeks.
Speaking to troops on board the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on Wednesday, US Vice President Mike Pence called North Korea the most urgent and dangerous threat to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region.
Earlier in Tokyo, where he was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence emphasized US solidarity with its regional allies. “We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan,” Pence said after arriving there from Seoul. “We are with you 100 percent.”
Pence also reassured leaders that Washington remained committed to holding North Korea accountable for its actions. “While all options are on the table,” he said, “President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China” to deal with the problem.
Abe also emphasized the need for world leaders to force Pyongyang to the table, saying, “dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless and it is necessary for us to exercise pressure on North Korea so that it comes forward and engages in this serious dialogue.”
Spotlight on China’s role
Pence on Monday had made an unannounced visit to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, where he warned that “the era of strategic patience is over.”
While Pence was in East Asia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was touring the Middle East, where he also touched upon the North Korea issue.
“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile,” Mattis said, referring to Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile launch.
The defense secretary also credited Beijing with trying to reign in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
The rhetoric between North Korea and the US began heating up noticeably in early April after Trump, in an interview with the “Financial Times” newspaper, said the US was willing to act unilaterally if necessary to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Following those comments, Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, after which he said Beijing was working closely with Washington on the issue.
blc/cmk (AP, Reuters)
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Various North Korean diplomats have responded to the recent rising of tensions between the country and the United States. The statements followed US VP Pence’s visit to the Demilitarized Zone on the Koreas’ border.
North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC that an “all out war” could result if the US took military action. “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” Han said in Monday’s interview.
His comments came a day after the country test-fired a missile, which exploded within moments of its launch. The malfunctioning missile was intended to be part of the celebrations commemorating the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founding president and “eternal president.”
Nuclear weapon ‘not a bargaining tool’
Another North Korean deputy foreign minister, Sin Hong-chol, meanwhile told Al Jazeera news that its army was on “maximum alert” after Monday’s visit by US Vice President Mike Pence to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and the North. There, Pence had said that Washington’s “era of strategic patience” with regard to North Korea was over.
Sin warned that “if we notice any sign of assault on our sovereignty, our army will launch merciless military strikes against the US aggressors, wherever they may exist, from the remote US lands to the American military bases on the Korean Peninsula, such as those of Japan and elsewhere.”
“The nuclear weapon in our possession is not illusion; it is not a commodity that may be traded for American dollars – nor is it for sale. So it cannot be put on the negotiating table with the aim to rip it off,” Sin said in the interview with Al Jazeera.
North Korea threatens with retaliation if attacked
North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Kim In Ryong meanwhile told a news confernece in New York that the hermit kingdom was ready for “any mode of war,” saying that North Korea would respond to a missile or nuclear strike “in kind.”
“If the United States dares opt for a military action (…) the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the Americans,” Kim said. “We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs.”
US remains tough against North Korea
The statements from the North Korean envoys came after US Vice President Mike Pence told Pyongyang not to test US resolve following the failed missile test.
“All options are on the table as we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of South Korea,” Pence said during his visit to the Korean Peninsula after US President Donald Trump had sent a Navy strike group to the Korean peninsula earlier in the weekend.
Russia also reacted to Pence’s comments on the Koreas’ border, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling reporters in Moscow: “I hope very much that there will not be any unilateral steps as we did in Syria.”
Meanwhile US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea next week.