ROK Live Fire 2015

For some reason, Korea, like a lot of Asian nations, loves to put on a big spectacle live fire for domestic consumption.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVXQlkpaC5k?feature=player_embedded]

Our Army doesn’t do much of this. It really don’t have much training value, and fuel and ammo are expensive.

Still, it’s hella fun to watch.

H/T Brobible.

June 25th, 1950

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Today marks the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War.  Most of us here know that the war itself has not ended, that the DPRK and the ROK remain in a state of war, temporarily becalmed by an armistice signed in July of 1953.

The war was fought by Veterans of World War II, as well as their little brothers.  There were more than 36,000 US killed in action among the more than 130,000 American casualties in that war, many times the order of magnitude of Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  In just over three years.   There are lessons aplenty from that war regarding preparedness, combat training, leadership, and budget-driven assumptions.

There are several superlative works on the Korean War, fiction and non-fiction.  Here are some I recommend highly:

T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War

James Brady’s The Coldest War

Two Martin Russ works, The Last Parallel, and Breakout.

S. L. A. Marshall’s The River and the Gauntlet

Pat Frank’s magnificent novel Hold Back the Night

P. K. O’Donnell’s Give me Tomorrow

Clay Blair’s The Forgotten War

There are many, many others, including some incredibly good Army monographs, but those are among my favorites.  I lent out Marshall’s book some years ago (you know who you are!!) and never got it back.  So that may be my next purchase.

Anyway, the first test of the Strategy of Containment began in the early hours, sixty-five years ago this morning.

Inchon, and Operational Maneuver From The Sea

The surprise North Korean invasion of South Korea steamrolled over lightly armed and poorly trained South Korean troops. Even the addition of US airpower and troop units did little to slow the onslaught. The defenders were soon pushed back to a small perimeter defending the port of Pusan. Pusan port was both their logistical lifeline, and presented the escape route should the perimeter fail.

But all was not lost. By the end of the summer of 1950, significant US troop units were available for commitment. Further, the North Korean army had stretched its lines of communication about as far as they could go.

Conventional military thinking called for the deployment of fresh forces into the Pusan perimeter, where eventually they could stage a counterattack, break out of the siege, and force the North Koreans back.

But a glance at the map would show that Korea is a peninsula. With the long shorelines on both coasts, North Korea had been forced to concentrate its ground forces at the Pusan perimeter, and its lines of communication were lightly defended.  These flanks were ripe for attack. And the commander of UN forces in Korea, General of the Army Douglas McArthur, was a past master of amphibious assaults, having used them brilliantly in World War II.  To our eyes some 60 year later, the choice to stage an amphibious assault seems easy.

Except…

The large scale demobilization of the services after World War II included a deliberate choice to mothball virtually all of the Navy’s amphibious warfare capability. The advent of nuclear weapons had convinced Navy planners (and Army planners as well) that any large scale amphibious landing would present a concentrated target tempting an enemy to use atomic weapons against it. A single atomic weapon would not only doom any landing, it would impose catastrophic losses of both shipping and manpower. And so the ability to land an expeditionary force against a defended coast had largely been foregone.

Further, while a brief glance at the map shows Korea as a peninsula, a detailed examination shows it to have some of the most inhospitable coasts, almost completely unsuitable for landings with the technology of the time.  Further, with the slashing of the US amphibious fleet, logistics over any assault beaches would be impossible. It’s one thing to land a force, it’s a far more difficult task to keep it supplied.

General MacArthur, after careful study, chose to conduct an amphibious assault, and chose the port of Inchon (which serves the South Korean capitol of Seoul) as the objective.  Located about halfway up the peninsula on the west coast, Inchon was lightly defended, and was a sufficiently deep envelopment that the North Korean army could not easily shift forces from Pusan to Inchon. But Inchon lies at the end of a long, notoriously treacherous channel with some of the worlds most complex tides. Further, rather than assaulting across open beaches, the troops would have to attack across a seawall onto open paved areas with little or no cover and concealment.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had grave misgivings about the risks involved. Finding, mobilizing, training and deploying sufficient amphibious shipping and landing craft would be an enormous challenge, and the risks involved. If the Inchon channel was mined, or should the landing force otherwise falter, the invading force might be destroyed in detail.  The failure of any landing attempt would almost certainly cause support for our actions in Korea to collapse.

But the prospect of cutting off the North Koreans and destroying their invading army was tantalizing, and despite their doubts, the Joint Chiefs allowed the commander on the scene to follow his own course.

And so, on this day, September 15, in 1950, elements of the 1st Marine Division, with troops of the 7th Infantry Division in follow on waves, were landed by the US Navy at Inchon, in what is widely hailed as a strategic masterstroke, and one of the most decisive victories ever.

File:Battle of Inchon.png

The landings came as a strategic and tactical surprise to the North Koreans. With their lines of communication threatened, coupled with a breakout by UN forces in the Pusan perimeter, the North Korean army was soon fleeing South Korea in disarray. Had the landing forces at Inchon moved faster to retake Seoul, the North Koreans might have been trapped and destroyed. As it was, they barely managed to retreat not only from South Korea, but northward through their own country to the line of the Yalu River, where soon “volunteers” from the People’s Liberation Army of China would come to their rescue, and dashing hopes for any rapid victory and a lasting peace.

File:Lopez scaling seawall.jpg

First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, USMC, leads the 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines over the seawall on the northern side of Red Beach, as the second assault wave lands, 15 September 1950, during the Inchon invasion. Wooden scaling ladders are in use to facilitate disembarkation from the LCVP that brought these men to the shore. Lt. Lopez was killed in action within a few minutes, while assaulting a North Korean bunker. Note M-1 Carbine carried by Lt. Lopez, M-1 Rifles of other Marines and details of the Marines’ field gear. Photo number NH 96876. Image Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center.

Mastery of the seas and the ability to land forces upon hostile shores gives a ground commander a freedom of maneuver that allows him to choose the time and place of his assault, and usually provides him the opportunity to attack an undefended or lightly held position. The use of such maneuver to unhinge an enemy is a key to the operational art, whether it be the “Hail Mary” sweep to the west during Operation Desert Storm or the amphibious envelopment at Inchon in 1950.  Since that time, the US has been careful to maintain both the shipping and the expertise to allow it to conduct amphibious assaults worldwide.

Bomb North Korea?

Hardly a day goes by where I don’t find myself in disagreement with at least something from the Op-Ed pages of the NYT. Today is no exception. It’s far more rare that I find myself in agreement with the left leaning blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Today is an exception.

University of Texas Professor of History Jeremi Suri argues that the US should preemptively strike North Korea’s ballistic missile capability.

The Korean crisis has now become a strategic threat to America’s core national interests. The best option is to destroy the North Korean missile on the ground before it is launched. The United States should use a precise airstrike to render the missile and its mobile launcher inoperable.

President Obama should state clearly and forthrightly that this is an act of self-defense in response to explicit threats from North Korea and clear evidence of a prepared weapon. He should give the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan advance notice before acting. And he should explain that this is a limited defensive strike on a military target — an operation that poses no threat to civilians — and that America does not intend to bring about regime change. The purpose is to neutralize a clear and present danger. That is all.

Erik Loomis at LGM notes:

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Well then. Might as well just bomb North Korea and see what happens!

For that matter, we might just want to consult our South Korean allies on the matter, rather than just giving them advanced notice since, after all, the inevitably resulting war would take place on their turf. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and one of the densest metroplexes on Earth, lies within easy artillery range of North Korea. I’m not entirely convinced they’d relish being plastered by thousands and thousands of artillery rounds and rockets just based on a hunch that North Korea was doing more than its usual sabre-rattling-for-aid routine.

That’s not to say I don’t take the threat of a nuclear armed North Korea seriously. Just that any serious (or even the most amateur)  student of strategy  in the nuclear era* knows there are more options on the table than shoot/don’t shoot, today, at this moment in time.  I tend to agree with URR that willfully lying to ourselves that China is a strategic partner with a shared interest in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula is foolish. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out to China that a full scale crisis holds greater risks to them economically and politically than it does to us, and maybe dialing it back a bit might help.  A steadfast refusal to submit to North Korean extortion for aid might be a good idea as well. And finally, if historians must weigh in on the matter, perhaps they should stick to reminding the Obama/Kerry foreign policy team of the parlous rates of returns that investing North Korean promises of good behavior in the past, when previous tantrums have been rewarded with food, fuel oil, and nuclear reactors.

*As opposed to nuclear strategy. Nuclear strategy is how to fight a nuclear war. Strategy in the nuclear era is how to avoid a nuclear war.

Truman vs. MacArthur

Last week, we discussed the Marine who got in trouble for criticizing President Obama on his Facebook posts. URR said, “If this Marine Sgt is punished, then General McChrystal should be immediately recalled to ACDU and face a General Court Martial, as his statements ARE in clear violation of DoD guidance contained in 1344.10.” This made me think of other generals, namely General Douglas MacArthur.

On this day in 1951, President Harry Truman relieved General MacArthur of command. While this disciplinary action was not for disparaging the President, MacArthur had disobeyed orders from Truman and made several moves which infuriated the President. The two men had met in something of a photo op on Wake Island in October 1950, right before the midterm elections. General Omar Bradley’s notes on the Wake Island conference are here and here (pdf). On the second page of that second document is the statement:

We must do everything we can to localize the conflict in Korea. Politically, we must assure the Chinese and the Soviets that they are not being threatened militarily in Korea but we must also keep before them their recklessness of active intervention on their part. Militarily, we must use extreme measures to prevent incidents involving United Nations forces and Chinese or Soviet forces or territory.

Throughout the winter, MacArthur had made statements during press conferences that were not in agreement with the White House. In March, MacArthur had issued an ultimatum for the surrender of the Chinese Communists, then sent General Matthew Ridgway about 20 miles north of the 38th Parallel. This was the last straw for Truman. Truman met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then ordered the relief of MacArthur.

I deeply regret that it becomes my duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East. You will turn over your commands, effective at once, to Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway.

Back home, the news of MacArthur’s relief was quite a shock. He was a war hero and possible Presidential candidate. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio called for Truman’s impeachment, but it was settled that it was well within Truman’s power as Commander-in-Chief to control the military. MacArthur came home to warm welcomes and parades, then gave his farewell speech to Congress, with the classic line “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Anti-gun or anti-business

Via the Volokh Conspiracy, comes news that the Obama administration has banned the importation of about 100,000 M1 Garand and M1 Carbine rifles from South Korea.

According to The Korea Times, the Obama administration has blocked efforts by the South Korean government to sell over a  hundred thousand surplus M1 Garand and Carbine rifles into the United States market. These self-loading were rifles introduced in 1926 and 1941. As rifles, they are especially well-suited to community defense in an emergency, as in the cases of community defense following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Along with AR-15 type rifles, the M1 rifles are the quintessential firearms of responsible citizenship, precisely the type of firearms which civic responsibility organizations such as the Appleseed Project teach people how to use.

Korea was equipped with the Garand and the Carbine during the Korean war with weapons from US war stocks.  They held them in war reserve after reequipping with more modern weapons.

Now, the administrations purported objections are pretty stupid on their face. The Garand and the Carbine have been popular with civilian shooters here in America literally since the day WWII ended. Heck, even I owned a Garand.

So the question in my mind is “what’s going on?” And I see three possible answers. First, a mid level bureaucrat is just being stupid. That’s always a realistic possibility. Second, we are seeing the default anti-gun stance of the Obama administration. I think that has some influence here, but may not be the whole story. Indeed, the Clinton administration banned the re-importation of M1s.

The other option might be that the reflexive anti-business stance of the current administration  is at work. The objection that these weapons are just itching to get into the hands of terrorists is just laughable. First, what terrorist wants one? There are plenty of legally available weapons that might better be suited for terror. Second, these same weapons are available for sale. Today. By no less a dealer than the United States Government. Really.

The Civilian Marksmanship Program offers surplus rifles for sale to US citizens.

So maybe, the administration just doesn’t want any competition…

South Korean Armor

We are hardly an expert on South Korea, having never been stationed there, and only visiting for a month for Exercise Team Spirit ’87, the annual joint US/South Korean wargames. Still, we found it a fascinating place, and a country that faces some interesting challenges, from a defense standpoint.

South Korea is on a peninsula. It’s only shared border is with its antagonistic neighbor, North Korea. North Korea invaded South Korea in July of 1950. After some truly harrowing fighting, US forces, rushed to the scene, managed to stem the tide, defeat the North Korean People’s Army, and regain lost ground. Disaster struck once again when massive Chinese forces entered the fight on the side of North Korea. Eventually, the lines were stabilized roughly along the 38th Parallel, the original border between North and South. In effect, we were right where we started. US forces have been present on South Korean soil ever since. Still, the South Koreans understand that, ultimately, their security rests on their shoulders. They have made enormous strides in becoming  a democratic nation, and a highly industrialized one at that. A large part of that effort has been devoted to their defense industry.

From a strategic and operational standpoint, S. Korea faces a couple challenges. One, N. Korea has a massive army. It may not be particularly well equipped, but it is huge. And that army has a huge number of tanks and armored personnel carriers. Second, S. Korea isn’t that large a country. There isn’t a hell of a lot of room to maneuver on the strategic or operational scale (as contrasted to the tactical level, say, division and below).  For instance, the capitol, Seoul, is very near the border, in fact, within artillery range of N. Korea.  And being on a narrow peninsula, while it narrows the front you have to defend, and reduces the chances of flanking movements, it also allows the enemy to concentrate, and denies you the opportunity to use flanking movements in the counterattack.

One other thing. Korea is very mountainous. Like, really, really. So if you operate armored vehicles in that terrain, they better have a high horsepower to weight ratio, so they can make it up hills. There’s two ways to increase that ratio- increase the horsepower, or decrease the vehicles weight. Better yet, do both.

The Republic of Korea Army (or ROK Army) is organized along lines roughly similar to the US Army. For many years, it was equipped mostly with US weapons, but S. Korea has long worked at building its own defense industry, both to support its own army, and supply weapons to the international market. Most weapons, while not directly based on US systems, were roughly analogous. For instance, they built the K1 and K1A1 tanks, that bore a familiarity to the US M1 and M1A1 tanks.

As for armored personnel carriers, the ROK army has used a design based on the M113 since the 1980s. It is long been due for replacement. Finally, the Koreans have begun to field a new Infantry Fighting Vehicle, known as the K21 KNIFV (Korean Next-generation Infantry Fighting Vehicle).

One of the most interesting things about the K21 is how they saved weight. The K21 weighs about 26 tons.  In contrast, a Bradley weighs about 33 tons. They are similar size vehicles. How did they save the weight? Well, for one thing, they make the chassis out of fiberglass.  Yeah, fiberglass. Used in conjunction with ceramics and other materials, they can achieve good levels of protection for less weight. It will be interesting to see how it holds up to the stress of service.

As for armament, they’ve gone with a much larger weapon than a Bradley has. Instead of a 25mm autocannon, they’ve gone with a 40mm cannon. This provides a couple options that the 25mm doesn’t. First, most of the tanks it will face are older Soviet designs such as the T-55 and T-62. The APFSDS round of the 40mm can actually penetrate the side armor of these older tanks. Of course, it is fully capable of defeating armored personnel carriers. Also, with 40mm gun, you can have what are called “programmable rounds” where as the round leaves the muzzle the fire control computer sets the fuze of the round to either burst on impact, after a delay, or at a set distance from the muzzle. This is excellent for troops in the open, or for anti-aircraft fire.

The K21 also has a two-round anti-tank missile launcher, similar to the TOW launcher on a Bradley, but firing a domestically produced missile.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4se_9WrWyPw]