With tensions on the Korean Peninsula heating up, a recent analysis by Stratfor provides us with a glimpse into what methods the United States could use to carry out a military strike against the Kim Regime, with the goal of reducing its nuclear program.
The Stratfor analysis assumes that the United States will conduct a limited attack on North Korea using stealth aircraft and cruise missiles launched from both ships and submarines located in nearby waters. While the North Koreans do have an air defense network, it is relatively obsolete and would likely be incapable of detecting or defending against full-spectrum stealth aircraft including the F-22 fighter and the B-2 bomber as shown here:
The F-22 has the capability of flying at more than the speed of sound for an extended period of time and in its air-to-ground role, can carry two 1000 pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), two AIM-120C and two AIM-9 missiles. In its air-to-air role, it can carry six AIM-120C and two AIM-9 missiles. All of the F-22s armaments are carried internally, an important part of its stealth characteristics and its reduced aerodynamic drag.
The B-2 bomber is capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions and has an unfueled range of 9600 kilometres or 6000 nautical miles. Its low observability is derived from reduced visual, infrared, electromagnetic and radar signatures which make it difficult for even sophisticated defense systems to detect and track the B-2. It has a payload capability of 40,000 pounds and can carry 16 nuclear weapons including the B61 and B83, up to 80 MK82 conventional bombs or 12 JDAMs. The B-2 can also carry two GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrators built by Boeing. This 30,000 pound "bunker buster" is a precision-guided weapon that contains over 5,300 pounds of explosive material and is designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. As well, it has the capability of penetrating 25 feet into 10,000 psi reinforced concrete. Here is a video with some background information on the GBU-57, showing how it is ideally suited to dealing with underground nuclear facilities:
If the USAF was given sufficient time, it could assemble roughly ten B-2 bombers for a strike deep into North Korea from just about anywhere in the world (with refuelling), particularly given the significant range of the aircraft. Since the F-22 has a much shorter range, it would have to be located at airfields in either Japan or South Korea with the risk that deployment of significant numbers of F-22s would alert Pyongyang to offensive operations. As such, the analysis suggests that up to 24 F-22s could be deployed without arousing North Korean suspicions.
Not only could U.S. forces rely on stealth aircraft in operations against North Korea, it could also use Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Ohio-class submarines located off the coast of North Korea. Two of these submarines would be capable of deploying more than 300 BGM-109 Tomahawk land attack missiles as shown here:
The Tomahawk missile has a range of about 600 nautical miles or 1100 kilometres and carries a 1000 pound warhead.
Given the ability of the United States to assemble a fearsome military force against North Korea, one would expect that a strike could be surgical and that hostilities would be short-lived. There are, however, complications:
1.) North Korea has a fleet of approximately 200 transporter erector launchers (TEL) of varying designs which are quite difficult to track, particularly the TELs equipped with tracks rather than wheels which give them access to very remote, off-road areas of the country.
2.) Intelligence regarding North Korea and its nuclear program is far from perfect. There is no precise picture of where the weapons are located or how well they are protected. Intelligence would have to be extremely accurate to ensure that all weapons and delivery vehicles are destroyed, an effort that becomes increasingly unlikely as North Korea's nuclear and missile capability evolves.
3.) North Korea has recently tested its first solid-fueled missiles. These missiles are designed to be survivable in a first-strike situation, allowing North Korea to respond to any attack on its soil.
While on the surface an attack against North Korea's Kim regime may appear to be a cakewalk given the vast superiority of the United States military machine, as we have learned in the decade and a half since the Bush II Administration declared that it was "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, there is unwise to count on a quick military win when it comes to dealing with nations that are determined to keep America out.