F-35s took off and destroyed an enemy aircraft in 10 minutes

In the early hours of August 21, a critical incident precipitated a state of emergency within the South Korean Air Force. A piercing siren echoed throughout the command center, an unequivocal signal of a North Korean military aircraft transgressing established airspace boundaries.

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Photo by Monica White Martinsen / NRK

In a swift and coordinated response, the pilots on standby rapidly embarked upon their respective fighters, initiating an exigent takeoff. A multitude of air forces, drawn from air corps stationed throughout the country, were sequentially deployed. This strategic operation engaged approximately ten fighter aircraft, incorporating the fifth-generation F-35A, F-15K, KF-16, and FA-50, in a long-range assault that successfully neutralized the enemy’s air presence.

In the throes of significant activity were the operational officers hailing from both the Air Defense Command Battalion and the Missile Defense Battalion. These officers found themselves tasked with a dual challenge when an enemy aircraft and a cruise missile simultaneously emerged on their radar. The radar equipment honed in on the trajectory of the cruise missile, diligently tracking its path. Concurrently, air defense agents, utilizing Shingoong and Cheongung, pursued and successfully intercepted the enemy aircraft.

F-16 fired a 5th-gen missile with upgraded circuit guidance cards
Photo credit: USAF

The UFS exercise

The commencement of the Ulji Freedom Shield [UFS] joint exercise, which was initiated precisely at 0000 hours on August 21, marked the beginning of the Defense Supply Exercise. This particular exercise is a strategic response to the advanced incursion capabilities of adversary air forces.

On the 23rd day of August, for 20 minutes commencing at 2:00 p.m., the resonating sound of a training siren echoed throughout the land. This siren, indicative of a hypothetical air raid warning, signified the commencement of an extensive civil defense training exercise. This exercise, barring the city of Seoul, was conducted across the majority of the country. It was a notable event, marking the first instance of such a drill being conducted in six years since 2017.

Spanning the duration of a mere 20 minutes, the training program encompassed a sequence of meticulously planned activities. It initiated with the issuance of an air raid warning that persisted for approximately 15 minutes. This was followed by a 5-minute segment dedicated to the issuance of a subsequent warning and the deactivation of the initial alert. Throughout this process, the citizens demonstrated a commendable level of responsiveness as they promptly relocated to the designated civil defense shelters.

F-35's total system performance was a serious mistake - Kendall
Photo credit: USAF

H-hour

In the hypothetical context of an all-out conflict with North Korea, an operational plan known as “OPLAN 5027” stipulates a comprehensive response strategy. According to this scenario, from the 21st to the 31st day, South Korea will commence joint military training exercises across the entire nation, preparing for the impending war. This exercise delineates a strategic blueprint primarily centered on defense. However, one may ponder the implications if North Korea were to genuinely instigate provocative actions.

If North Korea’s actions escalate to a level that can be classified as full-scale provocation, the commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command is vested with the authority to assume operational command. This critical juncture is abruptly declared as “H-hour”, symbolizing the commencement of the war.

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Photo credit: Inosmi

Simultaneously, the situation escalates from a state of peace to one of imminent warfare. Within a mere span of 10 minutes, the Air Force component command, under the joint jurisdiction of Korean and United States forces, dispatches what is referred to as an “F-hour” order. This term denotes the time it takes for an aircraft’s munitions to strike their target. The primary objective of this swift response is twofold: firstly, to diminish the human toll and protect allied forces from harm, and secondly, to bring about a rapid cessation of the hostilities, thus curtailing the duration of the war.

In the event of an escalating crisis, the plan of action calls for a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean military command, as well as key units. This strategy is designed to be the precursor to an all-out war. The question that arises, however, is whether such a response can be effectively executed under the pressure of an emergency situation.

The White Paper

As delineated in the White Paper, a stark disparity is observed in the military prowess of the two nations when it comes to their standing forces. The North Korean military, with a standing troop count that is a substantial 2.56 times greater than that of its South Korean counterpart, presents a significant variation in their respective military capacities. 

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When one merely considers the sheer scale, it would seem that North Korea holds a numerical upper hand. Nevertheless, taking into account the relentless influx of state-of-the-art weaponry into the arsenal of the Republic of Korea’s [ROK] military, a significant number of analysts concur that the South possesses a formidable advantage in terms of technological sophistication.

North Korea’s standing army, with an estimated strength of approximately 1.28 million soldiers, has exhibited stability over recent years, as corroborated by the white papers published in 2018 and 2020. This consistency contrasts starkly with the diminishing military personnel of South Korea, which has experienced a significant reduction of around 155,000 soldiers within two years, bringing its current total to approximately 500,000 from the previous count of 655,000.655,000.

Assessed on a county basis, the military prowess of the North and South is quantitatively distinctive. The North’s army, boasting a strength of 365,000 personnel, is dwarfed by the South’s formidable force of 1.1 million. The naval strength of the two regions sees a less dramatic discrepancy, with the North’s navy, inclusive of the marines, amassing 70,000 individuals, compared to the South’s 60,000. In terms of air force strength, the North’s ranks comprise 65,000 personnel, while the South commands a force of 110,000. Furthermore, the North Korean army possesses a strategic force of approximately 10,000 individuals, adept in operating ballistic missiles.

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The tanks

In an examination of the military arsenal in both South and North Korea, it is observed that South Korea possesses approximately 2,200 tanks, which is roughly half the number of tanks in North Korea, estimated at around 4,300. Furthermore, when considering the quantity of Yapo, South Korea’s count stands at approximately 5,600, in contrast to North Korea’s staggering 8,800 Yapo. 

Further disparities become evident when the focus is shifted towards multiple launchers. In South Korea, the number of such weapons is estimated to be around 310, a figure that pales in comparison to North Korea’s extensive arsenal of 5,500 multiple launchers. The stark contrast in these numbers not only highlights the military imbalance in the region but also underscores the potential threats and challenges that this disparity poses.

South Korea operates approximately 60 launchers for surface-to-surface guided weapons, while North Korea operates nearly double that amount, with around 100 launchers. In terms of ground weaponry, the number of armored vehicles slightly exceeds the number of launchers, with South Korea boasting approximately 3100 and North Korea fielding a slightly smaller force of around 2600. This subtle difference in armored vehicle strength demonstrates a nuanced balance of power between the two nations.

South Korea is superior by sea

When it comes to the manifestation of naval prowess, North Korea seemingly surpasses its southern counterpart in sheer quantity. In the realm of battleships, the disparity is striking, with the North boasting 420 vessels compared to the South’s 90. This gap is further widened in the context of amphibious ships, where North Korea possesses an imposing fleet of 250, dwarfing South Korea’s mere 10. 

The same trend extends to Mine Countermeasures Ships, where North Korea’s fleet of 20 stands twice as large as the South’s 10. Furthermore, the South’s auxiliary naval forces, consisting of 20 ships, were doubled by the North’s 40. The underwater domain is no exception to this rule, with North Korea’s submarine fleet of 70 significantly outpacing South Korea’s 10.

South Korea builds a destroyer analogous to USS Arleigh Burke
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Assessing from a perspective of quality, the South Korean military’s performance appears to be less than stellar. Predominantly, the North Korean military’s vessels are designed for littoral operations. However, a significant number of these vessels have exceeded their hull’s life expectancy, resulting in an incessant cycle of decommissioning.

For a considerable span of nearly half a century, North Korea’s naval prowess was significantly fortified by the inclusion of the Soviet Union’s 1950s design, the Romeo class (1800-ton class) submarines. These formidable marine weapons, which were in service from 1973 to 1995, constituted a major component of the nation’s surface power. Currently, North Korea is engrossed in the development of a novel submarine variant. This innovative submarine is designed with the capacity to accommodate a submarine-launched ballistic missile [SLBM], a formidable addition to the nation’s military arsenal, which is still under rigorous development.

Air power

Old Soviet fighters are being converted into 'diving kamikazes'
Photo credit: Wikipedia

While it may seem that air power is finite in its capacity, it is imperative to note that North Korea’s air power falls drastically short of the requirements of contemporary military engagements. Their lack of suitable air capabilities significantly hampers their ability to establish and maintain air superiority.

The South Korean Air Force, despite its formidable capabilities, is faced with a daunting task. North Korea’s combat missions are immense, approximately double those of the South. However, the North’s effectiveness is significantly hampered by outdated equipment and severe fuel shortages, leading to inadequate training.

Indisputably, the South Korean Air Force boasts an impressive arsenal of weaponry. This includes the highly advanced fifth-generation F-35A stealth fighters, the powerful F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets, the strategic E-737 air controllers, and the versatile KC-330 multi-role air refueling transport aircraft. Such a formidable lineup of equipment enables them to potentially launch pre-emptive strikes against adversaries, a scenario that even North Korea has openly acknowledged. Hence, the deliberation on granting the right to initiate such strikes remains an ongoing matter of international significance.

South Korea is very strong

F-15E Eagle fighter jet
Photo credit: US DoD

As corroborated by the intricate metrics of modern conventional power, North Korea now finds itself in a challenging position to vie with South Korea. This contention is substantiated by the authoritative “2023 World Military Power Index”, a comprehensive report unveiled in early June of the current year by the esteemed American military power assessment institution, “Global Firepower [GFP]”.

South Korea, an eminent player on the global stage, holds the 6th position in global military rankings. This ranking situates it above major powers such as Germany, which is located at the 25th position, and Canada, resting at the 27th spot, among the Group of Seven [G7]. If one were to exclude the de facto nuclear powerhouses, namely the United States, which stands at the pinnacle of power as the 1st, Russia, standing strong at the 2nd spot, China, the formidable third, India, the robust fourth, and Great Britain, the steady fifth, South Korea would emerge as the most potent military force on the planet.

Contrarily, the conventional military might of North Korea has experienced a significant diminution. The cause of this weakening is twofold; firstly, its defense budget has been subjected to reductions as a result of the economic hardships the nation is grappling with. Secondly, its concentration has been diverted towards a rather reckless pursuit of nuclear development. In this year’s Global Firepower [GFP] ranking, North Korea has tumbled down to the 34th position from a respectable 25th position in the previous year, marking a sharp decline of nine ranks.

The ranking, meticulously calculated and derived from an extensive array of 60 parameters, encompasses diverse aspects such as the country’s military prowess and size, financial solidity, and geopolitical leverage. It becomes apparent, upon analysis, that North Korea consciously acknowledges the qualitative superiority South Korea possesses in this domain.

F-16V and a 50-year-old fighter operate in an interception combo
Photo credit: Taiwan

It is for this very reason that the entity in question endeavors to offset its perceived deficiency in the realm of conventional weaponry and economic might. The strategy it employs involves the enhancement of its nuclear arsenal and missile capabilities, which serve as asymmetric forces in the global theatre of conflict.

1 to 1.6 ratio

The Defense White Paper has revealed a concerning increase in North Korea’s plutonium stockpile, which has grown by 20 kg to a total of 70 kg over the past two years. This significant increase implies an enhanced capacity to produce more nuclear warheads, thus escalating the potential nuclear threat. 

Consequently, it is imperative to pay close attention to the ongoing development of new delivery systems for nuclear weaponry. These systems include intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the Hwasong-17, submarine-launched ballistic missiles like the Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-5, as well as cruise and conical hypersonic missiles. The constant evolution of these systems underscores the urgency of the situation. 

Kim's next move forced South Korean troops into full combat readiness
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Simultaneously, the White Paper emphasizes the increased importance of maintaining a robust combined defense posture with the United States to deter North Korea. This includes the promotion of combined operations capabilities, the development of a combined exercise system reflecting comprehensive operational concepts, and the concentrated application of combined open maneuver exercises. 

Applying the “Comprehensive Model for Measuring the Power Index of Korean Ships [Hansoon Model]”, based on “Comprehensive National Power: Basic Data for National Strategic Planning” published by the Korean Foundation for the Advancement of the Korean Peninsula, it is found that the ratio of conventional weapons in South and North Korea, excluding nuclear weapons, is 100:97. 

However, should North Korea employ a “surprise attack and short-term war” strategy, the military power index between South and North Korea would shift to 1:1.6. The Hansoon model operates on the assumption that nuclear weapons serve more as threats than tools of actual use. This hypothesis is a key factor in why military experts believe North Korea is unlikely to progress toward denuclearization.

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