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Nuclear Brief October 13, 2005

Missile Defense Planning on the Korean Peninsula

The Korean Peninsula is one of the most important test beds for the U.S. missile defense program. Just how this planning occurs and the lessons learned are not well know. But in October 2002, the Air Force released a partially declassified copy of a 7th Air Force briefing on the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) "strategy we are employing on the Korean Peninsula."

The briefing examines how the U.S. military detects and warns Korean-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) of North Korean missile launches, and how the Patriot missile defense system currently deployed in South Korea is intended to defend against incoming missiles. It also describes various attack operations, and explains "how we're applying the lessons learned to today's plan."

Patriot anti-ballistic missile interceptors, like these from the 1st Battalion (Patriot) 43rd Air Defense Artillery (ADA) in South Korea, are tasked to protect U.S. military forces against North Korean ballistic missiles.
Image: U.S. Army


As of 1998, the U.S. had six Patriot batteries deployed in South Korea. The batteries were  organized under the 1st Battalion (Patriot) 43rd Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Unit, the only Patriot battalion on the Korean peninsula. In October 1994, the 2nd Battalion 7th Air Defense Artillery unit (2-7 ADA) was replaced by the 1-43 ADA, which had been rushed to Korea in March 1994 in response to the crisis that followed North Korea's blocking of IAEA inspections and intention to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The mission of the 1-43 ADA is "the Tactical Ballistic Missile Defense of the peninsula."

In 1998, the six Patriot batteries were deployed at Suwon Air Base (Alpha and Bravo Batteries), Osan Air Base (Charlie and Delta Batteries), and Kunsan Air Base (Echo and Foxtrot Batteries). By 2005, the 1-43 ADA has been reduced to four Patriot batteries: A, B, C, and D.

In anticipation of new missile defense systems, the U.S. Army is reorganizing the ADA units into composite AMD or MAMD (Maneuver Air and Missile Defense) battalions consisting of Patriot, Avenger and Sentinel systems; or Patriot pure battalions.

Offensive-Defensive Battle Planning

The Air Force briefing helps illustrate how the U.S. military expects North Korea to employ Scud missiles in a crisis and how they can most effectively be countered. The briefing suggests that planning for defensive and offensive operations are closely intertwined, and it underlines the extremely short warning time that faces any decision making process in response to or preparation for a North Korean missile attack:

"A TBM launched from the SCUD belt will impact OSAN in only [deleted]. It takes between [deleted] to detect the TBM and to diseminate [sic] the warning. This only leaves [deleted] to take advantage of the warning. Saving seconds in important."

The briefing outlines three scenarios for how North Korea may choose to launch its missiles. Each of these scenarios demands different targeting strategies:

  • launch exclusively from underground facilities;

  • disperse launchers in the field; or

  • use a combination of the two.

Of these three, the third is described by the briefing as "the most likely."

For North Korea to hide the Scuds in underground facilities and essentially roll them out only to launch could be seen as the strategy that would most complicate U.S. targeting because of the brief warning time. However, the briefing concludes that such an employment "makes the targeting process easier for us since they remain at known locations."

North Korean SCUD-C mobile launchers. Despite advances in U.S. weapon systems, "the launcher remains the most difficult target to hit," according to a declassified U.S. Air Force briefing.
Image: GlobalSecurity.org

Once deployed in the field, by contrast, the launchers are vulnerable only if they have been found. This may sound obvious, but the point is to emphasize that this is one of the most critical stages in the targeting process. Dispersion "complicates our targeting solution greatly," the briefing underscores and adds: "Despite advances in our weapon systems, the launcher remains the most difficult target to hit." Targeting the storage facilities or logistics is much simpler.

Once the North Korean mobile launchers stop and begin preparation to launch their missiles, their vulnerability increases greatly. But even at this stage targeting is by no means assured. "Although [launchers are] vulnerable during setup, we do not know where to look until the launch occurs," the briefing states. "At that point, it is to [sic] late to strike since the [launcher] will be gone from the area within two minutes" after the missile is fired. "Launch points, detected by any means," the briefing concludes, "are not targets" because the "ability of a [launcher] to hide after launch is far too rapid."

In a crisis on the Korean peninsula, the briefing suggests, U.S. forces would not be "Scud hunting" for individual launchers to destroy, but would instead concentrate on having "the greatest war-fighting impact, and that is to destroy the TMD [theater missile defense] infrastructure."

This Air Force briefing is further described in the article "Preemptive Posturing," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2002.

© Hans M. Kristensen | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2005

download documents:

» Department of the Air Force, 7th Air Force, briefing, "Theater Missile Defense," n.d. [1998]. [8.33 MB]
Partially declassified and released under FOIA.

background information:

» Hans M. Kristensen, "Preemptive Posturing," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2002.


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  © Hans M. Kristensen