The Department of Defense (DOD) tasked a B-2 stealth bomber to conduct runs over the Korean Peninsula ahead of President Trump’s scheduled round of Pacific Rim visits slated to begin on November 6th. The President will be visiting South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The B-2 possesses nuclear capabilities and is one of the most potent tools in the U.S. military’s arsenal. Currently, the United States has 20 operational B-2 bombers, though how many are mission capable at any one time is not certain.
Tasking a B-2 to conduct flyovers in the Korean Peninsula or in proximity is intended to send North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un a clear message: That any military aggression on the part of the North Koreans will be met with overwhelming force. This escalation, coming on the heels of exercises conducted in the peninsula last week using B-1 bomber runs, elevates concern considerably.
Escalating Deployment of US Military Assets in the Region
Last month, US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, issued a warning to Pyongyang that,
“Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”
The Secretary also recently warned that any new testing of nuclear-capable missiles by the North Koreans may potentially be met with a military response. Rhetorical threats are accompanied by commensurate escalations in the number of deployed military assets in the peninsula and in region. In addition to the B-2 exercises, the US has also sent a total of three aircraft carriers to the area along with escort vessels.
At present, the United States has 39,000 military personnel in Japan and circa 23,500 in South Korea. There are additional US forces located in Australia, Thailand and the Philippines. There are also over 40,000 active-duty US military personnel stationed in Hawaii In the event of the opening of hostilities in the Korean Peninsula, the United States would be capable of rapidly putting an additional 30,000 soldiers on the ground during the first week. The Trump administration’s re-tasking of a variety of military assets to the peninsula and in proximity is cause for heightened concern.
South Korea’s Military Capabilities Reviewed
The population of South Korea stands at 50.924,172, twice that of its northern neighbor. It currently boasts an active duty military comprised of 627,500 personnel with an additional 5,202,250 on reserve status. In terms of aerial capability, South Korea has a total aircraft strength of 1,477, including 406 fighter aircraft and 448 attack aircraft. The republic also has a total helicopter strength of 709 and this includes 81 attack helicopters. In terms of armor and artillery, it possesses 2,264 tanks, 2660 armored vehicles, 1,990 self-propelled artillery units, 5,374 towed artillery pieces and 214 rocket projectors.
The naval forces of South Korea consist of 166 vessels, including one aircraft carrier (the North Koreans don’t possess any), 12 destroyers, 13 frigates, 16 corvettes and 15 submarines.
The economy of South Korea dwarfs that of its northern counterpart. Its labor force exceeds that of the North by far. In no uncertain terms, the South would be far more able to support a protracted military conflict than its northern opponent.
As multiple assessments have averred, within one week the air and sea power of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would be completely neutralized–the United States and South Korea would essentially own the air and sea. US strategy has always been to hold any advance on the periphery of Seoul as more assets are rushed in and the North’s aerial capabilities are destroyed. Once that has occurred, the DPRK’s ground forces would be subject to virtual annihilation. It would be, simply put, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Nevertheless, even the most optimistic of analyses notes that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people would die.
President Trump’s Willingness to Use Korean Conflict as Distraction
As Special Counsel Mueller issues the first of what might become a series of sealed indictments in the on-going Russian Investigation, there’s room for some concern as to whether or not the administration might utilize the opening of hostilities in Korea as distraction. Of particular concern in his increasingly bellicose posturing is his apparent lack of understanding of what’s at stake.
Earlier this year, the President gave a speech during the course of which he showed an astounding lack of understanding of nuclear power. Specifically, the President noted,
“You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things.”
In the absence of any evidence, the President’s repeated assertions that he has “the best words” and the “best ideas” such utterances do indeed heighten concerns considerably.
As members of Trump’s inner circle come under scrutiny of justice, might he launch the United States in to a costly conflict aimed merely to distract? His record over many decades would seem to support the assertion that his willingness to sacrifice others for his own interests is beyond question.