Pyongyang's Not-So-Revised Strategy
South Korea's Joong An Daily claims that North Korea has revised its strategy for war on the peninsula. Instead of trying to occupy the entire peninsula--long believed to be central tenet of Pyongyang's war strategy--the DPRK would attempt to seize Seoul. With the South Korean capital under their control, North Korea could then renew their offensive, or use Seoul to negotiate a favorable peace settlement.
ROK military sources tell the paper Pyongyang has abandoned its established 5/7 strategy in favor of an attack focused on Seoul. The numbers in the old plan referred to the timetable for North Korean divisions to seize all of South Korea. Under the new strategy, DPRK forces would concentrate their firepower on Seoul, taking the sprawling city in a matter of days.
But the 5/7 Plan was fatally flawed--and that was being charitable. Despite the concentration of firepower along the DMZ (much of Seoul is within range of enemy artillery), North Korea stood little chance of taking the entire country in only a week. In an era of satellite imagery and airpower, the U.S. and South Korea would be able to blunt an enemy invasion, buying time until reinforcements begin to turn the tide of battle. Coincidentally, the bulk of U.S. airpower begins to arrive in Korea after Day 7 of the war, another indicator of why Pyongyang's invasion plan has such a compressed timetable.
Indeed, most military analysts have long discounted the 5/7 Strategy, believing that a thrust towards Seoul is much more likely. After all, the city represents the economic, political and spiritual center of South Korea, home to almost 25% of the nation's residents. Loss of the city would be tantamount to national decapitation, inflicting a demoralizing defeat on the ROK government, its military forces and the United States.
But capturing Seoul would be a Herculean task. The South Korean capital is defended by the Third ROK Army (TROKA), traditionally, the best-trained (and equipped formation) in the ROK military. TROKA units, combined with the Capital Defense Corps, are deployed to halt attacks along two primary invasion routes: the Kaesong-Munsan Corridor and the Western Chorwan Valley. Backed by South Korean and U.S. airpower (and our 2nd Infantry Division), these forces are capable of carrying out their mission, although the fighting would be extremely bloody.
In fact, even under "best case" scenarios, North Korean forces might control the northern approaches to Seoul (and the adjacent Kimpo Peninsula) after a few days of fighting. That would put even more pressure on the capital's defenders, who would also face a humanitarian crises--caused by relentless DPRK missile and artillery attacks--and limited resupply options for the city.
Still, North Korea's revised strategy is anything but a slam dunk. According to South Korean analysts, Pyongyang made the change (in part) because of the wide availability of precision-guided munitions in the U.S. and ROK inventories. North Korea took careful note of American air campaigns in the Middle East, where such weapons decimated Iraqi armored formations. The DPRK (apparently) believes they can take key objectives before air power takes a serious toll, particularly if their SOF attacks can slow sortie generation at allied airbases in rear areas.
But that strategy only goes so far; the USAF routinely deploys heavy bomber squadrons to Guam, adding potential firepower for any Korean contingency. And, despite the on-going demands of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force can still dispatch significant combat power to the western Pacific during the first week of the conflict. By Day 14, the tide of airpower becomes overwhelming, virtually ensuring North Korea's defeat.
To be sure, there are a few wild cards in the equation. Nuclear attacks by the DPRK would have a catastrophic on military and civilian targets, while forcing the U.S. to consider immediate retaliation. There's also the matter of North Korea's logistics system; while Pyongyang supposedly has large quantities of food, fuel and ammunition for war, those stockpiles are rapidly consumed in warfare, and allied airstrikes would further deplete DPRK inventories.
Senior ROK military officials are scheduled to meet in early May to discuss North Korea's revised strategy, and how to deal with it. We're guessing the discussions will be an affirmation of what most already know: Pyongyang's wartime strategy is now focused on the capture of Seoul, a move aimed at achieving a limited military victory, and negotiating a favorable peace.