A Very Real Threat

Osan AB, South Korea North Korea has the fourth largest military in the world, of which roughly 70 percent is forward deployed “fairly close” to the demilitarized zone, which is not even 50 miles from the base here. Its artillery force is the largest in the world with 13,000 systems, pretty much all of which are hidden within 11,000 underground facilities. North Korea is believed to have 800 theater ballistic missiles and “enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear weapons,” according to a 7th Air Force briefing. Although its aircraft are mostly “holdovers from the Korean War … they have a lot of them and quantity is a quality all of its own,” said Col. Rob Bortree, commander of the 607th Air Operations Center. The underground facilities create “additional problems” because if a crisis were to arise US and South Korean forces would first have to find the weapons then figure out how to attack, said Bortree. “The current assessment is [North Korea] will attack with very little to no notice,” he added. “They can’t sustain offensive maneuver and depth, so their initial plan is to get in and push us to the table to get concessions.” Bortree said North Korea is “highly lethal.” With their ambitious and often public ballistic missile development program, North Korea’s 60,000 to 100,000-strong Special Operations Force is often overlooked. However, it is “one of the largest SOF forces on record and they have the ability to move them very quickly south, so that will be a significant challenge for us,” Bortree told Air Force Magazine. “They also have a history of escalating quickly to get what they want.”