Monthly Archives: April 2013


War is an endeavor that requires many resources, the greatest of which is money.

While the focus is usually the armed conflict, it is the economic and espionage activities that often exert a greater effect on the outcome. This was Dave Morgan’s work.

Friday, 3 May, 2013; Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam, 22:45 Hr.s (UTC +7)

Morgan is a spy, assassin, saboteur and thief. He works in the little known world of “economic warfare”, a recently coined term that describes attempts to control and disrupt the financial operations of an adversary. Of course “Dave Morgan” is not a real person. He is a man who uses that name. There are four layers of identities. Firstly, he is Morgan; Australian passport, real estate consultant, moderately successful, 43 years old. A decidedly average man, neither ugly nor handsome, tall nor short. In every way, unremarkable. Secondly, he is still Dave Morgan, but now working for a federal law enforcement unit of the Australian government. Thirdly, the name Dave Morgan disappears altogether, to a second name, and he works for a company called NSR Solutions, the one who actually pays him. It is a shadowy think tank organization that appears to contract with mundane government agencies from a number of countries. The joke among the operations crew at NSR is that it stood for “Non Specific Response” for the description they would provide if ever asked what they actually did. Then there is the bottom layer, an agency that seeks the truth because, as their motto says, it will “set you free”.

Dave Morgan walked the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam around the lake just south of the Old Quarter on his way to a performance of the famous Thang Long Water Puppets. The water puppets are an attraction that has long been popular among tourists. It appears in the Lonely Planet travel guide for Vietnam. Puppets controlled by rods and wires act out the universal drama of love and loss in a pool of water to a score played by a live orchestra. They perform odd dances with their mechanical arms and jaws flapping in unison to music. Central to the performance is the curious theatric element that they, by virtue of their suspension on water, take on an uncanny reality. The theater itself is stereotypically Asian in appearance, with a décor made largely of reds and golds and plenty of dragons.   As the orchestra played to the oddly dancing puppets Morgan found what he was looking for in the audience.

His target was the Malaysian, Mr. Leechong Ng (last named pronounced roughly, “nuug”). Ng is a facilitator, counterfeiter and covert funds transfer specialist. Among other nefarious financial activities he launders money into and out of North Korea for the Communists. Legitimate commerce between other countries and North Korea was hobbled by a long list of economic sanctions that made trade difficult for Pyongyang. That made business even better for Mr. Ng.

Leechong Ng is also skilled at operational security. If he weren’t the British, Germans, French or Israelis would have killed him already. But it was better that he was alive, at least for the next hour or so.

Ng communicates with his clients using a number of clandestine techniques. Most of them are decidedly low-tech. Because they are so simple they are impervious to eavesdropping, spy satellites, internet worms and other 21st century surveillance assets. Stopping Ng and his flow of cash to the North Koreans was a simple and old school matter of spy craft.

About as fancy as Ng ever got was opening a Yahoo! or Google e-mail account, collecting some spam and sending some traffic to make it look legitimate, then writing coded messages to associates and clients and never sending them, simply saving them in the “draft” box. He communicated the account log-ins, also coded, to his contacts and they accessed the e-mail box without ever subjecting the unsent messages to the scrutiny of signals surveillance. Another low tech habit Ng had was to maintain a coded, written list of the transfer accounts of his clients, concealed on his person in a bent-corner Moleskine notebook.

Dave Morgan had two objectives tonight: Obtain that coded list of accounts and kill Leechong Ng.

While state sponsored murder of foreign nationals had, for a long period, been an illegal activity forbidden by Executive Order 12333, that directive had been revoked by former President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the operational team at NSR Solutions joked, “The rules are, there are no rules.” It wasn’t far from the truth.

The U.S. knew that Ng was brokering a massive funds transfer to North Korea in the next 72 hours. If the interdiction went smoothly not only would the transfer not happen, but additional funds destined for North Korea would be seized by the United States intelligence community. More importantly, Ng, being quite dead, would no longer be operational. North Korea would not be able to afford to keep fighting. They couldn’t pay for fuel for their vehicles, ammunition or any of the other very expensive things that make war happen. Since countries tend to negotiate more when they have less, this operation would strengthen the position of countries seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. At the cost of one life, thousands would be saved, perhaps millions.

The show ended and the Vietnamese orchestra took their bows. The crowd filed outside chatting about the experience in six or eight different languages. Morgan sat at the back of the theater during the performance and pretended to examine a large postcard while chatting up some Australian girls who carried hemp purses and looked like the type to stay in youth hostels. He saw Leechong Ng file down the aisle toward the central exit. Once he was out of the theater Morgan followed.


Ng was staying at a hotel across the lake. The promenade around the lake was brightly lit and a bad location for the strike. The day before Morgan had done a reconnaissance of Ng’s hotel, the hotel lobby, the entrance to the narrow hallway that accessed the guest rooms and the only small public bathroom on the first floor of the hotel. He also surveyed the exterior of the hotel and even gained access into an administrative building next to Ng’s hotel to see if he could get a sight line across to Ng’s room. No luck.

Morgan had two options for hitting his target: Between the theater and the hotel or in the hotel hallway itself. Those were the only areas Ng would be isolated enough so that Morgan could strike and also have time to find and remove the bank information from Ng.

To the convenience of Morgan, Mr. Ng turned right, walking north from Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake and toward the Old Quarter. A series of small shops lined the Old Quarter, their booths spilling out into the street itself. Some of the streets were narrower and darker. The vendors had largely folded up for the night but a few remained as they folded their fabric awnings and cranked down the caged fronts of their shops. Ng apparently had a taste for a late night Vietnamese coffee, a craving that would prove fatal.

The business of murder is an ancient and unsophisticated one. Unlike the fancy “assassination canes” and silenced pistols in the basement museum of the organization he actually worked for, Dave Morgan usually worked with much simpler, less exotic methods.

Morgan’s (cover) reason for visiting Vietnam was a holiday to explore the local cuisine and its preparation. As part of his cover he attended a series of displays on indigenous food preparation and purchased a new (counterfeit) North Face daypack from a street vendor, a set of nesting wooden bowls with a matching cutting board, a special spoon for eating Asian soup and a nicely made, full tang, stainless steel hollow ground kitchen knife with a partially checkered handle made of non-slip Pakkawood composite. Morgan was indifferent about all of the items except the knife, which would be his weapons system. The blade had to be long enough to pierce the heart of his target from the back with one insertion. The handle had to be non-slip enough so that, if for any reason, his hand were wet (from rain, perspiration or his target’s blood) it would not slip. The knife also had to be locally available and locally used, so it would not be conspicuous as a weapon used in a precision military strike.

Some areas of the street were darker than others, drowned in the darkness of the shadows from buildings above and left out of the intermittent streetlights, many of them burned out in the Old Quarter. Morgan saw, a quarter of a block in front, a dark area. This is where he would strike the target.

At the same time as he increased his walking pace he slid his right arm out of his backpack strap and rotated the pack to his chest, opening the zipper slightly and withdrawing his knife from the paper packaging. He concealed it momentarily behind his forearm with a reverse grip, as was often espoused by devotees of the Krav Maga combat system. His brisk gait closed the distance with Ng from behind. The two converged at the outer edge of the dark shadow area. Morgan deftly reversed grip on the knife, now holding it the way a chef would, the blade being an extension of his forearm, no longer reversed behind it.

The simplest techniques are the best, and a variation of one Morgan had learned decades earlier in Army advanced individual training was the one he would employ; the “rear strangle take-down”.

His left foot led, stepping up to Ng’s left foot from behind. His left forearm wedged violently under Ng’s chin from behind. Knife blade parallel to the ground. He thrust quickly forward with a pointed incision, withdrawing with equal speed, and like the arm of a large surging machine, repeated again. His right knee came forward and collapsed Ng’s knees forward. Ng was dead by the time his head hit the street. Morgan wrapped his arms under him, avoiding the wound to keep his clothes fresh, and dragged Ng back to the alley immediately to his left. Being an Asian man, Ng was relatively lightweight and easy to heft into a trash container. Morgan rifled Ng’s pockets, found a small bound flip-top , reporter style Moleskine notebook with a rubber band around it, and left.

Three streets down a poultry shop would discover one extra knife in their kitchen inventory the next morning, and Morgan would already be flying out of Hanoi. Four days later the U.S. would seize over $500M in assets in a Jakarta bank destined for potential transfer to North Korea, and begin surveillance on three other bank accounts of similar size.

North Korea would find it increasingly difficult to afford to fight.


On day three of the conflict U.S. armored units held the border with North Korea south of the former DMZ but did not advance.

The constant of warfare is confusion. In a social, political and economic context warfare is a desperate “reset button” that vents societal pressure, absolves an economy and resets political calibration. Clearly there are much better social systems for change, but none is more expedient, more horrible or older than war.

The onset of war is oddly predictable, like the laws of inertia. Objects in motion tend to remain in motion until acted upon, and war is that act. It’s the trajectory of what happens after war begins that appears less predictable. At least on the surface.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is a scholar and geostrategist. He’s also a man who likes action. In his groundbreaking book, The Pentagon’s New Map he went so far as to compare himself to Tom Clancy’s fictional character Jack Ryan. For most people that would be a laughable and self aggrandizing bit of hubris. But for Barnett, it is a fair comparison. Barnett briefs admirals and generals, congressmen and senators. His ideas, stated simply, are that the world is divided into two groups, the functioning core and the non-integrated gap. The functioning core is the part of the world that is in relative cooperation economically and politically (if not socially). The non-integrated gap is the fragmented detritus of the world’s push toward modern society; the radical religious factions, the economically destitute, the regions outside the global infrastructure.

Simplified to its rudiments, people would rather be fed than starving, well than sick, financially secure than impoverished and, in about this order, they want to believe they are free of mind and soul. It is the tendency of human nature.

Thrust into the chaos of war the human compass eventually points to the something that more resembles the functioning core than the non-integrated gap. People want good things to be more, and bad things to be less.

And so it happened that North Korean Peoples’ Army Jungwi (Second Lieutenant) Kim Jae Ki, an artillery officer who’s communications had been cut off, had been hit by two air strikes and was nursing a unit of mostly damaged 170mm long range self propelled guns made a decision, or rather, a non-decision. He commanded gun crews that were scared, dirty, hungry, sleep deprived and gradually losing their allegiance for The Great Leader. His decision was one of default, hard-wired into the human animal. It is a decision that, in the great mystery of human/animal behavior, is the default of most people. It is also usually fatal.

He did nothing.

After the initial exchange in war there is often a lull. Each side is attending to the mundane and gruesome logistics of war, reeling from the first exchange. It may be less than an hour, it may be a number of hours. It is seldom any longer in the age of modern warfare. The U.S. had fired most of its cruise missiles in the region and was assessing their effectiveness as a second wave of manned air strikes was either being prepared or beginning. Signals intelligence and reconnaissance analysts were frantically busy tracking North Korean units and assessing bomb damage in the first round of strikes. The border between North and South Korea remained intact, no huge armored thrust from either side. There were still artillery duels and numerous tactical airstrikes. The appearance of helicopters in the border area suggested that many of the North Korean anti-aircraft assets had been effectively suppressed. A special intelligence gathering satellite picked up radiological data after the B-2 strike on the nuclear facility at Yongbyon. It would determine the degree of localized radioactive contamination after the reactor was destroyed.

Around the world news of the Korean Conflict lead every broadcast in every language. The BBC’s James Kumarasamy began his broadcast at the top of the hour after the time hack and catchy little BBC jingle with a well ordered accounting of the conflict. Stock markets in Asia took big hits, now circling a 20% pull back. The U.S. stock exchange, the Dow, had been on a tear as the American economy staggered back from the recession. It had flirted with the 15,000 mark. When the first artillery shell landed in Korea the Dow pulled back to 14,000 in a massive sell-off. The U.S. President held a press conference during which he said, “The free world cannot accept the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states.”

And Second Lieutenant Ki continued to wait. Wait for orders, a resupply, another airstrike. Wait for some change. As he waited he took inventory of his unit’s condition and his own mindset. The tabulation wasn’t favorable. Ki also feared an armored thrust from the south at any time, a massive wave of aircraft, tanks and soldiers from the U.S., South Korea and the rest of the world that would roll over him. His mind extrapolated his current circumstance along a similar course to the last 24 hours. Things had gotten bad, they would get worse. Because the social mindset of the North Korean Communist culture was one of the collective and not of the individual Ki was at a loss. He had been trained to cooperate and follow orders. When those orders weren’t available he was not skilled in personal initiative. So he did nothing.


Among an increasingly concerned high level military leadership a young and untested Korean leadership attempts to maintain order.

It is said that when German commanders in WWII learned of the allied invasion on D-Day they were purposely slow in responding in a kind “passive-aggressive” rebellion. Leaders like Field Marshall Irwin Rommel hated Hitler and wanted him out. One way of assisting the process was to slow their responses and not join the battle with vigor. Gradually, without conspiracy, born from individual nature, the same began to happen in North Korea. Forward line units cut off from resupply and reliable communications began to reduce their tempo of operations. They simply didn’t understand what was going to happen next and they weren’t sure they would do the right thing if they did anything, so they did nothing. Even more ominously for the North Korean leadership, after decades of iron fisted Communism, some North Koreans were beginning to wonder what “the right thing” really was. Second Lieutenant Ki was one of them.

Gradually, painfully, the inertia of the conflict began to act on the direction of the outcome. From that direction analysts and strategists extrapolated a probable outcome. And that probable outcome was trending toward the more favorable as the hours ticked painfully by.


22:50 HRS Local, May 12, Knob Noster, Missouri; Whiteman AFB: Hold short, Runway 1/19.

In one of very few instances since August 9, 1945, a U.S. bomber armed with a nuclear weapon for a strike against an enemy was preparing for take-off.

The B-2 stealth bomber, serial number 93-1086 named “Spirit of  Kittyhawk” from the 13th Bomb Squadron, 509th Operations Group, taxied to the hold short at the far end of runway 1/19. It is the longest runway at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. Two U.S. Air Force 2W2X1 nuclear armament technicians and two civilian contractors from Raytheon Missile Systems performed final diagnostics on the AGM-129 nuclear armed Advanced Cruise Missiles via a data link to the weapon. The targeting data was quadruple checked: Primary target: the plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, North Korea. After forty minutes of preflight checklists and weapons verification the giant flying wing rolled gracefully down the runway with gathering speed and slid into the night sky. It was headed north and west for the arctic and its holding area. It would perform a long duration loiter with tanker support until it was recalled, its endurance limit was reached (and its chemical toilet filled) and was replaced by another nuclear armed B-2, or it was directed inbound toward Yongbyon for a nuclear strike.

Kittyhawk and her nuclear strike component was the “Plan B”. “Plan A” was already well underway.

Hours before B-2 numbers 82-1066, “Spirit of America” and 82-1071, “Spirit of Mississippi” left on a similar navigational track but were armed with conventional GBU-57B Massive Ordnance Penetrator weapons. Each aircraft carried two giant 15-ton conventional bombs. Spirit of America was targeting a secret cyber warfare complex at Hamhŭng along the Sŏngch’ŏn River while Spirit of Missouri would strike the Yongbyon nuclear complex in advance of a potential nuclear strike by Kittyhawk.

The B-2 is the most expensive combat aircraft in history. And the most impressive. Its systems are so advanced it can hit targets with uncanny accuracy, frightening lethality and unnerving invisibility anywhere on earth with impunity. It is the one U.S. weapons system every adversary fears. Hence its value. It is a maintenance intensive aircraft, but it offers capabilities nothing else comes close to. The crews that fly and maintain the B-2 are among the most elite in the history of flight. More men have been to space than are authorized to fly the B-2.

All those facts being true the B-2 mission is a boring one most of the time.  The America and Mississippi tracked mostly north and partially west over the United States toward the Alaskan coast flying an approximation of the famous Polar Route. It was quiet and routine inside the cockpits. The two person flight crews made up of the aircraft commander and mission commander chatted about the weather, what the upcoming crew rotation would be like and the moon phase. That topic lead to a conversation about the Hasselblad cameras that the astronauts had left on the moon during the Apollo missions.

Work in the cockpit became more focused once the aircraft crossed Alaska. The course varied slightly left, avoiding Russian air space and tracking over the easternmost Sea of Okhotsk. The mission commander depressed a console button with the acronym “PEN” for “penetration mode”. Another weapons’ status was run and checks were made of special secure communications equipment. The flight computer’s pre-programmed mission profile changed the altitude and speed of the aircraft from an emphasis on endurance to an emphasis on stealthy infiltration of North Korean airspace. The aircraft commanders in both aircraft selected a document called “Attack Checklist”.


At almost the same instant as the strike on Hamhŭng, the nuclear facility at N’yongbyon was hit by an American B-2.

19:31 Hr.s Local (UTC +9), May 12,  Hamhŭng, North Korea, Headquarters, Korean Peoples’ Special Information Intelligence Directive, “Unit 10421”.

The air defense ring around Hamhŭng bears a great resemblance to the one around Baghdad prior to the first Gulf war. It is an integrated system with communications links between weapons systems and radars. It combines anti-aircraft guns for low altitude targets and many surface-to-air missile systems for higher altitude targets. Targeting information is shared between gunnery assets, to include missiles, creating complete, interlocking coverage up to 60,000 feet above the city. It is a lethal labyrinth of sensors and weapons all working in conspiracy to deny the airspace to the enemy.

If it works.

From out of the east, north and south a salvo of Tomahawk cruise missiles converged from three directions. They traced their robotic flight paths just above high-rise apartments and terminated on radar and communications with explosions that ranged from very small to enough to destroy a small building. Unlike the CNN video of Baghdad at the beginning of the Gulf wars there was little random anti-aircraft fire. The North Koreans knew better, and their equipment had advanced since then. While sirens blared across the city it was decidedly less dramatic than what people had experienced in the Middle East. Even if it were a spectacle, there was no CNN, BBC or MSNBC cameras there to record it.

As the anti-aircraft fire control centers and their attendant batteries maintained fire discipline the Spirit of Mississippi attacked Hamhŭng at medium altitude from the west, the least likely and least defended ingress route. Computers, inertial navigation systems and a device that inspected the sky above and compared it to the aircraft’s position verified the approach, locked in the best weapon release point and prepared to drop. The big faceted bomb bay doors opened quickly and both giant Massive Ordnance Penetrators left the aircraft. Unlike the usual pull-off from target by most strike aircraft the B-2 flew straight and level without a change in altitude, relying on its low-observable technology and the confusion of the enemy air defense suppression strike to protect it during its egress from the target area. The sky was barely dark enough to not be able to see the aircraft.

Both GBU-57B Massive Ordnance Penetrators pierced the roof of a low, glass office building and tore into concrete above the subterranean computer intelligence and hacking unit. The impact sent a seismic shockwave through the ground, like a localized earthquake. The only sound, at first, was the shrill whistle of their terminal approach, then a brief ringing crack from impact and an ominously low rumble you seemed to feel more than hear. Windows burst inward for a city block. For the briefest instant all was silent. Then the ground seemed to oddly collapse under the building the way a sinkhole forms. The depression spread outward in waves as the building folded inward and, before the shockwave reached its ultimate diameter a flaming monster burst from the sunken ground. It shrugged broken glass, chunks of concrete, earth and debris from its back, then roiled upward into the night sky, casting rotating shadows that seemed to flee from it, and disappeared.

Direct hit. Target destroyed.

Out over the Northern Pacific the flight crew of the nuclear-armed B-2 Spirit of Kittyhawk received its recall code via secure satellite communications. While they would never admit it, both crew members said a silent thank-you prayer as the aircraft left its orbit and began the flight back to Missouri.

Authors Note: While I do write for a living I don’t write fiction for a living. I do rely heavily on the inspiration, friendship and research of a number of people for short story projects. Some I can talk about, others not. One person I want to thank is Mr. David Cenciotti of Rome, Italy and his outstanding work on his publication The Aviationist. Take a look at David’s work. For the others, thank you very much.


Bob Jenkins owned three Taco Bell franchises in the Dubuque, Iowa area. One of them was the largest grossing restaurant in that district. Despite his success as an entrepreneur Jenkins was oddly tech adverse, which is why it surprised him when his wife Trudy bought him a Garmin GPS for his car last Christmas. It took him a month to put the thing in his car, and nearly an hour of sitting in the front seat to work through the “Quick Start” guide. Then, after initializing the unit, he drove around his subdivision at 15 MPH watching his position change on the moving map display. Since then he was hooked.

This morning, when he started the car, he found it frustrating that the GPS actually showed his car’s current position as over 30 miles away somewhere near Waukegan. How long was the warranty on this damn thing? Jenkins backed his Ford down the driveway somewhat smug in his disdain for technology and turned on the radio. His favorite preset was NPR. The President was holding a press conference. Jenkins drove four houses down the block on the way to his office. Then he stopped quite suddenly and pulled over.

“Jesus fucking Christ just don’t look up.” Captain Ron Davis, USAF, knew two things: He would die tonight and his entire existence was focused on getting his weapons on target before he did. Molten projectiles of red-hot lead crisscrossed in front of his canopy as his F-16C hurtled down the valley at 150 feet AGL and over 400 knots indicated. The ride was bumpy. His oxygen mask didn’t seem to fit right anymore. He realized it was because he was sweating so much it slid slightly on his face.

He passed his initial point almost immediately and was on the run-in to his primary target, a North Korean command and control bunker just north of the artillery positions that could pound Seoul to the south. The bunker was largely subterranean, meaning his initial strike with two 1000-pound bombs would not be entirely effective, but might buy some time. It was expensive time though and would likely cost an F-16 and its pilot. In the callous accounting of war this target was worth the price. Intelligence indicated this bunker transferred targeting data to forward line rocket and artillery batteries to correct fire after initial bomb damage assessment reports. The facility relied heavily on GPS data for targeting. For some reason that data now seemed to be indicating erratic positions for secondary targets, almost as though the stationary targets were moving. The North Koreans quickly shifted back to manual map templates for fire control of the second salvo of rocket and artillery strikes. The delay in doing so was only a few minutes, and that was all the first wave of American strike aircraft needed.

Capt. Davis’ weapons’ release computer slewed to the target and traced a line on his HUD to the best release point. He would execute a tactical pull-up to release altitude, roll inverted at the top of the hump, pull the side stick back to bring the nose back down, roll wings level and pickle the weapons. Then he would hit the ‘burners, dive for the deck and attempt to egress the target area if his F-16 hadn’t been hit by automatic anti-aircraft fire or one of the surface to air missiles that seemed to trace the black night every few seconds. The attack would take about nine seconds, the longest and probably last nine seconds of his life.  Davis reached the pitch-up to release point and hauled hard on the side stick, which didn’t really move much but sensed the pilot’s hand pressure on the stick to determine the control responses of the aircraft. His G-suit inflated as the crush of gravity pinned him into his semi-reclined ACES 2 ejection seat. The Viper began a precise climb as ground defense radars lit up with his sudden appearance. In only seconds an SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile left its launch rail and arced into the sky. The Guideline was an old missile that had plagued American pilots during the Vietnam conflict.  The primary tactic to defeat the Guideline, or “flying telephone pole” was to rapidly dive below it. In about three more seconds Davis could do that. In the mean time the chafe and flare dispensers were set to automatic and ejected a flurry of foil-like radar reflective countermeasure strips and a bright fan of white-hot magnesium flares to confuse any infra-red guided anti-aircraft or air-to-air missiles. At the top of the climb Davis snapped the Viper upside down and hauled back, then almost instantly half rolled to wings level. He picked up the target in his HUD and made small adjustments to be sure the “piper” was lined up right, then he hit his release switch and the aircraft shuddered slightly as two tons of high explosives fell from under his wings. His cockpit illuminated briefly from the exhaust plume of the SA-2 missile passing overhead. Another instant passed and the missile detonated, barely overshooting Major Davis’ Viper and missing him only slightly. He advanced the throttles to the afterburner range and the plane dived back down to relative safety. In another couple of seconds he exited the end of the canyon and hauled hard right, remember a statistic from weapons school that said over half of strike pilots pulled off target to the left, a fact that anti-aircraft crews knew too. Against all odds he had survived this first desperate, critical strike.

Inside the North Korean artillery fire control bunker the equipment remained largely intact. The crew serving it, much less so. The receiving end of any air strike is a gruesome scene, and despite being built into a rock mountain and largely concealed this bunker had sustained significant damage and even more significant casualties. The first of Major Davis’ 1000-pound bombs hit the primary opening to the bunker facility. Blast doors were closed but a resultant overpressure produced a concussive shock wave that, near the corners of the room, fractured skulls and snapped bones from the wave of energy. Instruments near the walls were damaged. The second bomb hit the top of the bunker, built to survive such an impact. The energy transmitted through the rock severed some communications links but more oddly, ruptured plumbing pipes that carried fresh water and sewerage into and out of the bunker. Water and filth sprayed into the bunker from the roof, shorting out more electronics and most lighting systems. Some small fires started, triggering an automatic fire extinguishing system. While the bunker remained entirely intact everyone inside was at least disoriented, some dead and most wounded. In short, their effectiveness had been compromised. Davis’ strike appeared ineffective from outside the bunker, but it would be several hours before the facility could regain command and control of its artillery and missile batteries.

Warfare is often a series of efforts to buy time, and Davis’ airstrike along with others going on simultaneously along the border area had just bought critical time. During that time heavy bombers would be within range to strike with their air launched cruise missiles. Then the battle would truly be joined.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate IraqÕs weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The prelude to war is often as clerical as it is martial.

In the months that preceded the first combat strike on North Korea in 2013 a massive sorting of target data had to be performed. Where were the targets? How often are they moved? What potential threat did they pose and what order should they be engaged in? Every target in North Korea had to be sorted and assessed. Then they were matched with an optimal weapon to destroy that target. The best order to engage the targets was based on their significance and ability to strike back. The amount of casualties and degree of damage sustained from a counter attack by North Korea would be determined by the effectiveness of that first strike. The more damage we could inflict with the first strike the weaker North Korea could hit back.

Despite the media rhetoric about long range North Korean missiles the biggest concern was the conventional North Korean weapons that could strike south at the civilian and military population center of Seoul. They are mostly gun tubes and rocket launchers near the border pointed south. Their transit times from firing to impact are minimal. Once they receive their final orders to fire they are no longer dependent on communications and can fire subsequent volleys until the targets, or the guns themselves, are destroyed.

Preparations to strike these artillery emplacements began months and even years earlier with the loading of munitions on newly modified TRIDENT-class submarines now called “SSGNs” or nuclear powered guided missile submarines. These massive submarines had their nuclear ICBM capability replaced with tactical cruise missile launchers. When their 7 rotary vertical launchers are full these submarines can carry 154 cruise missiles. The entire compliment can be fired in under seven minutes, launching a large number of precision guided cruise missiles with fragmentary anti-personnel or ground penetrating 1000 pound warheads.


As effective as these submarine missile strikes, along with missile strikes from U.S. Navy surface vessels and later U.S. Air Force B-1, B-2 Spirit and B-52’s armed with AGM-129 ACM (Advanced Cruise Missiles) would be, there was still a deficit between the number of air launched and sea launched cruise missiles targeting North Korean artillery batteries and the number of their artillery emplacements pointed south. Even if every sea launched and air launched cruise missile found its mark during a first strike there would still be North Korean guns left over to fire on Seoul along with longer range missile facilities that could reach as far as Japan. These leftover North Korean weapons initially fell to U.S. and South Korean artillery units along the border and air assets like the F-16C’s and D’s of the 36th Fighter Squadron at Osan AFB. Even A-10 close support aircraft and U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters would join the first strike effort to destroy North Korean gun tubes before they could fire south.

In many ways North Korea had doomed itself to being struck first. Years of bolstering their conventional first strike capability on a massive scale set against months of saber rattling about their emerging nuclear capability and weeks of escalation left little choice in the increasingly important economic region. No one could afford the destabilization to continue let alone a first strike from North Korea to take place. In a much more tangible way than the U.S. decided to strike Iraq under concern of Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability the U.S. was compelled to strike North Korea. The clock had simply run out.

When intelligence assets picked up a massive explosion at a North Korean artillery battery the decision making engine, the “finger on the trigger”, determined it could wait no longer. War was inevitable. In the words of numerous great strategists it became crucial to “maintain our first strike capability”.

The nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN-726) would fire the first shots in the second Korean War. From its 22 vertical launch tubes a salvo of new UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM Block IV’s) with massive 1000 pound warheads churned the surface and danced awkwardly in flight until their primary motors engaged. Once their main turbofan engine started they flew away on low altitude flight paths to their assigned targets. These cruise missiles were difficult or impossible to detect with radar because of their size, speed and extremely low operating altitude, usually using terrain to mask their radar return.


The strike package continued with the launch of F-16C and D block 40’s’s from the 36th Fighter Squadron at Osan AFB, South Korea. Some of these F-16’s were tasked with strike missions on artillery emplacements using their LANTIRN targeting pods while others were equipped with the AN/ASQ-213 HARM targeting systems to destroy surface to air weapons systems. These F-16 pilots would bravely engage the North Korean anti-aircraft and artillery systems until the larger Air Force bomber assets could be bought on target. The lag time for employing the B-1, B-2 and B-52 strike aircraft was over two hours before their first cruise missiles would be inbound, an eternity in the time scale of modern war. The transit time for F-16’s standing alert at Osan was minutes. Of course, as soon as the F-16’s left the ground the North Koreans would know, putting up their own defensive aircraft in the form of some advanced MiG-29’s but mostly older MiG-21’s. The F-16’s would likely hit most of their ground targets before anti-aircraft artillery and surface to air missiles along with North Korean MiGs became effective, if they ever did.

Like most wars, day one of the new Korean War would start in the dark literally and figuratively. In the initial hours few people would have the overall situational awareness to understand what was happening. That lack of situational awareness would become a key factor in the conflict not escalating toward further disaster.


03:47 HRS Local, May 11, Above Korean Penninsula.

Like a giant butterfly net the mesh antennae of the Trumpet satellite reached out over 500 feet of black space catching electron emissions from miles below on the earth. It was listening. Listening and monitoring a constant chatter of pulses from the Korean Peninsula. The impulses were collected in the massive antennae, sent to its central transmitter and beamed back to the processing computers of the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Virginia, the agency in charge of signals intelligence gathered from space.

The Trumpet satellite listens for the subtle tones that are the prelude to war. The chatter. The silence. A set of algorithms constantly runs comparisons to databases of previously collected signals intelligence from years of patient surveillance. A change in frequency, volume, code or any number of variables may signal a change in operations among the North Korean units along the border with South Korea.

03:51 HRS Local, May 11, Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

The M-1978 Koksan is a big artillery piece, a massive cannon with a barrel improbably long for its tracked base. A cannon that looks too big sitting on a tank.  While the gun is intended to be mobile it is sluggish and vulnerable to attack from the air if not protected by its attendant ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft batteries. Because of their vulnerability, the Koksan are deployed north of 38th parallel, barrel trained south, in revetments called HARTS or Hardened Artillery Sites that are carefully concealed. Many of them are positioned so they can roll back into protection from counter-battery fire or air raids from the south. Their roughly 25-mile range means they can hit the outskirts of the South Korean capital of Seoul from positions between Panmunjom and Kaesong. Using rocket assisted projectiles, they can drop rounds directly on Seoul.

One problem with these rocket assisted projectiles is the increased danger in handling them. Artillery rounds themselves are relatively safe to handle until fused. Add the volatile rocket propellant to the explosive warhead and they become… less safe. An electrical short, lightening strike or any number of circumstances can ignite the volatile rocket fuel and potentially set off the warhead.

Because of their capability to bombard the Seoul area the Koksan emplacements are a source of constant surveillance, not only visual but also signals surveillance. Radio traffic going into and out of the emplacements is monitored constantly. Many transmissions are on hard wire coms over cables buried deep in the ground to prevent eavesdropping and damage from airstrikes or artillery barrages. But not all.

Heavy artillery is a decidedly medieval weapon. Like a giant siege catapult from medieval times or the massive railway cannons of the world wars they are a brute force, low tech system. They rely on few electronics, can lie silently in wait and operate autonomously as they engage predetermined targets in order of significance. The only way to defeat them is to destroy them. Most strategies for counter-battery targeting have a major flaw; they rely on back-tracking the incoming rounds to locate the battery. In other words, you have to survive the first salvo to find the active guns and target them.

The better bet is destroy them before they fire their first round.

15:24 HRS Local, May 10, Chantilly, Virginia: Headquarters, National Reconnaissance Office.


The shifts that monitor alerts from data interpretation at the National Reconnaissance Office are calm and vigilant. Maintaining a high state of readiness is difficult so the intelligence specialists that man the computers pace themselves over their shifts, especially in times of crisis. They are calm, but focused. These men and women stand the invisible, virtual wall circling the globe and monitored from space. Very little moves on the earth’s surface without their notice.

The events of the next seventy seconds unfolded quickly. Signal traffic and infra-red intelligence both showed spikes. A huge heat flare from one of the artillery emplacements indicated the gun was… either firing or had exploded. Radio traffic over voice briefly spiked, then went silent. Immediately counter battery radar in the south, alerted by seismic detectors that sensed the earth’s vibration from the explosion in the north, began searching for an incoming round. Gun crews went to ready state and prepared to engage targets from pre-made range cards and target lists. In the NRO intelligence interpretation and routing office eyebrows went up.

What was that?

The fog of war is a phenomenon where both sides in a conflict are exposed to stimulus and believe they must react or lose the tactical advantage. The stimulus is usually unclear and misunderstood, but the decision process works something like this, “We are uncertain what is happening in the battlespace but we can no longer afford to wait or we will lose the initiative.” Military schools around the world teach the doctrine of maintaining the first strike capability.

No one understood what happened in the artillery battery that night. The crater left by the accidental discharge of a massive artillery shell left no talking witnesses, and there was no time to conduct a inquest. What the south knew was there was a massive explosion and a spike in signal activity. What the north knew was one of their artillery positions had just been taken out. Both thought it was the beginning of hostilities.

And so, it was.