Tag Archives: North Korea


03:19 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 15 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible to radar. But not bullets.

Pulling off target after a massive precision strike on the North Korean nuclear weapons development facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, B-2 Spirit number 82-1067, the “Spirit of Arizona” was leaving the target area at medium altitude and high speed. The aircraft was configured for minimum radar and signals observability with all lights retracted and emissions restricted. Spirit of Arizona was one of three B-2’s that leveled the nuclear research facility in a massive conventional bombing raid, the largest of the New Korean War so far. While it would take a few hours to collect bomb damage assessment data the satellite images would show the raid was a complete success, with the entire research facility, storage areas and the reactors themselves being completely devastated in a hail of precision guided 2000 lb bombs.

Now all the crew of Spirit of Arizona had to do was get themselves and their nearly invisible, completely defenseless, two billion dollar aircraft out of the most heavily defended airspace in the world and back to Diego Garcia.

03:22 Hr.s Local. 37,800 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 28 miles southwest of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Sojwa (Major) Kim Si Gwok had more hours in MiG-29 Fulcrums than every other North Korean fighter pilot except for two. He did have the most time flying the Fulcrum using night vision goggles, a particular distinction considering the North Korean Air Force did not have enough night vision goggles compatible with the MiG-29 for all the aircraft they owned. That distinction put Maj. Gwok on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in his MiG-29 tonight over the critically strategic target of Yongbyon as part of the air defense for the facility. That the American stealth bombers had already gotten through to hit the nuclear facility was a major failure for the North Koreans.

Maj. Gwok knew Yongbyon had been hit within the last few minutes, likely by cruise missiles or American stealth bombers. Gwok couldn’t do much about the cruise missiles. He read about British Spitfire pilots in WWII who had defeated the first cruise missile, the German V-1, by flying next to them and flipping them over with their wingtip. That would be impossible with the low altitude American Tomahawks. But, if there were stealth bombers in the area that he may be able to shoot down, he was going to try to find them. As a lifelong combat pilot he felt he had a sense of what the enemy’s egress route from the target might be, the shortest distance to the coast.  So that was where he went looking for the “invisible” American stealth bombers.

In March 1999 the Yugoslavians used a combination of ground based observers and expert search radar operators to shoot down an F-117 stealth fighter. It was a lucky shot, a golden BB, and it proved stealth wasn’t invulnerable. Major Gwok knew this. He knew that, other than stealth, the American batwing bombers were defenseless. If he could see one, he could shoot it down.

03:28 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 41 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Mission Commander, Capt. Bill Myers of Pensacola, Florida and Aircraft Commander, Maj. Dave Evans of Boulder, Colorado were getting constant secure updates on the air defense environment through their secure datalinks onboard Spirit of Arizona as she ran toward the coast after hitting Yongbyon. The three strike aircraft followed different egress routes in the very unlikely event an enemy aircraft or air defense crew could somehow visually acquire one of the B-2’s at night. Since the B-2 was a fast, subsonic aircraft, was relatively quiet, painted black to blend with the night sky and operated at altitudes to avoid contrails the chances of an enemy fighter pilot visually acquiring them was almost zero. But not absolute zero. Myers and Evans knew the entire North Korean air defense network would be up looking for them with everything they had. Even with the most sophisticated combat aircraft in history they still had to get out of North Korean airspace without being seen.

Local youth becomes a fighter pilot for a day with 301st FS

03:29 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 47 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok didn’t really see the American stealth bomber as much as he saw what appeared to be a slit in the night sky. Reflected light from humid air at lower altitudes cast a low, soft glow upward from the ground below. The sky had a gently silver tinge to its black emptiness except for a small sliver of dead black below and to the left of Gwok’s MiG. Not knowing the sensor capabilities of the American stealth bomber, if that is what he saw, Gwok turned gradually to align himself with what he thought was his potential target’s heading. He gently moved the stick forward and, as his MiG closed the distance to the sliver of black the descent also added airspeed. His approach was perfect, high and behind. If he was right, this looked too easy.

03:29 Hr.s Local. 34,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 51 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Myers and Evans knew they were in deep trouble. AWACs told them over secure, stealthy datalink  communications that there was an enemy aircraft high and behind them. There was a remote chance it could visually acquire them. There was nothing they could do except recheck the low observable settings and the make sure the throttles were firewalled so they could get out of North Korean airspace as quickly and invisibly as possible. If it wasn’t already too late.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 49 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok wasn’t quite sure it was an American stealth bomber at first. Through his visor, the night vision goggles and his canopy the image was ghosted and dark. A black slit in the otherwise pixellated sky. Then two bright rectangles of green bloomed in front of him; the exhaust heat from the B-2’s four engines. Even though they are channeled and louvered to prevent a large infra-red signature from below they still pump out a lot of heat as seen from from above. That heat lit up Major Gwok’s night vision goggles. His fingers flew over his console to unsafe his GSh-30-1 cannon. The instant the safety selector was slewed to “FIRE” his gloved finger clamped down on the trigger at the front of his stick. The 30 millimeter cannon tore off a succession of white-hot shells in a bright line of arcing white dots perforating the night sky. They expanded out in a wide curve and faded. Gwok jinked hard right, largely from instinct but also to avoid overrunning his target or even colliding with it. He didn’t know if he scored a hit. He pulled hard back and right on his stick, describing a tight circle to come around and see if he could spot the black stealth bomber.

As Gwok finished his tight 360-degree turn and rolled wings level he saw something trailing flame through the night sky, cartwheeling straight down toward the earth like a black, burning boomerang.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 34,400 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 55 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Alarms lit off inside the cockpit. The nose went down and Evans tried to add power and gently pull back but there was no perceivable control response. The aircraft began to shudder, then pivot oddly beneath them. It was falling apart. The G-load increased and the aircraft entered a spin like a boomerang. Evans got one hand between his legs and into the ejection handle as he said, out loud into his mask, “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!”. Myers never heard him. He may have been fighting the losing battle to save the aircraft, he may have been wounded, he may have been dead. He never made it to the ejector seat handles.

The B-2 spun nearly 180 degrees in the air, nosed down and began to topple like a kite freed of its broken string. The top of the flying wing’s fuselage exploded in a spit of flame as Maj. Dave Evans’ ACES II ejection seat rocketed free. It flipped end over end at first, falling through 15,000 feet until it stabilized somewhat. At 10,000 feet the barometric altimeter automatically released Evans from the seat and his parachute began to deploy. The ejection, like all escapes from a crashing airplane, was violent. The severe vertigo was made worse by the darkness. Evans lost consciousness from the centrifugal force of the seat spinning after his egress from the crashing airplane but came back into a hazy state of alertness once his parachute canopy opened and he was scooting along under it at a steady speed with the prevailing winds. He didn’t know it, but the winds were carrying him toward the west coast of North Korea.

A disadvantage to being a stealthy aircraft is that, when the aircraft goes down, it is very difficult for rescuers to know where to look for the surviving crew, if there are any. Major Dave Evan’s ejector seat was equipped with a ProFIND SLB-2000-100 locator beacon. The beacon is a part of the pilot’s survival kit packed into the seat pan of the ACES II ejector seat. It actuates automatically when the pilot separates and dangles below him as a part of the survival kit package. At 9,500 feet above the ground Evan’s locator beacon began to transmit.


03:40 Hr.s Local. 45,000 feet AGL, U.S. Air Force E-3G Sentry AWACS Aircraft, 21 miles west of North Korean coast.

Airman 1st Class Stephanie “Stuffy Stef” Monroe, an airborne sensor operator oddly prone to allergies on board an E-3G Sentry off the coast of North Korea, saw something on her monitor she had only seen in training. The flashing icon indicated an incoming emergency locator beacon from a pilot’s survival kit. She keyed her microphone to the on-board mission commander. In less than one minute half of the crew of the E-3G were shifting their workloads to a new priority; rescue one of the most sensitive assets in the U.S. military- a stealth bomber pilot.


Major Henry “Schadow” Schantz was an F-22 Raptor test and demonstration pilot prior to the sequester that grounded his Raptor Flight Demonstration Team. His F-22 Demonstrations thrilled air show crowds before congress pulled the plug on the funding. He was a classic fighter pilot, a stick and throttle man skilled at aerobatics and the lethal dance of aerial combat. He was also a virtuoso with the weapons systems of the F-22 Raptor.

Schantz was TDY (temporary duty) as a weapons and air combat instructor with the Air National Guard F-22 drivers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska when the Korean Crisis began. He, along with the rest of the 477th Fighter Group, flew their Raptors over 3,600 miles to Japan wearing four big 600-gallon under wing fuel tanks on BRU-47/A external pylons. Once they landed at Yokota AFB west of Tokyo in Fussa, maintenance crews removed the tanks and pylons, restoring the Raptors’ low observability and uncluttered appearance. Then crews loaded the “Air Superiority” package on board. The Raptors became clean and naked on the outside for maximum stealth and performance. They carried a lethal internal load-out of six AIM-120C air-to-air missiles and two advanced AIM-9X all-aspect, infra-red air-to-air missiles. They also packed a holster of gun powder and lead in the form of 480 rounds of 20mm incendiary and armor-piercing cannon shells for their M-61 Vulcan cannons that spit shells at a withering 6,600 rounds per minute.

North Korea has a large air force for a country of its size. While most of it is relatively antiquated what it lacks in sophistication is compensated for by size. The primary concern over the North Korean battlespace was their MiG-29 Fulcrums. Maj. Schantz was sent to Guam to take care of those Fulcrums.

The Fulcrum is a worthy opponent with incredible thrust to weight from its burly, twin Klimov (formerly Tumansky) RD-33 turbofans that can belch 37,000 pounds of wet thrust. It uses an impressive Phazotron RLPK-29 radar sensor and fire control system with the ability to track ten targets simultaneously. In good conditions its radar can track other fighters up to 70 miles from the front quadrant of the aircraft, larger targets, like an American B-52, even farther. The bulbous IRST or “Infra-Red Search and Track” ball on its nose was an effective close range, stealthy sensor. Fulcrum drivers wore a unique helmet mounted sight that provided limited off-angle target acquisition. The MiG-29 is a robust fighter, with heavy covers that flop down over its intakes when taxing to prevent objects from being sucked into the intakes when operating from unimproved fields like a dirt airstrip or a roadway in time of war. It can be started with small explosive cartridges to rotate its turbines and does not need an APU cart. Even the landing gear looks like something from an off-road vehicle compared to squat legs of the F-22 that look decidedly delicate and ungainly on the ground.


Schadow Schantz and his wingman were back in the air only twelve hours after landing in Japan. As the sun rose the next day the pair were briefed and took off on a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) mission over North Korea. Climbing out of Yokota the pair immediately formated into a wide line-abreast to make maximum use of their net-centric AN/APG-77 Active Electronically Scanned Array radars. Since the F-22 is a low-observable or “stealth” aircraft the APG-77 radar is also stealthy, with a rapid interrogating, narrow beam scanning capability that makes it difficult to back track. Schadow’s tactics made best use of the F-22’s capabilities; find targets before they found him and engage them before they knew what hit them.

The APG-77 quickly picked up what looked like a beehive of North Korean air activity. Friendly air activity was marked by identification friend or foe (IFF) transponders on Schadow’s data screen in the F-22 cockpit. Targeting computers prioritized contacts and assessed range to target. When Schadow closed to within 80 miles of the first lock-up the computer gave him the option: TARGET:FIRE. He touched a button and the doors on the side of the Raptor flipped open like a gunslinger sweeping back his trench coat to draw. The launch rails expelled one AIM-120 AMRAAM and its engine lit as it tracked off, nearly straight, accelerating to Mach 4 on the way to target one. Only seconds after the first AIM-120 launch Schadow got another launch indication and selected “FIRE”. His first missile was still on the way to its target when the second left its launch rail. Less than one minute later four targets had been designated, prioritized and launched against with AIM-120’s. Schadow’s rate of closure had him to within 40 miles of the outer ring of contacts. He had Sidewinders and cannon shells left, and plenty of targets.

His sensors and local AWACs aircraft indicated that, miraculously, all four AIM-120’s had found home. In less than two minutes Schadow bagged two MiG-19’s, one prized MiG-29 and a lumbering tactical transport aircraft that was unlucky enough to stumble into the target designation screen of Schadow’s Raptor. He hadn’t even moved his control stick and he was one kill from becoming the first or second ace of the New Korean war. The first man to bag the next confirmed kill would have that distinction.

Schantz increased altitude and power, advancing his throttles to “supercruise” range and breaking the sound barrier without any afterburner. It only took gentle pressure on the stick to initiate an efficient climb attitude. With the sensor suite slewed to his remaining weapons package he needed to get close enough for an infra-red target acquisition to use his two AIM-9X’s. The ghost grey F-22 vaulted upward on its louvered, vectored thrust tail. It shot through a low, widely dispersed wispy cloud deck at 35,000 feet and kept arching upward as fast as a rifle bullet. Tearing through 40,000 feet Schantz saw his displays dance and blink with targets. None had detected him yet. His MFD’s signaled target “acqs” for his AIM-9X’s  and he began a wide, arching turn while leveling out at 50,000 feet, then he pushed forward and levitated against his seat harness as he went negative G beginning his dive to engage a pair of MiG-29’s below.

Schantz locked-up the first MiG-29 with a good tone and launched one Sidewinder. The range was closing fast and he worked quickly to gain another solution on the second MiG. Flares popping out from the first MiG and what must have been a gut-wrenching, speed-sapping high-G turn by the MiG signaled that the battle had been joined. Schadow Schantz made the transition from long-range sniper to street fighter.  The second MiG rolled left and broke, popping a trail of glowing flares while he let his turn out to not bleed off too much speed. In response Schantz traded altitude for airspeed for another two seconds, overshot, knew his first Sidewinder had somehow missed, cranked a full roll right reversing left after the second MiG. His cockpit lit with missile warning lights as the first MiG snapped off an R-27R missile, a dangerous and maneuverable dog-fighting missile.

The sky was full of contacts now. Schantz’s wingman was similarly engaged about 10 miles north, alternately bringing the fight to, and trying to evade another pair of MiGs. As other U.S. and North Korean aircraft entered the battlespace a series of “furball” dogfights began, with heat seeking missiles and now, the occasional ripping sound of air-to-air cannon fire filling the sky from 2,000 feet up to 35,000 feet. The greatest aerial battle of the modern era and the biggest since WWII had just begun.

Schantz’s automated countermeasures suite launched flares and anti-radar countermeasures as he realized he was a little hot and executed a pull-up to scissors to gain position on the second MiG. He instantly got a good tone and launched, the wide aspect Sidewinder seemingly defying physics as it dove into an impossible arc following the second MiG. Schantz realized the threat of the first MiG, the one he missed, at the same time his missile launch indicators lit up. The first ’29 had gotten in position for a good launch and Schantz was in trouble.

During the annual Red Flag fighter combat simulation exercise in Alaska, 2011, a number of Luftwaffe Typhoon pilots discovered that, if you get the F-22 into a low and slow engagement, it is no longer the clear winner. When dissimilar aircraft crossed sabers with the Raptor in a close-range dogfight the Raptor was just another jet with guns and missiles. It was no longer invisible, wasn’t much faster, couldn’t really turn much tighter and didn’t have a weapons advantage. It became just another fighter plane. In those circumstances, it became a contest between pilots. A dogfight.

An R-27R  missile is a deadly and maneuverable adversary. It can pull incredible G and is more maneuverable than any of the aircraft it is targeting. The one thing it lacks is a brain. And airshow experience.

Maj. Schantz was accustomed to flying his airshow flight demonstrations inside what is called the “aerobatic box”, a small cubic section of air space authorized for aerobatic competitions and demonstrations. As a result he had an extra repertoire of maneuvers not commonly needed in air combat school. One maneuver he used to reposition his aircraft and keep the demonstration in front of the crowd line. It was a variation of the famous Pugachev’s Cobra, a maneuver long since dismissed as strictly an airshow stunt with no tactical value. Basically, a Cobra maneuver laid on its side, this maneuver accomplished the critical tactic of “beaming” to defeat an air-to-air missile, or turning the aircraft violently to put the missile at your 3 or 9 o’clock. It also sucked airspeed, forcing the F-22 well below its “Vs” or stall speed. Depending on how fast (or slow) Schantz’s F-22 was going when he entered the maneuver the result would be that his aircraft would simply drop out of the sky.

Schantz knew his sophisticated fly-by-wire flight control system would protest such a maneuver, but he knew how to “cheat” the raptor by skidding it in the air, a sideways cobra, speed bleeding below Vs and his aircraft falling vertically out of the sky. The manipulation of pedals and stick was in utter contradiction to the software that managed the flight controls, but inertia and physics won out. and so did Schadow’s barnstorming skills. As the missile sheeted toward him with frightening speed his aircraft seemed to roll on its side, stop dead, and drop out of the sky like a broken toy. The missile over shot.


This stunt hit the reset button on the engagement. Schantz was now without airspeed and losing altitude, two things an aviator can never get enough of. In utter contradiction to what any non-aviator would do, he centered his stick, pressed it forward and added power. Altitude: 3,200 ft. AGL. Airspeed came up rapidly, 1,900 ft. AGL. Enough air was moving over his control surfaces that the plane began to fly again. Airspeed 180 knots, altitude 1,200 ft. AGL. It took more than a measure of nerve to watch the ground coming at him- and do nothing. 235 knots, 800 feet above the very hard ground. Alarms blaring. The F-22 is 62 feet long. Schadow couldn’t remember where that was measured from on the aircraft. He hoped it was the nose. 600 feet. He gently edged the stick back and felt the reassuring weight of G force as his G-suit inflated and the nose started to walk upward over the terrain to the horizon. By 250 feet the aircraft was nearly level, by 150 feet it had assumed horizontal flight and was at 250 knots and accelerating. Schantz juiced the throttle and pulled back, grabbing one quick look at his tactical situation display. A target was approaching from his 5 O’clock, about 1,500 feet above. He poured on the speed as the Raptor stood on its tail, got missile tone and fired his last AIM-9X. It missed.

Over the top Schantz pulled back hard, rolled inverted, got tally ho on the MiG-29 he just barely missed and pulled his stick back. The MiG must have been low on fuel since it appeared to be running. The “GUN” piper came up, an LED circle that predicted the path of his cannon shells. Schantz touched the trigger. There was a brief ripping sound and an unexpected belch of trailing smoke as the cannon spun up and loosed a line of 20mm shells.  The MiG flew right through them.

Nothing seemed to happen at first but then a brief tongue of flame exited the right engine and the aircraft rolled right. It occurred to Schadow that the MiG-29 is not a “fly by wire” aircraft and relies on a more primitive mechanical and hydraulic flight control linkage. More primitive, and more vulnerable to cannon shells punching holes in the aircraft. The MiG continued its right roll, settling into a dead engine, then began to pitch up to high alpha, a deadly combination from which there was no recovery at this altitude with a dead engine. The pilot did the smart thing and grabbed the handles. His K-36 ejection seat blasted upward, deploying a pair of stabilizing drogues, and he separated from the seat, his parachute beginning to deploy. The crippled, bullet riddled MiG skidded sideways in the air and dropped, a decidedly inelegant death for such a graceful plane.

Schantz saw the Korean pilot under his parachute, descending toward open fields. He looked like he tolerated the ejection well, his arms up and trying to steer the parachute. He flew one wide slow circle around the pilot. The chivalry of airmen transcended the horror of war. Schantz rocked his wings and the surprised Korean pilot watched in surprise as the Raptor stood on its tail again and accelerated vertically.

That was five.

USAF Major Henry Schantz, call sign “Schadow”, became the first combat pilot to score five confirmed kills, all in one sortie, in the new Korean Conflict making him the first ace of the war. That same day two more Raptor pilots would join the elite fraternity. Later that week a Marine pilot in an F-18 and two USAF F-16 pilots would also score their fifth aerial victories and become aces. In North Korea it seemed to be raining MiGs.


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.


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.