How Do You Solve A Problem Like North Korea?

Flight trajectories of North Korean missile tests, May-November 2017. [The Washington Post]

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted another ballistic missile test yesterday. Following a nearly vertical “lofted trajectory,” the test missile reached a height of 2,800 miles and impacted 620 miles downrange in the Sea of Japan. This performance would give the missile, which the North Koreans have designated the Hwasong-15, a strike range of 8,100 miles, which would include all of the United States.

Appended here is a roundup of TDI posts that address the political and military challenges posed by North Korea. It should be noted that the DPRK nuclear program has been underway for decades and has defied easy resolution thus far. There are no clear options at this stage and each potential solution carries a mix of risk and reward. The DPRK is highly militarized and the danger of catastrophic conflict looms large, with the potential to inflict military and civilian casualties running into the hundreds of thousands or more.

The first set of posts address a potential war on the Korean peninsula.

Chronology of North Korean Missile Development

Insurgency In The DPRK?

U.S. And China: Deterrence And Resolve Over North Korea

Casualty Estimates for a War with North Korea

The CRS Casualty Estimates

The second set of posts look at the DPRK ballistic missile threat and possible counters.

So, What Would Happen If The Norks Did Fire An ICBM At The U.S.?

Aegis, THAAD, Patriots and GBI

Defending Guam From North Korean Ballistic Missiles

The Pros And Cons Of Shooting Down North Korean Ballistic Missile Tests



Ted Gurr Has Passed Away

Dr. Ted Robert Gurr, noted researcher on political violence and author of Why Men Rebel (1970), passed away on 25 November 2017 at the age of 81. His obituary is here:

Wikipedia article on Ted Gurr here:


I never knew him, but his work was a major influence on my work. In the late 1960s, Gurr and Professors Ivo and Rosalind Feierabend led two independent quantitative analysis efforts on the causes of revolutions. Even though they each created their own databases and independently did their own regression analysis of the subject, they came up with similar results. I did have several discussions with Dr. Ivo Feierabend while I was doing some independent work on the causes of revolution.

We have posted about this work before. It is here:

Quote from America’s Modern Wars

Why Are We Still Wondering Why Men (And Women) Rebel?

Why Men Rebel?

Rest in peace Dr. Gurr, and we expect that your work will live on.

U.S. Army Swarm Offensives In Future Combat

For a while now, military pundits have speculated about the role robotic drones and swarm tactics will play in future warfare. U.S. Army Captain Jules Hurst recently took a first crack at adapting drones and swarms into existing doctrine in an article in Joint Forces Quarterly. In order to move beyond the abstract, Hurst looked at how drone swarms “should be inserted into the tactical concepts of today—chiefly, the five forms of offensive maneuver recognized under Army doctrine.”

Hurst pointed out that while drone design currently remains in flux, “for assessment purposes, future swarm combatants will likely be severable into two broad categories: fire support swarms and maneuver swarms.”

In Hurst’s reckoning, the chief advantage of fire support swarms would be their capacity for overwhelming current air defense systems to deliver either human-targeted or semi-autonomous precision fires. Their long-range endurance of airborne drones also confers an ability to take and hold terrain that current manned systems do not possess.

The primary benefits of ground maneuver swarms, according to Hurst, would be their immunity from the human element of fear, giving them a resilient, persistent level of combat effectiveness. Their ability to collect real-time battlefield intelligence makes them ideal for enabling modern maneuver warfare concepts.

Hurst examines how these capabilities could be exploited through each of the Army’s current schemes of maneuver: infiltration, penetration, frontal attack, envelopment, and the turning maneuver. While concluding that “ultimately, the technological limitations and advantages of maneuver swarms and fire support swarms will determine their uses,” Hurst acknowledged the critical role Army institutional leadership must play in order to successfully utilize the new technology on the battlefield.

U.S. officers and noncommissioned officers can accelerate that comfort [with new weapons] by beginning to postulate about the use of swarms well before they hit the battlefield. In the vein of aviation visionaries Billy Mitchell and Giulio Douhet, members of the Department of Defense must look forward 10, 20, or even 30 years to when artificial intelligence allows the deployment of swarm combatants on a regular basis. It will take years of field maneuvers to perfect the employment of swarms in combat, and the concepts formed during these exercises may be shattered during the first few hours of war. Even so, the U.S. warfighting community must adopt a venture capital mindset and accept many failures for the few novel ideas that may produce game-changing results.

Trevor Dupuy would have agreed. He argued that the crucial factor in military innovation was not technology, but the organization approach to using it. Based on his assessment of historical patterns, Dupuy derived a set of preconditions necessary for the successful assimilation of new technology into warfare.

  1. An imaginative, knowledgeable leadership focused on military affairs, supported by extensive knowledge of, and competence in, the nature and background of the existing military system.
  2. Effective coordination of the nation’s economic, technological-scientific, and military resources.
    1. There must exist industrial or developmental research institutions, basic research institutions, military staffs and their supporting institutions, together with administrative arrangements for linking these with one another and with top decision-making echelons of government.
    2. These bodies must conduct their research, developmental, and testing activities according to mutually familiar methods so that their personnel can communicate, can be mutually supporting, and can evaluate each other’s results.
    3. The efforts of these institutions—in related matters—must be directed toward a common goal.
  3. Opportunity for battlefield experimentation as a basis for evaluation and analysis.

Is the U.S. Army up to the task?

So Why Are Iraqi Records Important?

Last preachy post on this subject:

The Sad Story Of The Captured Iraqi DESERT STORM Documents

So, why does it matter? Well, Iraq has been involved in three wars in recent time that are significant.

We engaged them in the 1991 Gulf War. Even though this was a truly lopsided result, we do not have good two-sided data available for this war (it may exist, but it is classified/closed). As this was our largest conventional operation since the Korean War (1950-1953), then having good two-sided data for this war would be useful. As it is, the last major conventional fight that the U.S. participated in where there is good two-sided data is in Italy through June 1944. After that, German records significantly degrade and we do not have a good collection of opposing force data for Korea, Vietnam or Iraq….although we do have it for Grenada ;).

Then we invaded and conquered Iraq in 2003. This was effectively a three-division operation that went extremely well also. As this was the last major conventional operation we conducted, it would be useful to have good data for the opposing side (hopefully we do, but again, it is classified/closed).

But, probably most significant is the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988. This was the largest conventional war since the early 1970s (India-Pakistan in 1971 and the Arab-Israeli War of 1973). This was also the first major war that used chemical weapons since World War I (1914-1918). Chemical weapons and nerve agents were used extensively by Iraq against the Iranians, and also brutally against Kurdish civilians. Iran did make limited used of chemical weapons in response. It is also the only extensive use of nerve agents in warfare. This is probably important to understand and analyze. We do not have records from the Iranian side, so it would be nice to have records from the Iraqi side. Hard to analyze their operations if we have records from neither side. We really have no actual operational data on the effects of chemical weapons in combat since 1918, and we have no operational data on the effects of nerve agents in combat. This could be a major shortfall.

Now, the documents destroyed, according to the article we originally cited, was only the material captured during the 1991 Gulf War, with records dating back to 1978.  Some of it (at least 60%) was preserved on digital tapes. And, perhaps we have preserved all the military records we captured in 2003. So, in fact there may be an extensive collection available (at least 725,000 pages), although it is classified or closed to researchers. Based upon our track record of record preservation from Vietnam and onward, I have reason to be concerned.

Anyhow, a related link on our chemical warfare studies (including links to articles on the Iran-Iraq War):

Survey of German WWI Records


P.S. There are over a dozen counties in the world that still have chemical warfare arsenals, including Syria, Iran and North Korea.


U.S. Records in the Gulf War (1991)

Of course, there were problems with the U.S. Army record keeping in the Gulf War (1991). There were serious problems with the U.S. Army record keeping in the Vietnam War (1965-1973), so not surprising, the problem had not been corrected, and the same problems existed 20 years later. In the Vietnam War, the 82nd Airborne Division pretty much threw away most of their records. According to Don Hakenson, Director, Center of Unit Records Research, Records Management and Declassification Agency; in the Gulf War, 86% or 87% of the battalion daily journals were not preserved (see War by Numbers, page 146).

This became a big issue when the “Gulf War Syndrome” became an issue. People became suspicious that U.S. soldiers had become exposed to hazardous materials or chemical weapons. Yet, when the Veterans Administration and others tried to figure out where the units were at the time, they found that the records no longer existed for many these units. In many cases, they could not determine where the unit or the people were during operations. Many of the records had simply been thrown out.

The Gulf War Syndrome was not a small issue. It has been estimated that 250,000 U.S. veterans were afflicted. It was a case where record keeping briefly became a major issue. Wikipedia article:

Since the 1960s, there has been serious gaps in U.S. record keeping. There still was in 1998 when we conducted a survey of the subject for the U.S. Army. We have conducted no other surveys since then, but gather that corrective action has been undertaken.

U.S. Army Record Keeping

Command and Combat Effectiveness: The Case of the British 51st Highland Division

Soldiers of the British 51st Highland Division take cover in bocage in Normandy, 1944. [Daily Record (UK)]

While Trevor Dupuy’s concept of combat effectiveness has been considered controversial by some, he was hardly the only one to observe that throughout history, some military forces have fought more successfully on the battlefield than others. While the sources of victory and defeat in battle remain a fertile, yet understudied topic, there is a growing literature on the topic of military effectiveness in the fields of strategic and security studies.

Anthony King, a professor in War Studies at the University of Warwick, has published an outstanding article in the most recent edition of British Journal of Military History, “Why did 51st Highland Division Fail? A case-study in command and combat effectiveness.” In it, he examined military command and combat effectiveness through the experience of the British 51st Highland Division in the 1944 Normandy Campaign. Most usefully, King developed a definition of military command that clarifies its relationship to combat effectiveness: “The function of a commander is to maximise combat power by defining achievable missions and, then, orchestrating subordinates into a cohesive whole committed to mission accomplishment.”

Defining Military Command

In order to analyze the relationship between command and combat effectiveness, King sought to “define the concept of command and to specify its relationship to management and leadership.” The construct he developed drew upon the work of Peter Drucker, an Austrian-born American business consultant and writer who is considered by many to be “the founder of modern management.” From Drucker, King distilled a definition of the function and process of military command: “command always consists of three elements: mission definition, mission management and mission motivation.”

As King explained, “When command is understood in this way, its connection to combat effectiveness begins to become clear.”

[C]ommand is an institutional solution to an organizational problem; it generates cohesion in a formation. Specifically, by uniting decision-making authority in one person and one role, a large military force is able to unite subordinate units, whose troops are not co-present with each other and who, in most cases, do not know each other. Crucially, the combat effectiveness of a formation, as a formation, is substantially dependent upon the ability of its commander to synchronise its disparate efforts in order to generate collective effects. Skillful command has a galvanising influence on a military force; by orchestrating the activities of subordinate units and motivating troops, command is able to create a level of combat power, which supervenes the capabilities of each of the parts. A well-commanded force has properties, which exceed those of its constituent units, fighting alone.

It is through the orchestration, synchronization, and motivation of effort, King concluded, that “command and combat effectiveness are immediately connected. Command fuses a formation together and increases its determination to fulfil its missions.”

Assessing the Combat Effectiveness of the 51st Division

The rest of King’s article is a detailed assessment of the combat effectiveness of the 51st Highland Division in Normandy in June and July 1944 using this military command construct. Observers at the time noted a decline in the division’s combat performance, which had been graded quite highly in North Africa and Sicily. The one obvious difference was the replacement of Major General Douglas Wimberley with Major General Charles Bullen-Smith in August 1943. After concluding that the 51st Division was no longer battleworthy, the commander of the British 21st Army Group, General Bernard Montgomery personally relieved Bullen-Smith in late July 1944.

In reviewing Bullen-Smith’s performance, King concluded that

Although a number of factors contributed to the struggles of the Highland Division in Normandy, there is little doubt that the shortcomings of its commander, Major General Charles Bullen-Smith, were the critical factor. Charles Bullen-Smith failed to fulfill the three essential functions required of a commander… Bullen-Smith’s inadequacies are highly suggestive of a direct relationship between command and combat effectiveness; they demonstrate how command can augment or undermine combat performance.

King’s approach to military studies once again demonstrates the relevance of multi-disciplinary analysis based on solid historical research. His military command model should prove to be a very useful tool for analyzing the elements of combat effectiveness and assessing combat power. Along with Dr. Jonathan Fennell’s work on measuring morale, among others, it appears that good progress is being made on the study of human factors in combat and military operations, at least in the British academic community (even if Tom Ricks thinks otherwise).

Gulf War Records

We, of course, have never examined the other sides records for the Gulf War (1990-91). We have included in our various combat databases over 20 division and battalion-level engagements from the Gulf War. These were all assembled for us by C. Curtis Johnson, former VP of HERO and author of something like eight books.

At the time he was working for a project that had collected the U.S. Gulf War records. So he had access to the U.S. records of the various engagements, as was able to assemble the U.S. side. He had to assemble the estimates of Iraqi strength and losses based upon the U.S. intelligence records and a little educated guesswork. There are real problems in using intelligence estimates to determine the other side’s strength and losses. I can point out a number of cases where loss estimates were off by an order of magnitude (I discuss this in depth in my Kursk book). Still, as we had overrun most of the units involved, taking their records at the time, then it appears that these were reasonable and the certainly the best estimates that could be made at the time. Because the records Curt was working with were classified, and our database is unclassified, he could not leave a record of how he developed these estimates. There were, of course, also problems with the U.S. records, but that is the subject of another post.

Now, our engagements could be improved upon by a careful examination of the captured Iraqi records, which is why this caught our attention:

The Sad Story Of The Captured Iraqi DESERT STORM Documents

Needless to say, this means that for all practical purposes, the 20+ engagements in our database can never be cross-checked or improved upon. It is the best that can be done.

TDI Friday Read: Naval Air Power

A rare photograph of the current Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (ex-Riga, ex-Leonid Brezhnev, ex-Tblisi) alongside her unfinished sister, the now Chinese PLAN Liaoning (former Ukrainian Navy Varyag) in the Mykolaiv shipyards, Ukraine. [Pavel Nenashev/Pinterest]

Today’s edition of TDI Friday Read is a round-up of blog posts addressing various aspects of naval air power. The first set address Russian and Chinese aircraft carriers and recent carrier operations.

The Admiral Kuznetsov Adventure

Lives Of The Russian (And Ex-Russian) Aircraft Carriers

Chinese Carriers

Chinese Carriers II

The last pair of posts discuss aspects of future U.S. naval air power and the F-35.

U.S. Armed Forces Vision For Future Air Warfare

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Debate Future Air Superiority

Captured Records: Vietnam

There is a file of captured records for the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong, having political officers and a command structure, actually did keep records. The North Vietnamese Army also kept records. During the course of the war, some of these records were captured and are in a file at the National Archives. I don’t know of anyone who has used them. I did glance at the file, and there was no finders guide and nothing was translated. There did not appear to be much order to the file. I would have needed someone fluent in Vietnamese to help me (which is actually easy to find in Northern Virginia…for example General Nguyen Ngoc Loan ended up owning a Pizza restaurant in Springfield, VA).

** EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT ** South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, fires his pistol, shoots, executes into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)

In the mid-1990s I did meet with Americans who had worked with the Vietnamese in trying to locate missing U.S. servicemen. They stated that the Vietnamese were very open and interested in researching and discussing the war. They felt that they would be receptive to a joint research project on Vietnam and would be willing to open their archives for us. As we had had access to the Soviet military archives since 1993, this looked like a fairly attractive next adventure for us. Unfortunately, we could not get anyone interested in funding research on insurgencies at that time. It was not something that U.S. had researched or analyzed since 1973.

Needless to say, after we got involved in insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, I again floated the idea to the Army of doing a joint research project on Vietnam. They listened to me a little longer, but in the end, there was really no interest in analyzing the insurgency in Vietnam. I am not sure why. It has the virtue of being one of the few insurgencies where the insurgents kept good records. This would allow us to do analysis based upon two-sided data. There was certainly something that could be learned from this.

Of course, one of the problems with studying Vietnam is that U.S. Army record keeping at that time was grossly substandard. It was the poorest quality records from the U.S. Army that I had ever observed. The files from most of the units were very scant. Sometimes it was difficult to even determine the units strength and losses. Some divisions were missing almost all of their files (like the 82nd Airborne). For the 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division on the DMZ, we could not determine the tank strength of the unit. There was no periodic strength and loss reports for armor. For the assault helicopter battalion my father commanded, there was only a battalion newspaper and few other files. You could not tell what aircraft the unit had, nor their status or strength. It was embarrassing.

We did actually flag this problem to the active duty army of the time and they ended up giving us a contract to examine the state of current U.S, army record keeping, which is  discussed in this post:

U.S. Army Record Keeping

Anyhow, this is an extended discussion of captured records originally inspired by this post:

The Sad Story Of The Captured Iraqi DESERT STORM Documents


Korean War Story

My father was a forward observer in Korea. In 1953, him and another U.S. soldier were camped out in a foxhole between the lines. It was nighttime and they were making dinner.

The U.S. command had requested that its soldiers should try to capture some Chinese soldiers. As added incentive, the people who captured one would get a three-day pass to Japan. This was a pretty good incentive for those living out in the field. So the two foxhole buddies were sitting making dinner and of course talking about what they would do on their three-day pass to Japan, assuming they could capture a Chinese soldier.

Suddenly, a Chinese soldier stuck his head over the rim of the foxhole. They saw him, yelled “There is one” and immediately leaped for him. The poor Chinese soldier took off running. They ran for a mile or two through the “no mans land” between the lines(which would became the DMZ) and eventually the two larger American’s were able to run him down and capture him.

Now, they were in the middle of the (soon be called) DMZ, in the middle of the night, dragging along a captured Chinese soldier, and not quite sure where their foxhole was. Furthermore, in their haste to get him, they forgot to grab their guns. For the two unarmed Americans dragging a Chinese prisoner through the dark, it was a very long and tense walk back to their foxhole.

They did get their three-day pass to Japan.


Note: This is a story told to me by my father many years ago. It was not written down and I have never checked the veracity of it. I have no doubt that it is mostly true, but one cannot rule out a little exaggeration for the sake of a good yarn. We do not know what became of the Chinese soldier.