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  • Darren Lindeman

A brief overview of a hypothetical Chinese - North Korean war.

Updated: Jul 14






Overview of forces.


North Korea has approximately one million two hundred thousand active duty military personnel. The regime spends around three point five billion dollars annually between 2006 and 2016 on defense. Although North Korea spends heavily on defense, the state's military capabilities has lagged behind it's neighbors due to the country's poor economic circumstances. North Korea holds a large inventory of weapons such as artillery, mechanized armor, tanks and surface combat vessels. However most of it's equipment are antiquated and outdated. Lack of fuel has made mechanized training difficult. The constant lack of fuel is a major obstacle to the military besides implications in training.


The Chinese military has a total manpower of around two million people. It's military budget in 2019 is one hundred and seventy seven billion dollars. The country holds an arsenal of weapons that is both more numerous and technologically reformed than that of North Korea's. China's military relative to North Korea's is highly modernized, with an emphasis of integration in network centric warfare strategies.


Although both poorer and technologically inferior to the PLA, the North Korean military has an advantage of being concentrated in the Korean peninsula. The PLA's geographic commands however has four other zones besides the Northern command. In this respect and in an event of a war, the PLA must transfer forces from other geographic zones into the Sino Korean border region.


Causes of war.

War and especially full conventional war between North Korea and China is highly unlikely as the two communist states see one another as strategic allies. Escalation however may be due to the North Korean regime rejecting Chinese interference with it's nuclear program and thereby creating grievances with China's ruling elite. Brinkmanship and the threat of using nuclear weapons against Beijing may lead to a breakdown in political negotiation and therefore lead to both countries to resort to arms.


Strategic aims.


The aim of the North Korean military would likely be to delay an immanent Chinese invasion of Korea. This would be achieved by absorbing more land between the Sino Korean border and interior China. This would require North Korean forces to capture strategic locations such as Dalian, Shengyang and destroy Chinese coastal ports around the yellow sea. The primary objective of a North Korean assault is to enable a defense in depth, especially to capture fixed positions to maneuver North Korean artillery for a Chinese counter attack. Secondary aims of the North Korean forces is to maintain regime legitimacy and prevent a Sino invasion of the interior Korean peninsula.


The principle aim of the PLA is to defend the strategic and economic positions near the Sino Korean border and also Beijing. The secondary aims is to dismantle North Korea's military and to eliminate North Korean weapons of mass destruction.


The war would be likely comprised of three phases. The first phase would focus on strategic posturing and mobilization on the Sino Korean border. The second phase would focus on the initial Blitzkrieg into the Chinese interior region and subsequent attacks on strategic Chinese targets along the eastern Chinese coast and also Beijing. This phase would also include the Chinese counter attack and subsequent bombardment by the PLAA. The third phase would focus on a Chinese invasion of interior North Korea.


Doctrine and readiness.



North Korea's military doctrine relies primarily on aggressive posturing and unconventional doctrines. Militarily North Korea would likely rely on Blitzkrieg or artillery and mechanized warfare to secure enemy territory so to achieve their operational aims. North Korean military doctrine are likely based upon the Soviet models of operational art and deep battle, with a particular emphasis on artillery as a means of conducting warfare in relations to it's neighbors. North Korean doctrine also emphasize the use of rear maneuvers to disrupt enemy forces, to create a second front and to break enemy frontal formations. North Korea's military also invested heavily on unconventional strategies and also nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The military's greatest weaknesses are it's air capabilities and the lack of fuel.


The PLA's doctrine is emphasized as being able to conduct and win "local wars under high tech conditions". As an emerging power, China's military has seen significant improvements over the past two decades especially with reference to technology. China can now boast a modern navy, air force and a significantly modernized ground force. Modernization includes developments in training, technology, doctrine and command and control. China's military doctrine has been focused on improving joint arms combat and also improving network centric capabilities. Network centric abilities involve having access to intelligence from signalling and electronic surveillance, communication of battle space information and improvements in mission commands and command and control.


Axis of assault.


In an event of a full blown war between China and North Korea, the PLA would likely position it's forces along the northern length of the Yalu river. However Chinese forces would likely also position themselves in Dalian, Shenyang and Jilin. PLA forces along the Yalu and around the aforementioned locations would likely seek to abort a North Korean mechanized invasion by establishing a defense in depth. The PLA forces would likely comprise of the 78th army and the 79th army. PLA strength in front and rear positions around the border should number no less than 15 divisions, and may approximate to 30 divisions.


North Korea would likely concentrate it's forces on the western and central areas of the Chinese Korean border. North Korea would likely initiate the assault phase of the war so to achieve surprise and initiative, as their forces would likely be at the onset numerically stronger than that of the Chinese forces. The initial invasion may comprise no less than sixty divisions, aimed to overwhelm China's defenses primarily at the staging point of the Sino Korean friendship bridge towards Shengyang and Dalian. The second invasion point would likely be staged somewhere around Manpo by capturing the G303 highway towards Tonghua. A third assaulting point would likely commence in the east to capture Yanbian and the surrounding areas.


Chinese defenses.


The Chinese defense strategy would likely focus on defense in depth along the strategic highways near the Sino Korean border. The focus of Chinese efforts at this stage would be to diminish the North Korean forward forces via the use of accurate artillery fire and fixed defenses. It would be reasonable to expect at least the involvement of a thousand separate artillery pieces on the Chinese side. Positioned on the front there would likely be ten to twenty divisions of the PLA. Given the technological advantage of the PLA, this would likely result in North Korean forces facing significant casualties.


The readiness of the Chinese defenses is dependent on the alert time Chinese forces have. If the alert time is limited to a time frame of a few days, then this would mean far fewer concentration of defenses which could be erected. A time frame of over week would normally be sufficient to install more defensive obstacles such as mines, dragon teeth wires, anti tank guided missiles and concrete defenses. Depending on the circumstances of the North Korean attack, it is probable that North Korean intrusion into China and specifically Dalian and Shengyang could be reached given if the two cities are within one hundred kilometers of the Sino Korean border.


Rear assault.


North Korean forces whom have broken Chinese defenses would then focus on conducting rear exploitation as part of their deep battle plan. This would likely be comprised of special forces and light infantry units attacking Chinese defenses throughout the Sino Korean border region. The goal of the rear units is to simultaneously coordinate strikes into remaining zones of Chinese opposition. The objective of these units is to isolate existing Chinese opposition and destroy them by piece meal, and also disrupt Chinese forces. This strategy would be highly feasible due to the hilly terrain in the Sino Korean border region and also the infantry dominated units the North Korean military has at it's disposal.


PLA response and Chinese decapitation strikes.


Once North Korean forces have achieved a strategic offensive, the PLA would then order order a strategic counter attack. The PLA would mobilize their rear forces in Dalian, Shengyang and Yanbian to counter attack. The priority is to deal with the Korean mechanized, artillery and special forces units pass the Sino Korean border. Given the PLA's fuel and resource sufficiency, it is likely the PLA would prefer to stall for time before coordinating a multi pronged attack against the Korean forces. The PLA counter attack would likely be supported by hundreds of attack helicopters, precision artillery and air support. A priority of the PLA would be to identify North Korean surface to air missiles, so to allow themselves to attack from the air without being prevented.


Given the lessons in the Gulf wears and China's development in precision strike weapons, China would likely engage in a 'shock and awe' campaign against North Korean targets. These include military depots, Korean anti air battery's, sea ports, railway stations, command and control installations and so on. The severity of this attack would likely be on the scale of the air campaign in the Gulf war. This being said there would likely be hundreds of air sorties daily, involvement of over a thousand PLAA aircraft, dropping over a minimal of one hundred thousands tons of ordinance.


Sea battle.


The PLAN would likely engage in sea skirmishes with the KPN in the yellow seas between Dalian, Tantai and Pyongyang. Due to the PLAN's superiority, the KPN would likely be unable to contest PLAN intrusions. PLAN would likely secure a sea corridor along the coast lines between Dalian and the Sino Korean Friendship bridge. A defeat of the KPN would also open the Western Korean coast for Chinese ampibious units to create a second front in the country's interior.


Mopping up and invasion of North Korea.


Once North Korean forces pass the Sino Korean border have been significantly diminished, the Chinese military would invade North Korea via the yellow sea and through the eastern, central and western axis of the Sino Korean border.









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