This Is How America Would Try to Eliminate North Korea's Nuclear Weapons
May 10, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: North KoreaMilitaryWorldTechnologyU.S.WarICBMs

This Is How America Would Try to Eliminate North Korea's Nuclear Weapons

A very risky and dubious proposition.

Key point: Finding and getting rid of every single WMD-related site and weapon would be very hard. It would be hard to imagine getting them all before they are used.

The Pentagon has just released a new manual that lays out how the United States might destroy North Korea’s nukes.

Army Techniques Publication No. 3-90.40, “Combined Arms Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction,” explains U.S. doctrine for neutralizing WMDs. The guidelines focus on the nuts and bolts of counter-WMD combined-arms operations by brigade combat teams, or BCTs. In other words, how regular Army combat brigades should deal with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Though the manual doesn’t specifically mention North Korea, many of its recommendations would apply should large formations of U.S. ground troops enter North Korea. Regardless of whether the goal is regime change, a punitive incursion or destroying WMDs, it is quite possible that American troops would encounter production, storage or launch facilities for weapons of mass destruction.

Army Techniques Publication No. 3-90.40 is a curious mixture of conventional combat concepts as applied to hunting WMDs. Defeating the enemy—the ultimate goal of ground combat operations—becomes defeating “a threat at a particular site and to set the conditions that allow technical forces to defeat a WMD network.” Delaying operations, which generally involves slowing an attack by enemy forces, means delaying any potential use of WMDs by attacking vulnerable points such as storage and transportation facilities. Reducing operations, which seek to complete the destruction of an encircled enemy force, morph into reducing the number of weapons in enemy WMD stockpiles.

Perhaps because of the Iraq experience, many of the guidelines seem to apply less to an active enemy nation with weapons of mass destruction, and more to a collapsing state whose WMD sites must be secured. Many of these operations would seem to involve U.S. capabilities and decisionmaking at levels far above the level of a combat brigade. However, the Army manual does describe counter-WMD efforts as primarily a land-based operation. “CWMD operations require a unique blend of capabilities within the force that is tailored to the specific target,” including at least eighteen different tasks, from decontamination and forensics to earthmoving and information operations.

Special emphasis is placed on reconnaissance and intelligence collection to identify WMD sites. The manual distinguishes between seizing WMDs, which means using force to capture them from the enemy, and securing sites so that no one manages to walk off with a nuke or a nerve-gas bomb in the confusion.

The manual also includes a few scenarios to illustrate how an Army brigade might handle WMDs. Here is one example:

Cavalry Squadron conducts zone reconnaissance from Phase Line Zebra to Phase Line Tiger in the BCT AO [area of operations] to identify enemy forces and defensive positions. The squadron maneuvers all three troops abreast with squadron controlling the crossing of phase lines. A CBRN R&S platoon (heavy) with nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicles (NBCRVs) is attached to the cavalry squadron to provide CBRN reconnaissance during the movement. In addition, the squadron elements are utilizing their assigned CBRN detection equipment during their movement.

On crossing PL Yak, Bravo Troop identifies an abandoned factory. Bravo Troop sends a size, activity, location, unit, time, and equipment (SALUTE) report to the squadron tactical command post and receives orders to establish an outer cordon to isolate the factory. The CBRN R&S platoon detects a chemical signature consistent with a nerve agent emanating from one of the factory warehouses. No personnel are in sight. The squadron headquarters sends their CBRN 4 report from the CBRN R&S platoon to the BCT. The BCT orders the squadron to establish a perimeter and continue observation while the BCTs CBRN R&S platoon (light) is moved forward to assist in assessing this emerging WMD objective. Squadron personnel brief the CBRN R&S platoon on their observation from the factory. The squadron headquarters orders Alpha Troop to clear and seize the factory. Alpha Troop dons protective gear and thoroughly clears the factory to ensure that there is no enemy present. Forward security elements report seeing a suspected cache of 122-mm rockets in the suspect warehouse. Alpha Troop marks the area, completes clearing the site, and withdraws to positions
that allow it to secure the area in question while the R&S platoon conducts an Assessment.

Alpha Troop conducts a handover with the R&S platoon leader to share information specific to the site (sketch, pictures, and hazards). The CBRN R&S platoon is tasked with locating and confirming or denying the presence of hazardous materials at the site. They confirm a cache of 122-mm rockets and note that some of them are leaking a suspicious liquid. Field confirmatory  results indicate that the liquid is Sarin. An assessment report is sent to higher headquarters. The BCT continues to provide security while technical support is requested to further exploit the site.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This first appeared in 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters