The Ghost of Donald Rumsfeld

After the September 11 attacks, the Department of Defense realized that it had no contingency plan for invading Afghanistan because no such eventuality had been conceived. In order to provide a rapid response to attacks from unforeseen quarters, Donald Rumsfeld commissioned a study to create a "to whoever it may concern" contingency, so the US would never be without a comeback again. The lead service, to nobody's surprise, was the Air Force, probably with some help from the Navy.  Rumsfeld's requirement created a "no boots on the ground" attack concept called CONPLAN 8022.

One of the theaters in which CONPLAN 8022 might have to be carried out was the Korean peninsula, given the fact that US troop commitments in the War on Terror might preclude a more conventional response. This post revisits the CONPLAN 8022 concept and examines how it might apply in 2010.  The Washington Post laid out the basic elements of the plan. The idea was to paralyze North Korea rather than invade it.

CONPLAN 8022 anticipates two different scenarios. The first is a response to a specific and imminent nuclear threat, say in North Korea. A quick-reaction, highly choreographed strike would combine pinpoint bombing with electronic warfare and cyberattacks to disable a North Korean response, with commandos operating deep in enemy territory, perhaps even to take possession of the nuclear device.

The second scenario involves a more generic attack on an adversary's WMD infrastructure. Assume, for argument's sake, that Iran announces it is mounting a crash program to build a nuclear weapon. A multidimensional bombing (kinetic) and cyberwarfare (non-kinetic) attack might seek to destroy Iran's program, and special forces would be deployed to disable or isolate underground facilities.

By employing all of the tricks in the U.S. arsenal to immobilize an enemy country -- turning off the electricity, jamming and spoofing radars and communications, penetrating computer networks and garbling electronic commands -- global strike magnifies the impact of bombing by eliminating the need to physically destroy targets that have been disabled by other means.

One of the most interesting aspects of this plan is what it does not do. For example, it does not specifically address the problem of reducing North Korean fortifications, much of which are underground or heavily fortified. Military Photos has an interesting page showing Google Earth images of artillery positions, underground airbases, air defenses and the like. North Korea has apparently decided to turn its country into a vast Iwo-Jima or Okinawa-like fortress. Although immobile and primitively armed, these positions would take a tremendous amount of bombardment to reduce, if that is even possible.

But that is not what CONPLAN 8022 aims to achieve. Its goal is to decapitate the North Korean infrastructure and reduce the vascular system of this giant anthill to thrombosis. If successful, such an attack would at the very least make any offensive action by North Korea into the South impossible while making an advance into North Korea, probably by the South Korean Army, feasible at some point. While sixty years have changed much since 1950, geography is not one of them. This map of Korean War operations shows the main avenues of advance going both ways. They are likely to be the same even today.

Eventually a highway into the North will swing open for the South, assuming it wants to go there. In the meantime, two infrastructure targets stand out the most. The first is the electric grid. North Korea's power grid is ramshackle and threadbare. In 2005 there were even proposals for the South to supply it with juice. Engineers who examined it shuddered with horror. "Technicians from KEPCO ... said any such moves will require wholesale upgrading of the North's power grid, which has fallen into disrepair since the early 1990s. They gave no details on how dilapidated the power system is in the North."