USS Carl Vinson heads to Korean peninsula, but does North Korea have the forces to deter US military action?

Andrew Josef
North Korea, North korea WMD, Northe Korea Armed Forces, US Navy, US fleet, US war with North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump

As the US Navy's Carrier Strike Group 1 heads towards the tinderbox that is North Korea, the country's state-run Korean Central News Agency has cited a foreign ministry spokesman as saying: "We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions."

North Korea and its erratic leader Kim Jong-un are rattling their sabers in a frenzy of anger and disdain. The country's media mouthpiece claims the country is ready for a war with the US, and with the SG1's flagship, USS Carl Vinson, headed for their shores, they'd better be.

According to the Pentagon, SG1 is merely heading to the area to deter North Korea from testing any more ballistic missiles and ratchet up tensions in a region already on edge due to the ongoing brinkmanship in the South China Sea.

F/A 18 Hornet

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But SG1 is a formidable force. The USS Carl Vinson carries 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, including the lethal F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. But aside from the powerful punch packed by the Nimitz-class carrier, SG1 also boasts the formidable deterrent of the USS Bunker Hill guided missile cruiser and its fearsome array of Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

And if that wasn't enough to scare Kim Jong-un, then the US navy has also thrown in the Tomahawk-toting destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 1.

But if Kim is looking to transform his tough talk into an actual shooting war, what does he have in his arsenal that could possibly give the world's most powerful navy pause.

Let's take a look, shall we.

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With just over a million soldiers in active service, and 600,000 in reserve, North Korea claims it can also call upon a militia of nearly six million fighters, although it's likely that a majority of them will be badly-trained and ill-equipped.

Still, as the US saw in the Korean War, both China and North Korea have in the past used sheer numbers to overwhelm a technologically superior enemy, no matter what the human cost.

North Korea People's Army Ground Force

With just under a million service personnel in the army, the Ground Force's offensive thrust hinges on its armour. While it boasts over 5,000 tanks, its armoured mainstay is still the Russian-made T-55, which has been around since the late 1950s.

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Though North Korea claims it has over 1,500 of these ageing machines, there is a question of how many of them are actually in working condition.

North Korea, North korea WMD, Northe Korea Armed Forces, US Navy, US fleet, US war with North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump

North Korea's artillery, however, is formidable. The army claims to have over 8,000 pieces, ranging from the devastating M-1978 Koksan 175mm self-propelled gun to the Chinese-made Type 63 multiple rocket launcher, which is deadly against infantry.

North Korea, North korea WMD, Northe Korea Armed Forces, US Navy, US fleet, US war with North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump

It's highly unlikely the US will ever put boots on the ground in North Korea, but if they do it's not the quality of the weaponry that they will face, but the quantity, that is worrisome. The US has been on the peninsula before, and the memories aren't happy ones.

Korean People's Navy

North Korea should be able to put around 50 diesel submarines into the water in case of a US attack. While the indigenous Sang-O class will spearhead any offensive or defensive action, it's a noisy boat that will make an easy target for US hunter-killer subs, not to mention the awesome array of anti-submarine detection machinery and weaponry that will surround the waters around SG1.

North Korea, North korea WMD, Northe Korea Armed Forces, US Navy, US fleet, US war with North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump

The only North Korean ship that will give the US navy a few milliseconds of lost sleep is the rumoured Krivak-class frigate. It has been speculated that the Russians delivered a hull to North Korea at some point in 1995, but there has been no proof that the ship is actually seaworthy.

The Russian variant carries SS-N-14 Silex anti-submarine missiles and SA-N-4 Gecko surface to air missiles. It's unlikely that the North Korean vessel will be as well armed.

Korean People's Army Air Force

This is where things could get a little bit sticky. While the rest of North Korea's armed forces have hugely outdated machinery, the air force has nearly 40 Mig-29s and over a 100 Mig-23s. While the Super Hornets should easily handle the Floggers, it's the Fulcrums that could prove a harder nut to crack.

MiG-29K/KUB

Wiki Commons/Indian Navy

The Air Force also has 50 Mi-24s that are built to stay in the air and can pack a fearsome punch when up against enemy armour and infantry.

North Korea also has a large number of Il-28 medium-range bombers. The Russian-made jets are of a 1949 vintage, ponderous, and have a radar signature the size of Greenland. If, however, they somehow manage to get through an air defense screen, they can carry a 3,000 payload, which could do serious damage.

Korean People's Army Strategic Force

This is what the whole brouhaha is about: North Korea's strategic missile development programme. Can North Korea, however, manage to effectively use this force in battle is another issue altogether.

Reliability problems have dogged the programme, but with over 600 Hwasong-6 short-range ballistic missiles in its arsenal, North Korea could make an assault against its urban areas or other centres of resistance, very expensive indeed.

North Korea, North korea WMD, Northe Korea Armed Forces, US Navy, US fleet, US war with North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump

The US has been keeping a close eye on the Rodong-1 medium-range ballistic missile, and update on the Russian Scud. North Korea claim to have around 200 units, but the real number could be closer to 50.

North Korea's more advanced strategic arsenal like the Pukguksong-1 and the Pukkuksong-1 have only recently been tested and may not be battle ready in the near future.

What SG1 achieves off the Korean peninsula remains to be seen. If history is anything to go by North Korea will not ratchet-up tensions while the USS Carl Vinson is on the horizon. But there is also the off-chance that Kim Jong-un will finally lose the plot and either launch a preemptive (and most certainly doomed strike) against SG1 or an attack on the South.

The latter is the greatest fear, because if South Korean air defenses and counterbatteries fail to stem an attack from air, or by land, then South Korean urban centres could be targeted with a large loss of life.

Either way it would take a madman to pull the proverbial trigger....

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