On the last week of September, the Republic of Korea Army Special Forces (ROKA-SF) revealed a plan to form a new Special Forces brigade.
It would be trained exclusively to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear facilities, chemical weapon facilities and missile launch pads during wartime.
But ROKA-SF veterans Jung Jin-man, Kim Sung-kap and Jang Ji-hun have harshly criticized the plan, saying the Special Forces in its current state cannot function properly against North Korea at all.
“I find it highly illogical to mention the formation of a new brigade while the Special Forces Command has failed in even the very basics for the troops,” said Jung Jin-man, formerly of the ROKA-SF and currently a researcher at the Korea Defense Network.
MODERN SPECIAL OPERATIONS
“Many would imagine that South Korean Special Forces, who have trained under harsh conditions, would jump in behind a heavily fortified line and eradicate enemy forces,” said Jung.
However, modern special operations have changed greatly and the main mission of today’s ROKA-SF is to be unseen, unheard and unnoticed by North Korean forces and provide reconnaissance, surveillance and human intelligence for friendly forces.
‘… the Special Forces Command has failed in even the very basics for the troops’
“Just one team might engage in surveillance missions in the enemy-occupied regions, but usually more than one team is deployed in the targeted area and keeps an eye on the same mission objectives,” he said.
“Of course, purposefully, these teams would have no idea where the other teams are located.”
The main infiltration missions behind enemy lines are actually designed to last for one-two weeks, or even shorter depending on the mission’s characteristics.
“While carrying war gear that often weighs up to 55 kg, we are parachuted down around the mission objective. Once the team is gathered at the rendezvous point, the team would immediately dig or hide their heavy war gear and engage in reconnaissance,” Jung said.
Once the team locates the threat, such as nuclear facilities or missile launch pads, it sends the results of their reconnaissance to high command. When high command decides that the objective is a high-value target, the team makes a tactical airstrike request to allied forces.
“There are times when an airstrike is just not enough,” said Jung, mentioning that they are ordered to infiltrate the facility and directly strike the mission objective, should the airstrike fail to neutralize the target.
“But I do not think we can even consider an airstrike an option,” said Kim Sung-kap, a former firearms specialist for the ROKA-SF. “The biggest problem with an airstrike is that the attack will certainly exhume toxic materials, such as nuclear fallout from the destroyed facility.
“This rules out an airstrike on the facility. This means that we will have to infiltrate North Korea’s most severely guarded facilities during times of war, and destroy a highly technological structure that none of our troops excel at.”
Kim said that, unless one member of the team is a nuclear scientist or specializes in nuclear engineering, perfectly neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear facility through on-foot infiltration would be impossible.
But Kim said partially halting the launch of nuclear missile would be a viable option.
“One battalion of the ROKA-SF is composed of 170-180 combat-ready troops. If at least one battalion strikes North Korea’s facility and destroys the entrance to the nuclear silo, the missile would have to remain stuck in there for a few days until the silo gets fixed. With the time bought, South Korean forces might be able to make changes to the phase of war.”
Kim believes that ROKA-SF can temporarily halt North Korea’s nuclear missile launch only if the ROKA-SF can get near the North Korean facility.
“0.1 percent success rate,” said Kim, when NK News asked about the likelihood of a successful infiltration into North Korean nuclear facilities. He related an experience of visiting a substation in a provincial area of South Korea and discussing security with the personnel there.
“The guards told me that they are obligated to arm themselves with rifles and defend the facility during times of war,” he said. “If such a small substation in the corner of South Korea is this well-protected, how do you think the nuclear facility in North Korea would be guarded during times of war?”
Kim said all the key facilities in South Korea are protected with at least three different layers of defense.
“For example, Korea’s Blue House would have bodyguards who would stay tight with president; a second layer of guards would be placed inside the wall of the Blue House and the third would protect the Blue House from the outside.”
“I expect North Korea to have a similar or more complex defense strategy, which means the ROKA-SF would have to deal with forces outside of nuclear facility, forces inside the wall of the facility and those who closely guard key buildings.”
But Kim worries that all such guards will be on high alert during wartime and stationed inside heavily fortified bunkers. Also, Kim said that he would not be surprised to see North Koreans in highly defensive positions, protected with heavy machine guns and few tanks.”
“That is why I said the success rate would be 0.1 percent,” said Kim.
And questions remains as to how the troops would even get to those facilities.
“Most of the ROKA-SF troops would be sent in using helicopters to land quickly or fixed-wing aircrafts to parachute down to the mission objectives,” said Jung.
“The ROKA-SF has a Boeing CH-47 Chinooks and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, upgraded in Korea to support special warfare,” he said. “We also have a few Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the four-engine turboprop military transport aircrafts and Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules, the advanced version of C-130. We also have CN235, the medium-range twin-engine transport plane.”
But he said none of the military aircraft mentioned above are suited for special operations, as they are either too bulky, too slow or originally designed to transport regular troops.
“During my service time, I spent over a year with U.S. Navy Seals and U.S. Rangers,” said Kim. “Their mission objectives are very similar to ours, but the support they get from their country is very different from us.”
Kim said the U.S. Navy Seals and Rangers are supported with V-22 Osprey, an American multi-mission aircraft specializing in quick infiltration.
‘None of the team will make it alive to North Korea in its current state’
“This helicopter is a must-have for ROKA-SF as they are comparably very quiet even if the helicopter is floating just 50 to 100 meters above you. If the ROKA-SF seriously plans to infiltrate North Korea’s nuclear facilities, this helicopter will ensure subtlety of infiltration resulting in an increased success rate of the mission.”
The ROKA-SF Command was not always nonchalant in adopting new transportation technology. One former ROKA-SF commander once tried his best to secure Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey and MH-53, the long-range combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter for the ROKA-SF. But this never came to pass due to budget issues.
“I think it is totally illogical for the current ROKA-SF Command to talk of forming a North Korea strike brigade while they cannot even provide the proper transportation into North Korea. None of the team will make it alive to North Korea in its current state,” said Jung.
RISK OF FRIENDLY FIRE
“During times of war and chaos, anything can happen. Friendly fire is certainly not an exception,” said Kim.
Kim said the current ROKA-SF is exposed to the risk of friendly fire as well as being bombarded by allied air forces during infiltration.
“Should American Special Forces engage the enemy, U.S. military satellite and MQ-1 Predator, the U.S. made Unmanned Air Vehicle, would provide thermal visual aid to the allied forces. Headquarters would gather the information and distribute it to all related forces in the warzone to avoid the chance of friendly fire or dangerously close bombardment.”
Kim said, today’s ROKA-SF would be exposed to friendly fire because of a lack of simple and inexpensive technology.
“In case the U.S. military satellite or Predator fails to provide thermal visual support, a helicopter equipped with infrared camera would detect the Infrared Reflective Patches attached to U.S. troops’ shoulders or backpacks.”
“If the ROKA-SF and North Korean facility guards are engaged during the night, without these Infrared Patches, it would be very hard for allied forces to identify who is friendly or not. Attack helicopters or aircraft would have a hard time providing support for us, and in the worst case, they might even open fire on us as they would have no way of identifying.”
Kim believes that under current circumstances, death by friendly fire during infiltration missions is inevitable.
“All of this can be prevented by adapting simple and inexpensive technology but the bureaucratic ROKA-SF command are just not serious.”
DOT AND DASH
One would imagine that Special Forces would use high-tech radio mechanics to communicate between teams. But the ROKA-SF currently has nothing but 160-year-old communication technology: the dot and dash.
“We are mainly using AM devices during special operations; put simply, we are using the ‘dot and dash’ method to communicate between teams,” said Jang.
According to Jang, dot and dash is still one of the safest methods in military communications.
“Even though it cannot send visual aids like pictures, it is still the safest way of communicating as the messages are heavily encrypted.”
But the dot and dash is still very unreliable, as Korea’s mountains block the signal, making communication between teams very tedious. To overcome this, Jang often had to climb all the way up in the mountains to set up the signal device.
“Even after setting up the device on the top of mountain, I would still not be certain as many outside factors like weather, device malfunctioning and different regional terrain might cause unpredicted changes.”
Jang also explained that the ROKA-SF once adopted U.S.’s CSZ-5(PSZ-5) radio, the lightweight, reliable, NSA-certified radio for the military communications. The CSZ-5 used U.S.’s military satellites, providing extreme levels of security and sound communications for South Korean aircraft.
But as they were made in the U.S., they were too complex for local forces to use properly. Not only that, due to budget issues, the ROKA-SF had to adopt only half of a full CSZ-5 system, making it an unreliable system nonetheless.
“One team of ROKA-SF is composed of 12 troopers,” said Kim, the former firearm specialist. “Usually nine troopers would carry the K-1, the South Korean submachine gun, one would carry the K-7, the silenced submachine gun and two would carry the K-2, the assault rifle. One K-2 would be equipped with a thermal imagery device.”
But Kim said all the other weapons except the K-1 submachine gun have serious problems.
“As the ROKA-SF’s missions are mostly based on silent infiltration, our missions don’t include situations which we have to engage in a long-range fire fight. So using the K-1, the submachine gun, is the right choice for ROKA-SF.”
“K-7 silent submachine gun is for infiltration and hostage-rescue situations. But despite it being called ‘silent,’ one can clearly hear the loud popcorn noise from its nozzle.”
Kim said he even experienced the bullets fired from the K-7 making a very loud noise when it hit the target, revealing the clue to the position of shooter. Also, its firepower is extremely low as it uses 9mm pistol rounds. Not only that, Kim said the weapon was unreliable in its precision as the accuracy dropped every time he tried to attach Night Vision Goggles on and off.
“The effective range of K-7 is 50-75 meters, if the target at distance of 25 meters is off by 1-2 centimeters that means the rounds would be off up to 6 centimeter in 50-75 meters distance. This is huge problem for us, as the accuracy is not an option in special operations.”
“K-2, equipped with thermal imagery device would be very hard to carry around and fire precisely as the thermal device itself is already 4 kg.”
‘It is evident that ROKA-SF does not have means to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear facilities during times of war’
Kim said, the K-2 itself is weight around 3.7 kg, making total weight of weapon up to 7.7kg or more.
“The weight of the gun would critically lower the battle capability of troops,” said Kim.
“I think the ROKA-SF has the potential to be the strongest Special Forces in the world,” said Jung Jin-man. “But I am afraid that the bureaucratic military command and politicians are only using our patriotism and camaraderie while failing to provide the means for us.
“It is evident that ROKA-SF does not have means to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear facilities during times of war,” said Jang. “The ROKA-SF command’s announcement of forming the special brigade would end up as an empty political promise, unless the proper means are provided to its following troops.”
During a phone call with NK News on October 12, ROKA-SF Public Relations office clarified that there has been no new progress on the forming of North Korean nuclear facility strike brigade.
Main image: ROK MND Flickr
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