How the North Korean Military Sizes Up to the United States

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Kim Jong-un’s talk of nuking Guam has increased speculation that the tough talk from North Korea might end in war, and soon. Yet most military analysts outside of North Korea think that any actual war between the two nations would end badly for the isolationist country. So just what would North Korea be bringing to the fight?

As the Daily Mail reports, “analysts now believe the North does have missiles capable of reaching the Pacific island, where thousands of US personnel are based.”

That’s frightening to some, but not enough to ensure victory over the United States. The major population centers of South Korea and Japan have far more to fear from such an attack, and any detonation would be catastrophic.

The most optimistic accounts out of North Korea claim the country has 60 nuclear warheads they could weaponize. The United States has more than 6,800.

The United States military is also much more capable. There are 1 million military personnel. More than 13,000 aircraft could join in or support the fight. There are more than 400 ships, and close to 6,000 tanks.

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is in the Sea of Japan. As of now, there are an estimated 80,000 U.S. personnel spread between South Korea, Japan, and Guam.

North Korea does have a substantial military, when you look at man power. They have more than one million active soldiers. The Daily Mail reports they have “944 aircraft, 5,025 tanks, 202 helicopters, 111 frigates and 76 submarines.”

The Hwasong-12, the Pukguksong-2 and the Musadon missiles have been tested, but are not yet proven in battle. Analysts point to a critical component of the missile flight, the re-entry, that poses a unique problem for weaponized missiles. The extreme temperatures often destroy the missiles, and North Korea hasn’t proven their designs are yet capable of withstanding the stress.

The Hwasong-12 has a range of up to 4,350 miles. That puts Hawaii and some of Alaska in range. Getting the missiles in range is one thing. Having them land is another. The US anti-missile defense system, THAAD, is mobile, tested, and the units are stationed all throughout the areas currently threatened. A THAAD battery – has has six launchers. Each battery holds 8 missiles.

Even so, the North’s nuclear capabilities are still just rumors. “US nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who has repeatedly visited North Korea’s nuclear facilities,” The Mail reports, “does not believe the North has weapons systems for ‘enveloping fire’ around Guam as it threatened.”

“The real threat is stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula by misunderstanding or miscalculation. Inflammatory rhetoric on both sides will make that more likely,” Hecker said. “It’s time to tone down the rhetoric.”

The North Korean Army is fielding numerous Soviet style tanks. They are believed to have  T-34s, T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. There are possibly 3,500 of them, though the fleet is hardly state of the art.

The real threat to South Korea comes from the intense artillery bombardment that would precede a ground assault. 170 mm self-propelled guns. 240 mm Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

While any actual war might begin with the United States, it would likely include South Korea and Japan.

The U.S. has 140 M1 Abrams tanks, 170 Bradley armored vehicles, 30 155mm self-propelled howitzers and 30 MRLs.

The North Korean Air Force is even sketchier. While it has some MiG-29s and MiG-21s, most are more antiquated MiG-15s, MiG-17s, and MiG- 19s.

The U.S. has planes and drones in the region, and the capability to launch missions from carriers, air bases, host countries, and even from the mainland United States.

One of the more interesting elements of North Korea’s strategy comes from its aging submarine fleets. The country is believed to have 70 attack submarines. The ones Kim is most often seen posing with and on, though, are cold-war relics.

The United States, in comparison, has the Seventh Fleet stationed in Japan.  It includes 70 ships and submarines and the USS Ronald Reagan. Analysts speculate that this force, alone, is more than a match for all of North Korea’s military.