By Bijan Razzaghi
The Threat Picture
Artillery at the moment is the deadliest conventional threat in a potential war with North Korea. Although North Korea’s various artillery platforms such as the M-1978 Koksan Sell Propelled Gun are technologically simplistic and inferior to anything operational in South Korea’s arsenal, the sheer number of them deployed by North Korea along the mountainous parts of the DMZ pose a threat to South Korea’s Capital Seoul. An example is North Korea’s M-1978 170mm self propelled gun which has a range of 40km and 60km with rocket boosted ammunition. Unlike rocket artillery there are no operational countermeasures available for shell artillery, and the types of ammunition used can include Chemical, and Biological agents. To effectively circumvent this threat precision air power is the most viable of options. The following platforms below can effectively take on North Korea’s artillery batteries.
F-15E Strike Eagle
Boeing’s F-15E is best suited for the task of going after mobile artillery due to a combination of its payload, range and sensors. The WSO (weapons system operator) who sits in the backseat of the aircraft can operate the Lockheed Martin Sniper Pod, which allows high-resolution infra-red or night vision footage of the target area. This can be done while the pilot can solely focus on flying the aircraft and evading threats. The Sniper pod can designate artillery positions and vehicles such as the M-1978 and engage them with 250lb SDBs and 500-1000lb JDAMs. The F-15E can carry 24,500lbs of ordinance. F-15Es will likely fly at altitudes above 15,000 feet to stay out the range of AAA and MANPADs. South Korea operates its own variant of the F-15E called the F-15K, which has a similar range of capabilities. In addition to the F-15E the Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet and Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet offer similar capabilities.
A-10C Thunderbolt II
The A-10C is another aircraft suited for the daunting task of going after North Koreas artillery among the reasons are the aircrafts slow speed handling and ability to fly at low altitudes and sustain damage from AAA and MANPADs. Armored plating protects the pilot along with vital fuel lines. The A-10C can deployed most of the Air Forces air to ground ordinance among them the AGM-65 Maverick TV and Laser guided missiles. The GAU-16 30mm cannon is the A-10s most deadly weapon and can be used to strafe artillery positions. A-10s can also loiter over target areas for a longer duration of time before having to refuel. A-10Cs are unable to operate in contested airspace and would likely only be deployed ahead of SEAD strikes.
General Atomics The MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned ISR(Intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance/Light attack platform. The unmanned aircraft can carry up to 14 laser guided AGM-114 hellfire missiles, and loiter over the target area for up to 14 hours with a full load of weapons. Unarmed reapers can loiter for up to 24 hours. Not only can the Reaper engage targets with its AGM-114 hellfires, once the missiles are expended the reaper can designate targets for other Reapers and combat aircraft.