Main­tain­ing mil­i­tary readi­ness in Korea Un­til con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures are achieved, the coali­tion must keep up its guard

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Gary An­der­son

Can­celling large scale com­bined mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in South Korea while the de­tails of the Trump-Kim peace process are be­ing worked through is a cal­cu­lated risk, but it is prob­a­bly worth the ef­fort. This is par­tic­u­larly true if a for­mal agree­ment to end the nearly sev­en­decade war in Korea is achieved. Since 1953, that war has been in an un­easy truce, but it is still a war. Un­til real con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures be­tween the two Koreas and the United States are im­ple­mented, the coali­tion is wise to keep up its guard. This can be done with­out large scale ex­er­cises if some in­no­va­tion and imag­i­na­tion are ap­plied. The de­mo­li­tion of some North Korean nu­clear and mis­sile test sites and the sus­pen­sion of large scale South Korean ex­er­cise are a good start.

Large ex­er­cises are usu­ally de­signed to keep cur­rent on three key mil­i­tary func­tions. The first is com­mand and con­trol — that is the abil­ity to make sure com­mu­ni­ca­tions work — and en­sure that the lan­guage bar­rier be­tween the South Kore­ans and their English­s­peak­ing al­lies is not a show stop­per. Korean de­fense is still a U.N. func­tion, al­though the U.S. pro­vides the over­whelm­ing pro­por­tion of U.N. troops in Korea.

Sec­ond, ex­er­cises prac­tice the abil­ity to rapidly de­ploy re­in­force­ments from out­side Korea by sea and air in the event that a con­flict breaks out. Fi­nally, ex­er­cises al­low the forces that might be called upon to de­fend the South to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with the ter­rain over which they might be fight­ing. All of th­ese can be done with­out large scale ex­er­cises if a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion and in­no­va­tion is ex­er­cised.

Com­mand and con­trol can be prac­ticed through fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­er­cises be­tween the ma­jor head­quar­ters in­volved in war plans. In ad­di­tion, com­puter-gen­er­ated war games be­tween the ma­jor head­quar­ters that would be in­volved in a con­flict don’t have to be held in Korea. The South Korean key play­ers could be flown to the U.S. or Ja­pan so as not to un­duly ag­gra­vate the North in on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The ar­rival and as­sem­bly of re­in­force­ments called for in any war plan can like­wise be prac­ticed out­side the Korean penin­sula. The process of un­load­ing the Marine Corps’ equip­ment from Mar­itime Prepo­si­tioned Ship squadrons and fast Army sea lift is not re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent for a con­flict in Korea than any­where else.

Sit­u­a­tional aware­ness of the ter­rain is likely the only thing that needs to be done on the penin­sula it­self, but that can be ac­com­plished by us­ing some imag­i­na­tion. The com­man­ders and key staff of units des­ig­nated in the war plans to re­in­force Korea can fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with staff rides or tac­ti­cal ex­er­cises with­out troops — TEWTs in mil­i­tary par­lance. Th­ese can even be done in civil­ian clothes.

Stu­dents from our com­mand and staff and war col­leges rou­tinely visit Civil War, World War I and II bat­tle­fields as part of their cur­ricu­lum. There is no sub­sti­tute for know­ing the ter­rain that you might have to fight in. Gen. Pat­ton had thor­oughly walked French and German ter­rain in his off-duty hours as a stu­dent at the French War Col­lege and cred­ited those out­ings as largely con­tribut­ing to his mil­i­tary suc­cess. Such ac­tiv­i­ties should not dis­rupt ne­go­ti­a­tions if the North Kore­ans are se­ri­ous about pur­su­ing peace.

The real con­cern that Amer­i­can mil­i­tary plan­ners should have with com­bat readi­ness in Korea has noth­ing to do with large scale ex­er­cises on the Korean Penin­sula. Af­ter nearly two decades of com­bat in low-level coun­terin­sur­gen­cies, many ac­tive duty and re­tired mil­i­tary ob­servers are con­cerned with the abil­ity of U.S. units to fight in heavy con­ven­tional com­bat.

In a re­cent in­ter­na­tional tank-fir­ing com­pe­ti­tion, Amer­i­can Army crews came in a dis­mal sev­enth, beat­ing out only Ukraine. The Rus­sians, Chi­nese and Kore­ans did not par­tic­i­pate. Army and Marine Corps units are now begin­ning to restart ex­er­cises that repli­cate in­tense con­ven­tional com­bat at their train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the Cal­i­for­nia high desert that were re­placed by coun­terin­sur­gency ex­er­cises at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n. That should even­tu­ally im­prove readi­ness for the kind of com­bat they would face in Korea.

Pres­i­dent Trump be­lieves that Kim Jong-un is se­ri­ous about want­ing peace. How­ever, un­til we see con­crete ev­i­dence such as with­draw­ing thou­sands of ar­tillery pieces in range of the South Korean cap­i­tal, the al­lies are well ad­vised to hope for the best and pre­pare for the worst. Even if Mr. Kim is sin­cere, a coup by hard­lin­ers could bring us back to the bad old days of the pre-Trump-Kim sum­mit. Pres­i­dent Rea­gan was right when he de­clared; “trust but ver­ify.”

Army and Marine Corps units are now begin­ning to restart ex­er­cises that repli­cate in­tense con­ven­tional com­bat at their train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the Cal­i­for­nia high desert that were re­placed by coun­terin­sur­gency ex­er­cises at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n.

Gary An­der­son is a re­tired Marine Corps colonel with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in Korean ex­er­cises. He lec­tures on war gam­ing at the Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity’s El­liott School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY

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