US troops metaphors at N. Korea border: "tripwire"--OK. How real is "speed bump?"

The troops at the border have often been called a “tripwire” when talking about a North Korea attack. The implication is “merely” a tripwire, until heavy defensive and retaliatory power is brought to bear.

A vet from there I talked to also called them a “speed bump.”

Have others used/heard this metaphor?

More important, and the real OP: how accurate is it?

Well, it’s fairly real. The expectation in the event of renewed fighting (technically not a new Korean War) would be that the highly-capable Republic of Korea military would do the brunt of the fighting, with American support limited mostly to air and naval operations. Our troops on the ground would buy time for the Koreans to mobilize, and also act as a deterrent: “If you start things with South Korea, you’re starting them with us, and this would be bad.”

Note that the deterrent message was, for a long time, aimed at least as much at China as at North Korea: “If you start playing on the penninsula, you’re be in a shooting war with the US (again), not just South Korea; this would be bad.” That is probably less important these days, as China would never back an invasion of South Korea. (Well, absent truly extraordinary circumstances, I suppose.)

Short version: Our troops (and minefields) are on the Penninsula to hinder North Korea in the first hours of an invasion, provide initial support to South Korea, and assure North Korea that we are committed to assisting in the defense of South Korea. But winning the war would be South Korea’s job - and they would win, as they massively outclass the North. They problem that keeps strategists awake at night is that the South wouldn’t win * fast enough* to keep Seoul from being shelled very, very badly - and Seoul is both the demographic and economic heart of the country.

This, by the way, is North Korea’s primary deterrent - not nukes, but massive arrays of conventional artillery, all targeted on the Seoul metro area. “You may win in a war with us, CAPITALIST PIGS AND PAWNS OF SAME, but we’ll bloody you very badly before going down.”

Sorry for repeating information conveyed in previous Korea threads, folks, but I figured I might as well give a kind-of complete picture here.

FYI the U.S. withdrew from the DMZ about 10 years ago. The troops we have left there are further south on the peninsula.

D’oh! Quite right, Loach.

Seoul is something like 35 miles from the DMZ. 35 miles is way, way outside of the range of almost any artillery piece that you care to name, including battleship guns and old-school railroad guns.

Some of the unguided rocket launchers out there can reach that far, but how many of them do they really have, and do their systems actually have that level of performance?

I’ve always thought that “massive arrays of conventional artillery” stuff was propaganda and BS meant to scare the South Koreans, not actual capability.


You know, if they actually invade, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t respect the DMZ, would cross it, and move their artillery closer to Seoul.

It’s a tripwire in the sense that any invasion will immediately involve the US in armed conflict with North Korea and carrying out its defense treaty obligations with the South. There won’t be a need to wait for more forces from the US to arrive (though they would) as the South Korean military is quite large and well equipped and would do the heavy lifting in such a war, but it makes it clear to the North that there will be no ambiguity about US involvement in a conflict, going south means triggering that tripwire.

Not really, the North Koreans make a 170mm SP gun that can fire a RAP 60km. The greater metropolitan area of Seoul is very large, and while a lot of the DPRKs ~8,500 artillery pieces and 5,100 multiple launch rocket systems don’t have the range to hit Seoul, a significant portion of it can. Not enough for the more wild claims of turning it into a sea of fire and killing millions, but enough to start killing very large numbers of civilians.

Their pieces are mostly dug in. Any movement would result in pretty much immediate destruction by counter-battery fire from SK/US artillery. The MLRS munition packages are very effective in the counter-battery mode. SK/US aircraft would have a field day as well. The SK/US equipment and training are really advanced compared to the NK threat whose main weapons are functional but old Soviet era items.

They (NK) will stay in their holes - it’s their main protection. Only one of the main guns they have actually has the range to target Seoul along with their 240mm rocket launchers that do have to come out of hiding. Many of those artillery pieces and rocket launchers are spread out along the DMZ and not in range of Seoul.

The big IF is - do they launch chemical warhead in the surprise attack? That would hose Seoul more than the HE artillery threat.

They are further south but Camps Casey, Hovey and Castle are between Seoul and the DMZ. They’re the biggest US bases in Korea and under an hour’s drive from the DMZ.

I’d imagine the troops there (and the Korean soldiers in the area) would prefer ‘tripwire’ over ‘speed bump’ :smiley:

This page at Global Security lists their firing rate of 1 to 2 round per 5 minutes and estimates that NK has around 500 of them. IOW, the contribution from these, presumably their longest range guns, is of the order of 100 to 200 rounds per minute - in contrast to the 10,000 rpm talked about in the “sea of fire” scenarios.

Isn’t North Korean technology hopelessy outclassed these days. I believe the ROK’s have their own version of the Abrams, against what 40 year old T62 designs. The airpower gap must be so huge it’s not even funny.

I suspect any actual assault by North Korea would be crushed, collateral damage to Seoul not withstanding.

Yes, it is very likely that any advance by the North Koreans would be crushed. The problem is that dug-in artillery and mobile rocket launchers could cause massive civilian casualties before we can shut them down. And the counteroffensive when ROK troops are occupying the North could be extremely costly, depending on where North Korean troops fall on the spectrum of “Okinawa” to “greet us as liberators”.

Hold up. The relative military strengths and tactics/ strategy of North and South Korea have filled up many a recent thread.

JustinC mentions that the US troops would prefer “tripwire” over “speed bump”–indeed, the reason for my vet’s black-humor comment.

So, he (the vet) thinks they’d be only a speed bump, but of course the leaf of grass doesn’t see the trees.

I mean, I have this image of holding the line at Bastogne (I am sorry I can’t cite any recent triumph), where either you retreat or you die–what I understand “overrun” to mean in battle. In addition, of course, retreats can be tactically successful moves.

Speed bumps get overrun by large and fast moving things. Would the advance US contingent be one?

The “Tripwire” is almost non existent now. There are only 60,000 US troops Stationed in Korea.
Imagine hundreds of tunnels going anywhere form a few hundred yards to miles behind your lines.
Now imagine 300,000 specially trained insertion troops (these guys are equal to our own special forces Rangers, some of our best fighters, who only number like 3000) who have trained their entire lives for this mission running at you from behind, while you’re getting the hell bombed out of you from the front, not to mention you have those specially trained commandos tearing the entire infrastructure of your country to pieces.
In a non-totalitarian society, the troops would break very quickly.
Not sure about the actual timing, but the South Korean soldiers are told they only have to hold out for about 4 minutes before they can retreat, and they probably wouldn’t last that long.
Not to mention, you can just basically level the dmz and clear a way through.
But North Korea has the most effective artillery force in Asia, and every expert knows this. So basically, if North Korea attacks, they will kick South Korea’s ass on land, but will probably in the long run lose to the US due to bombing and whatnot.

Would our troops be slaughtered?

There’s a limit to how elite any soldier can be on a thousand Calories a day. And I’m really wondering how one rates “most effective artillery force in Asia”-- Certainly, it’s the one that represents the largest share of its nation’s military strategy, but I’d be surprised if the US didn’t have individual ships with more firepower.


Why would we imagine that?


My understanding of the NK military strategy is to do the following.

  • Use artillery on civilian population like Seoul as a deterrent to avoid an attack.

  • Use chemical and biological weapons on missiles aimed at civilian populations in Japan & South Korea as a deterrant

  • Use their large special forces to conduct lots of property damage and cause disorder in Japan & South Korea

  • Use nuclear weapons as a bigger deterrent, make them small enough to put on missiles to hit anywhere in Japan or South Korea.

  • If a war breaks out, conduct a blitzkreig operation to take over Seoul ASAP. After doing so, use that as leverage to sue for peace.

So their war platform is supposedly based on deterrence (making war with them too expensive from a financial and human cost) and if war breaks out, trying to capture Seoul and using it as a bargaining chip.

So NK doesn’t ever have to be capable of beating SK in a conventional war. NK would lose and lose fast (I’m basing that on the fact that the official Iraqi military was destroyed in days and weeks in both the first and second gulf war, and the Iraqi military is better trained and funded than the NK one), but as long as they can deter war and/or capture Seoul to sue for peace they will avoid their regime falling.

The problem (IMO) is that NK wants to be a major player in the global political scene, and they are dirt poor and want money. So after their nuclear program is more advanced they are likely going to start selling those weapons on the global scene. NK already had a role in trying to build a nuclear program in Syria and Myanmar. NK can’t be a major player on the global stage due to geography, economic size, population, etc. The only tool they have to do that is by creating and causing instability.