April 10th, 2013
05:58 PM ET

War game plays out poorly

By Jake Tapper and Jennifer Rizzo

Imagine the North Korean regime has toppled, either because the U.S. or South Korea take it out, or because of a coup, and the U.S. has to surge troops to secure the country's nuclear stockpiles to make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands.

The frightening scenario was played out at the U.S. Army War College recently, and it did not end well. The military sets the scene in the fictitious land of "North Brownland," essentially an alias for North Korea.

"It was a family regime that had nuclear weapons, lost control of nuclear weapons. The population was considered to be so brainwashed, and we had a staging area with a country in the south," said Paul McLeary of Defense News. McLeary was present as the military officials debated the plans.

U.S .troops, he said, had immediate problems surging into the North Korea-like country. V-22 Ospreys zoomed U.S. soldiers deep beyond the border, but with reinforcements so far behind they were quickly surrounded by the enemy and needed to be pulled out. American troops eventually made it over the border, but with nuclear sites located in populated areas, their mission became more difficult. U.S. forces made humanitarian aid drops to draw people out of the cities.

"They made the game as difficult as possible to really test their capabilities," said McLeary. "They're very concerned about being able to get troops who can deal with nuclear and chemical weapons where they need them quickly. And the fact [is] that over the past ten or twelve years, they haven't really invested in that capability so much. They've invested in counterinsurgency, ground vehicles, IED threats, but they haven't really spent a lot of time and money modernizing their nuclear and chemical troops."

In the end it takes the U.S. a force of 90,000 troops and 56 days to secure "North Brownland's" nuclear weapons.

"We are not very well prepared to deal with a collapsed North Korea," said Bruce Bennett, a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation.

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Filed under: Asia • Kim Jong-un • Military • North Korea • Yongbyon
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Beefburger

    @1371usmc, COULD does not necessarilly mean WOULD. Military mentality is cut and dried. Politicians like to think they are all Game of Thrones masterminds. But if we actually DID do what we are fully capable of then it would freak out those who do not have our best intrests at heart begetting a possible knee-jerk reaction from some players that own mushroom makers.

    May 2, 2013 at 5:09 am | Reply
  2. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    April 14, 2013 at 4:12 am | Reply
  3. An old Grunt Sgt.

    Super job RAND boys. You played a game !!! May I suggest this "game" to improve the accuracy of yours. YOU stand post on the DMZ. 30 days should do it. I recommend 2400 to 0400 It will help with the irritating "real" aspect of your scenario.
    Your plan will evaporate about 45 seconds after "Go". That is always how it is. Best laid plans, etc. Now.. go play warcraft and STFU. Semper Fi

    April 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  4. wab

    A warning from N.K. not to pull a IRAQ

    April 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  5. lisaiam

    North korea has threatened the us for years and yet nothing has happened yet they are full of lies and evilness this is just all a bunch of talk because north koreas leader is a spoiled under educated bratt who wants attention i would not feed into this as a real threat.

    April 11, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
    • Anonymous

      Nuclear sabre-rattling is not a game to be taken lightly.

      April 11, 2013 at 3:21 am | Reply
  6. wjm

    I know that these games were supposed to be as realistic and hard as they could be, but it says nothing about America's airforce and its ability to deal with situations without their kids gloves on, it would probably have shifted the outcome of these games. It seems to me that a corporation set up by the defense industry in 1946 would also say the sky is falling give the military more money.

    April 11, 2013 at 12:44 am | Reply
  7. Desert Tortoise

    If North Korea were to implode economically or politically, the Chinese would enter North Korea unopposed and secure the place. If US and/or South Korean forces entered North Korea there would be a total war with China that would not end well for either side.
    Btw, if you read the Asian press the PLA has been pretty open and public about their intention to enter North Korea if that government collapses. I say let them. It would be China's 1956 Hungarian uprising or Prague Spring. Let them suffer the consequences diplomatically and economically. Let the world see China for what it really is. They made the problem, let them suffer as a result. We and the South Koreans should do absolutely nothing unless attacked. Be patient, well armed and vigilant but don't start anything.

    April 11, 2013 at 12:01 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Agree! Let the Chinese have NK! If we went in to "save them" it would be a much bigger disaster than any other nation we have "tried" to save! We just don't know how to do this! Bush's "Shock and Awe" proves it, win the battle but lose the war!
      I suggest: If NK does anything stupid, we take immediate "Shock and Awe" action to stop further attacks – with no boots on the ground, then immediately ban any and all Chinese containers and ships from entering US! Sure, we may run out of smart phones for awhile – this would actually reduce traffic accidents! This would force China to take action to protect their "capitalist" economy while they remain politically "communist". The Chinese could give "little Fat Boy" a permanent seat in the party so that the brain washed North Koreas would honor China as their new leader!
      The absolute worst senerio is for the US and South Korea to enter NK with the intent of "saving them"! This would never work.

      April 11, 2013 at 6:57 am | Reply
      • Patriot

        Thats a BAD idea to give North Korea to China. that will make the Chinese clamour for more asian land, next thing you know, China will ask for South Korea, Okinawa, taiwan and all of SE Asia. Giving North korea to China is like throwing gasoline into the fire. It will make the situation even more worse.

        April 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Emigdio Alvarez

    looks like they forgot to factor in "South Brownland"

    April 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  9. SteveH

    Playing out any such scenario without factoring in both Chinese reaction and Russian reaction (remember, they have a tiny border on NK too) is grossly unrealistic. If we acted unilaterally, we could expect our troops to be met by Chinese troops. And we'd never get Chinese okay to act unilaterally. Basically, I venture that the realistic outcome would be a Somalia with nukes.

    April 10, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  10. Abe Froman

    The US should pretend the leadership is still alive and in-charge by using North Korean mass media to issue fake instructions to the population and end the war. If they've been raised to believe the regime, use it.

    April 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  11. 1371usmc

    56 days????????? The educated regards need to leave it to the pros. Ask the Seals and Marine Recon they could get it done in a few hours and no where near that amount of personal.

    April 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • RD

      USMC1371, I have no doubt as to the capabilities of the Units you mention. But a "few hours"? I was a weapons and tactics instructor for 7 years specializing in NK AF and SOF Ops. Every year there is a comprehensive PIE or Peninsula Intelligence Estimate released. Your data while Patriotic is very ill informed.

      April 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Reply
      • 1371usmc

        I had a chat with a few friends at Quantico. Less then 30 sites secured in under 24 hours will be no problem as long as the administration open the rules of engagement.

        April 11, 2013 at 6:21 am |
  12. Rick_Buggy

    maybe Russia or China should "surge" in to protect the nukes! Leave it to them!

    April 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply

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