This story is a featured entry from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Mad Scientist Initiative contest exploring warfare in 2030-2050.
The Second Korean War began by accident on Monday 16 April 2040, its origins based on personal revenge. North Korean Special Forces General Yun Kong-hum – a favorite of the 56 year-old dictator Kim Jong-un – was very upset and angry. His mentor General Park together with Park’s entire family had been swept up in one of Kim’s paranoia-fueled purges and executed. Yun vowed personal vengeance and quietly set about developing a carefully orchestrated plot to overthrow the Kim regime. His plan relied on extreme secrecy and a series of well-told lies – which given the highly paranoid nature of Stalinist North Korea was a necessity. The only way a coup could succeed was through compartmentalization and dissimilation.
From his reinforced bunker in the port city of Wonsan, Yun developed a plot that centered on Kim’s latest trip to Beijing to beg for more financial aid to keep North Korea viable. Yun’s clique had ties to Chinese intelligence and so had made arrangements to have Kim’s plane shot down as soon as it re-entered North Korean airspace. Yun would then use this as a pretext to claim that the current leadership circle of the party and the military were launching a coup and that he – General Yun – was acting in defense of the Kim regime. Yun already had a list of ‘traitors’ he was going to eliminate by blaming Kim’s assassination on them. He would then fill the key posts with his own people and take over as ruler – a move that China’s leader President Ping approved since China had had enough of the Kim dynasty.
On the evening of 6 April, Kim’s plane crossed the Yellow Sea on the return flight from Beijing. Major Yin Sun-sin was flying one of the five MIG-29s escort planes from the 55th Air Fighter Wing out of Sunchon. He was a dedicated and much decorated pilot – and an agent against the regime. After spending time in China on training missions he had been compromised by Chinese intelligence. China had promised to reward his family – or kill them if he didn’t go along – for his part in assassinating Kim. He knew he was committing suicide when he armed his vintage but still deadly R-27 heat-seeking missiles as he rapidly closed on Kim’s Ilyushin IL-62. Then he fired. Kim’s pilots barely had time to notice the “hostile fire” alarms before the plane exploded at 21:39L over the Yellow Sea just west of Pyongyang. The other escort pilots were at first too stunned to react but then quickly recovered their equilibrium blowing Yin’s plane out of the sky. Knowing they would be executed as soon as they landed for allowing Yin to kill the Brilliant Leader, they made the decision to fly to a Chinese air base in Manchuria.
Yun had been monitoring the situation closely and quickly put the next part of his plan into motion. Using his Special Forces communications net, Yun announced that enemies of the party and the military had assassinated Kim and that he – General Yun – was taking steps to “punish the traitors” – ordering the military to go on alert. Across North Korea, select Special Forces units ironically loyal to both Yun AND Kim began seizing government buildings and arresting people on Yun’s list. Everything was going as planned… except Kim wasn’t dead.
No one in Yun’s clique had noticed when the heavily armored train favored by Kim’s late father – Kim Jong-Il – had quietly slipped into China “for repairs.” On impulse fueled by paranoia, Kim Jong-un had decided to take the train home – secretly switching limousines so that the Chinese watched a body-double board the plane. He was notified the moment his Ilyushin was shot down and Yun made his announcements. Kim knew instantly what treachery Yun was up to. Kim had firm reins on both the regular army and the special internal security troops that were the backbone of his dictatorship. He ordered Special Forces communications coming out of Wonsan cut as he mobilized his state security troops. Kim had to move quickly to contain the rebellion and so he gave instructions to his “Special Detachment” of security troops to “release the package”. A nuclear tipped Hwasong missile was fired, detonating over Wonsan totally obliterating the city. It made Kim feel sad – not because of the instant deaths of over 300,000 people – but because one of his favorite villas had been there. But in Kim’s world there were other villas but only one Kim. Yun himself was safe in his underground bunker, but completely isolated now that the landscape above him was a nuclear desert.
US, South Korean and Japanese civilian and military officials were monitoring the deteriorating situation in North Korea and put their forces on high alert. They watched in stunned disbelief as Kim nuked one of his own major cities. This was one of their nightmare scenarios: a North Korean civil war. It was not only a security crisis but a certain humanitarian disaster with refugees rampaging across the DMZ into South Korea. In China, Ping watched his plans for pacifying North Korea literally going up in smoke and was suddenly afraid for the future.
Kim felt certain he had isolated Yun for now – hopefully killing him if he happened to be above ground during the blast. His bigger problem was quelling the military, the party and the populace. Destroying a major city like Wonsan meant he was losing control, signaling personal weakness and loss of face not only to his own people but also to the outside world. There was no way to keep this secret – too many people knew. Kim was drinking heavily now – slamming down $7,000-a-bottle Patron Lalique Tequila. He had no choice, he’d blame Wonsan’s destruction on the “Running Dog Capitalist Pigs” otherwise known as the U.S., South Korea and Japan. Kim would launch Operation Chollima – named after the Korean Pegasus – and reunite the Korean Peninsula knowing every one of his generals and admirals would fall in line or else.
The President of the United States together with the Vice President and the Governor of Virginia were at a joint campaign event in Norfolk. It was a great day, good crowd for lots of glad-handing but the Secret Service together with local law enforcement were vigilant as always. While counter-sniper teams with advanced optics provided the traditional protection against sniper fire, patrol drones secured the airspace against terrorist attack from that direction and had created a 3-D holographic diorama projection in a conference area in the mobile HQ. As the politicians took their places, a German shepherd leaped past the rope barriers and up to the stage before the Secret Service could react. The President laughed as did the crowd before the explosion destroyed the platform. The dog had been specially trained by North Korean intelligence to home in the President’s scent. Beginning back when the then future President had become the front runner in the primaries four years ago, North Korean agents had carefully begun obtaining the seat cushions from the chairs the candidate had sat in – sealing them in special plastic bags to preserve the President’s unique ‘essence’. Each time the dog assassins successfully attacked in training, they were well rewarded. Their work was based on dog science developed by the former East German secret police – the Stasi.
Speaker Trent Williams – the first African-American Speaker of the House – had just sat down to watch his St Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs when his Secret Service detail burst into his den, picked him up and told him they were going to White House right away as they ran down the hall carrying him like a human log. Williams protested the treatment until his head of detail told him: “Sir, both the President and Vice President were just assassinated in Norfolk – you’re President now”.
Across the U.S., citizens in shock over the double-assassination were then treated to news reports of widespread shootings in malls, churches, synagogues, mosques – a seeming eruption in hate crime. Law enforcement was looking for white shooters, black shooters, and Christian extremists… Muslim extremists… Jewish extremists…the list went on. As people took to the streets in anger and even rioting, they were totally unaware that the perpetrators were really North Korean Special Forces wearing latex masks playing digital recordings of well-known extremists during the attacks to “sell the con”. Select units began attacking vital military sites. At the same time, operatives were releasing “race-specific” versions of the Small Pox virus. North Korean scientists had gleaned enough genetic material from exhumed bodies of long dead Small Pox victims the world over to clone the virus. And then, using the same genetic markers that testing companies use to identify nations/regions of origin they built a virus that would only attack those Americans of European or African-American heritage. It would take 12 days for the first Small Pox signs to appear, in both the civilian population and also in the military. This would affect not only the continental U.S. but also Europe and most importantly the Korean Peninsula while not harming anyone of Asian descent. Kim wanted the South Koreans disease-free – then only he would decide who lived or died. Asian-Americans together with Native Americans would be left to try to tend to the dead and dying on their side.
As panic spread, North Korean hackers spread disinformation, creating chaos in utility systems and across the Internet via disinformation conveyed thru the social media accounts of well-known celebrities and politicians. They even hacked into the major network feeds with a video that looked and sounded like it had been made by the new President Williams – someone most Americans were still relatively unfamiliar with. The actor was made up to look like Williams with the actual voice “close enough” for North Korea’s purpose. In the announcement, the fake President Williams announced that the US was surrendering its sovereignty to the UN and that all military units must comply and all nuclear subs must surface immediately and return to port. This spread even more chaos, hate, protests – with people panicking and survivalists knowing that This is it! And then, suddenly, all the lights and power went out over North America.
By 2040, US anti-ballistic missile submarines regularly patrolled the Sea of Japan as part of the system to deter and mitigate any ballistic missile launches from North Korea by destroying those missiles moments after launch. The system depended on detecting and tracking the rocket exhaust. North Korea knew this and set about ways to mitigate. They created a “mass driver” launch system that used magnetic levitation technology to launch the missiles off the ground. Disguised as a fake theme park with “unfinished” roller coaster rides to serve as launch ramps, Kim’s scientists could launch a ballistic missile at speeds up to 1,000 miles an hour before the solid rocket boosters would kick to finish lifting the missile into a ballistic flight path. It moved too high, too far and too fast to be intercepted by the US Navy. Unfortunately for everyone, North Korea fired off not one – but four – nuclear missiles, each one having a specific destination: one over Hawaii, one over North American, one over Europe and one – for good measure – over South America. As the nuclear warheads exploded in space 24 miles above the Earth’s surface they blanketed the planet below with an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) that knocked all electronics, communications and power grids offline. This effectively shut the First World nations down. It was Kim’s bet that with chaos reigning in the US homeland, he would be able to take down South Korea.
At 1445L 15 April 2040, the first North Korean “refugees” began crossing the DMZ into South Korea – close to two hundred thousand people. The western media had been filled with stories of a potential refugee crisis because of the “North Korean Civil War” and so Kim decided to empty his concentration camps and send the prisoners into South Korea – serving as human shield or fodder – leaving the choice to fire or not on the South Koreans and the Americans. The soldiers let the refugees through after initial searches for weapons or contraband – and occasional North Korean Special Forces personnel hidden in the mix. The UN began hastily throwing together tent cities while the South Korean Government relocated to the emergency capital of Sejong 75 miles south of Seoul. The major concern for the South Koreans and the Americans was what would happen if the stream never stopped? They already knew from the refugees themselves that they were all former prisoners. With the EMP crisis having crippled two-thirds of the planet, surely the planet was now in the “end of days”.
At 0245L 16 April 2040, the North Korean Armed Forces blew across the DMZ in a “win easily or not at all” campaign fueled by the wild propaganda claims that US-South Korean-Japanese coalition had nuked Wonsan. In addition to propaganda, North Korea had given its troops an advanced formulation of amphetamines, steroids and painkillers, before sending them off to attack in armored vehicles as well as on foot in human waves. The drugs were no doubt intended to make up for the lack of logistical support because these first waves didn’t know that they were expendable. Something in their backgrounds relegated them to the first waves. In the Soviet Red Army during WWII, most of the soldiers knew why they were in the “penalty battalions”. They’d done something to offend the Communist regime, or their families had. In North Korea, this process began at birth. You were in one of three main groups: politically reliable, unreliable or somewhere in between. The “Human Wave” was a great way to rid the Stalinist country of its internal enemies while saving its best troops for last. It was also a great way to grind down the enemy in the process. And if soldiers dared retreat from a “Human Wave” attack, they were machine gunned by “Blocking Units” stationed directly behind them.
The first several waves resulted in thousands of North Korean, South Korean and US dead – with much allied ammunition expended. With Kim intent on – and really needing to – commit his entire 1-million-man army, the North Koreans gradually forced the US and South Korean forces to retreat 20 miles on an uneven front from the DMZ. Kim ordered his artillery within range of Seoul to open fire. Some 700 artillery pieces of varying reliability fired on the metropolitan area inhabited by 24 million people. More damage came from the sheer panic than the actual artillery barrage – which was instantly answered by counter-battery fire from the South.
Kim knew he couldn’t be tied down fighting for Seoul when the best strategy was to bypass the metropolis and take the rest of the peninsula. He was also counting on the race-specific Small Pox taking effect on the Americans; Kim continued to launch near suicidal raids. He correctly anticipated that the US would rapidly gain air dominance – so he sent virtually his entire air force into combat versus having them destroyed on the ground. For the first time, the North Koreans were making use of holographic projections to draw fire. It was the same with his navy, which he launched on suicide runs. The combined task force of US-South Korean-Japanese ships would destroy his fleet, so he launched missiles at Japan to create chaos and confusion – particularly with nerve agent warheads. He also launched his suicide subs – a cruel joke on the sailors who piloted them. In training, young sailors were led to believe that they and their midget subs would creep up under American ships, attach a mine and then leave. In reality, once they pulled the “detach” lever, their entire midget submarine would explode. So when people wondered how North Korea got their sailors to volunteer for suicide missions the answer was simple: they lied to them!
Kim was careful with his nukes. He desperately wanted to take the South Korean industrial sector intact and had no desire to destroy Samsung, LG, Hyundai or any other organization. In fact, that was his solution to the North Korean economic crisis. He would take the South relatively intact, put northerners in charge of the now state-owned conglomerates and do business with China and Russian who should now be grateful for his crippling of the US. Of course, this didn’t preclude using battlefield nukes, which Kim would deploy once he had US and South Korean forces bottled up. The best of the best of his troops – including his ever-reliable state security troops and Special Forces units had everything – including contraband or copied western technology – such as advanced aerial drones for painting the night-time battlefield in infrared light, robotic exoskeletons, advanced healing nanites and multi-spectral eye and hearing implants. Unlike the Allies, Kim held all this in reserve for the “mopping up” operations once the enemy was exhausted because he just didn’t have the industrial capacity to arm and sustain his entire army with this advanced technology.
U.S. – SOUTH KOREAN-JAPANESE RESPONSE
Admiral Forrest was in his fortified bunker in Camp Smith on Oahu. Despite all the disruption from the EMP detonations, key communications were fine. In addition to EMP protected communications, the US had gone to a Quantum Communications Network relying on the phenomenon of quantum tunneling allowing communications to take place via subspace dimensions. Ironically, some of the first work was done by China launching a quantum satellite in 2016. In theory, these communications were impossible to break without a “key”. Forrest correctly knew that his mission was to focus on PACOM in general and Korea in particular. Whatever was happening in Hawaii proper or CONUS was up to the White House and Homeland Security. PACOM had its own 3-D holographic display of the Korean Peninsula in a large room. It was such that he and his team could walk through it without worrying about “shifting of the pieces” as in the old-time rock drills. In other rooms, they could immerse themselves in virtual reality displays of the actual battlefield – so no more screw-ups because the rear echelon doesn’t know exactly what’s really going on at the front.
Forrest was quickly in a 3-D holographic “conference call” with President Williams. It was like they were both in the same room together. Williams’ background was fortuitous for a “sudden” Commander-in-Chief. As a young soldier in his 20s, he’d fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom. That meant while he wouldn’t be trigger-happy because he knew exactly what human life meant, but he also wouldn’t shy from a fight. From what Forrest could see, it was time to retaliate and end this thing. The President agreed and told Forrest that he was calling up the Reserves for inevitable post-war occupation. He then told Forrest to move out… while he the President had a country to put back together after North Korea’s domestic attacks.
Within moments of North Korea’s Air-Land-Sea attack, both the USAF and NAVAIR had begun to engage. As Kim had correctly surmised, there was very little North Korea could do in the air, with its best moments reserved for destroying US and South Korean ground assets before being shot out of the sky. Next came the manned and unmanned US bombers, easily destroying North Korean command and control, fortifications, and logistics infrastructure. The Americans also launched a special breed of UAV known as “The Attack of the Angry Birds”. These were small UAVs that would key in – either individually or part of a hive mind – on muzzle flashes from North Korean artillery, tanks, rocket tubes, and mortars. One or more “Angry Birds” would fly straight down the tube and explode – ideally with a round already chambered. The remainder of Kim’s missile capability was quickly demolished – or at best was buried under collapsed concrete – from heavy bombing. Whatever Kim was going to do in missile warfare, he’d already done. Next came the ground game.
Operation Inchon Air Drop had very little to do with either the City of Inchon or the brilliant amphibious landing by General MacArthur in 1950 that had turned the war around during the First Korean War. It did, however, pay homage to the essential strategy: land superior forces behind the bulk of the enemy, cut off their logistics and force them to fight on reversed fronts until they disintegrated. Using a combination of manned and unmanned vehicles, a total of over 1 million robotic “Combat Spheres” would be dropped behind the current North Korean front lines. The military referred to this as “the Attack of the Bowling Balls”. All-terrain spheres modeled after remote controlled soccer balls could operate anywhere. They had a hybrid power plant, contained a variety of ordnance – some were only small arms or cannon caliber ammunition, some directed energy, some were smart mines, others were mortars. There were also the “drone spheres” which were self-sacrificial. They would fill in tank traps or blast craters or help create a ramp or bridge to allow the “killer spheres” to advance.
What Stalinists like Kim did with their “Human Wave” assaults, the US did with robotic spheres (Robotic Wave Assault). They were parachute dropped, ideally at night. As soon as the chutes detached they literally hit the ground rolling. They could pass undetected and were able to navigate by GPS, by a hive-based general matrix where the Spheres would move relative to other Spheres using quantum communication to avoid conventional electronic jamming. They could also navigate by sight. Each night the Spheres for Korea had loaded into them an updated visual package of every fixed structure on the peninsula gleaned from satellite and aerial drones. As soon as they determined where they were they could then remember what was next and roll forward. In this case, they began to clear a corridor of land on both sides of the old DMZ in the process eliminating any North Korean hostiles. One group of freshly dropped Spheres began rolling south, after the North Korean invaders engaging them from behind blowing up convoys, blowing off tank treads – cutting off means of escape even as UAVs pummeled them from above. A series of Spheres launched by the US and the South Korean ground forces proceeded with frontal and flanking attacks. These Spheres – together with supporting anti-armor and energy weapons were arrayed in front of the attackers in rows of increasing density. The further the North Koreans attempted to penetrate, the more armor and troops they lost. From the US and South Korean standpoint, they could build five or six artillery or anti-tank guns for the price of one tank.
Then the “race specific” Small Pox began to kick-in. Most soldiers had been inoculated monthly with nanites developed jointly by DARPA, USAMRIIDS and the CDC. These were designed for military-civilian applications to release nanozymes with dual biological components. The primary enzyme destroys the mRNA carrier of the genetic recipe for a virus while the secondary identifies the genetic material and destroys its DNA. This activity greatly weakened the Small Pox attack and allowed soldiers and Army civilians to begin developing immunity. In CONUS, the race was on to treat infected civilians and to keep the disease from spreading to Europe and Africa. To say that Kim Jong-un and his top leadership were wanted for crimes against humanity was an understatement.
President Ping of China watched as the North Korean attack disintegrated. Whatever advanced robotics and UAVs North Korea did possess were now being deployed to cover Kim’s escape. China’s relationship with both the US and South Korea had become “severely strained”. Ping was concerned as US and South Korean troops finished destroying the North Korean Army while landing troops on the east coast of North Korea north of the old DMZ and south of Wonsan. Deciding to jump before he was pushed, Ping ordered a mobilization of the PLA Army. The US, South Korean and Chinese leaders “met” via 3D holographic conference – as if they were in the same room. As President Williams and South Korean President Rhee listened, Ping informed them of China’s intent to occupy a line that ran roughly from Nampo on the west coast to Wonsan. Everything north of that line would become part of a “protectorate” under Chinese administration for the next 99 years. While not expressing it during the holographic conference, Ping’s goal was to do with this protectorate what the British had done with Hong Kong – create a hybrid state. The PLA would disarm what remained of the North Korean Armed Forces – taking away any heavy equipment and combat aircraft still in existence. The North’s Army would be reduced to a paramilitary police force, while survivors of the Navy and Air Force would be folded into the Chinese Coast Guard or the border police. China would directly control the inter-Korean border, but post no combat troops there. A group of five pliable North Korean generals tightly monitored by Beijing would rule out of Pyongyang. South of “the line”, South Korea was now inheriting new territory and 7 million new people – out of North Korea’s original population of 24 million.
Williams and Rhee were silent. Williams knew that as a Korean, Rhee wanted all of Korea – but also knew that absorbing all of those people while facing a hostile China was a non-starter. Ping was offering a good deal that assured that the Republic of Korea would be secure and that Seoul would no longer be directly on the front line. President Williams then asked Ping what had become of Kim. “We’re still looking for him; he will be dealt with,” Ping responded. Rhee wanted Kim turned over to the Republic but Williams knew that the nominally Communist China wouldn’t stand for it. Not only did they not want a Nuremburg-type trial that would reduce Communism to the same level as Nazism, but China owed a debt to the Kims. During the Chinese Civil War, Kim Il-Sung had sent North Korean troops to help Mao defeat Chiang Kai-shek. So, as with lethal Cambodian madman Pol Pot, Kim would “die” before he could fall into western hands.
At that very moment Kim Jong-un and his wife were fleeing east in a small convoy that also carried the embalmed bodies of his father Kim Jong-Il and his grandfather Kim Il-Sung. Kim had been stunned when the Chinese ambassador had appeared and told him that instead of bailing out North Korea as they had in 1950, China was now occupying territory north of a Nampo-Wonsan line. In response, Kim pulled an automatic pistol and shot both the ambassador and his deputy in the head. His destination now was an underground complex he’d manage to keep secret from everyone outside his inner circle. Inside, he and his wife together with a small entourage could discreetly hold out for 10 years before quietly emerging to sneak off to Switzerland and live in seclusion off of the billions he had embezzled. It was crazy plan – but then crazy was all Kim had left.
The convoy never made Kim’s intended destination. It was stopped by a heavily armed Chinese PLA Army roadblock. Kim and his wife were separated from the convoy and taken to face a drumhead court martial board chaired by a North Korean general. Accused of corruption and genocide, the Kims were found guilty after a four-hour trial and executed by firing squad – all on live holographic television. Their bodies were then burned in a diesel-fueled bonfire along with the bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. All across the former North Korea, people happily burned the Kim portraits while taking reprisals against former party and secret police operatives. General Yun, newly freed from his bunker in the ruins of Wonsan, was also executed by China – tying up loose ends.
Over $3 trillion in damage had been inflicted on the world economy, even though the EMP effects were less severe or as long-lasting as Kim had hoped. The only happy people were the North Koreans liberated from the dictatorship. Even in the squalor of refugee camps located in either South Korean or the new protectorate, they were already beginning to enjoy an increase in their standard of living they scarcely thought possible. And so ended a war that had lasted six weeks and resulted in the deaths of 4 million people, including those who didn’t survive the Small Pox epidemic.
Rudy Toth serves as the Facility Engineering Manager for the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command (JMC) in Rock Island, Illinois. In this role, he serves as the interface between the JMC, the Rock Island Arsenal Garrison, and at least 17 resident agencies and commands, including the U.S. Army Sustainment Command. Toth began his federal career as an industrial engineer with the Department of the Army, Production Base Modernization Agency, in 1985, working production support projects. His assignments included Chief of Production Support, Equipment Replacement Branch; Chief of Armament, Chemical Defense Branch; and, Chief of Layaway Branch.