#Wargame Wednesday – Unthinkable thinking about a different Korean War from @RANDCorporation Diana Myers

The bog-standard “Second Korean War” situation, a war between the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) combined forces (CFC- Combined Forces Command) and the North Korean People’s Army (NKA) is well presented in Mitchel Land’s Next War: Korea from GMT Games. One alternate version of note is found in Decision Games’ Modern War #45 which includes the wargame The Dragon and the Hermit Kingdom. The Dragon and the Hermit Kingdom envisions a PRC “intervention” on behalf of the North Koreans that leads to a PRC conquest of the Korean Peninsula. But what if something happens that the PRC decides it is in their best interests to intervene in a renewed Korean conflict for reasons that are not necessarily aligned with Pyongyang? That is the scenario Diana Y. Myers explores in a dissertation written for the Pardee RAND Graduate School—Thinking About the Unthinkable: Examining North Korea’s Military Threat to China.

What’s so unthinkable? Not only the situation, but the potential for nuclear use. Here is the kicker from the abstract:

The dissertation concludes that Kim could decide to threaten nuclear weapon use against the PRC and actually use them if the PRC is not deterred, seeking to avoid a substantial PRC intervention in the DPRK. Furthermore, as the DPRK develops survivable capabilities to manage escalation against nuclear-power adversaries, Kim may become more confident that he could threaten nuclear weapon use and execute it in a limited but very deliberate manner.

Thinking the Unthinkable, abstract

For a wargamer looking at how to depict this potential conflict, there is plenty of good information between the covers of Thinking the Unthinkable. Research Question 1: Conventional Military Balance Assessment compares the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces in the Northern Theater Command to the KPA forces in the Rear Echelon; i.e. along the DPRK-PRC border.

Lest you think that Thinking the Unthinkable is a staid retread of just a conventional force match-up, Research Question 2: Limited Focused Conventional Strike Options and Limited Nuclear Use Strike Options, when taken in conjunction with Research Question 3: DPRK’s Nuclear Threat Towards the PRC, should make it clear that this in what many previously thought of as “unthinkable.”

Well, almost.

As much as I salute Diana Myers for writing this dissertation, especially given her thesis advisor was Dr. Bruce Bennett, a very highly respected scholar of Korean defense studies, in many ways Thinking the Unthinkable is almost a “mirror image” of the limited nuclear use issues that the U.S. and ROK face with the DPRK. Sure, the two main protagonist are different, but the problems to be faced are remarkably similar.

Does that make Thinking the Unthinkable any less worthy of your time? Actually, no.

Thinking the Unthinkable can be a valuable resource for wargame practitioners and hobby wargamers alike. There is plenty of good information here to start building orders of battle or scenarios with. That assumes, of course, you want to play with “nuclear fire.”

Few wargames deal with nuclear warfighting, and those that do often times do so in throwaway rules (i.e. the lighter fluid rules in NATO by Victory Games comes to mind…). Even fewer wargames deal with Limited Nuclear Use (LNU) situations. Indeed, LNU is maybe better suited to a political wargame like one gets using a Matrix Game or a card-driven game (CDG) design.

Regardless of your choice of gaming, warfighting or political, Thinking the Unthinkable is a good place to start, uh, thinking about a wargame design for the DPRK versus the PRC.


Feature image courtesy The Korean War weebly

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#ThreatTuesday – Sub-optimal NorKs and Ukraine Air-to-Air Survey (mentions @19_forty_five admiraltytrilogy.com @WessexGames @gmtgames)

North Korean Submarines

In a past #ThreatTuesday on North Korean military reference sources, I mentioned that there was no good single-source on the the North Korean Navy (aka the Korean People’s Navy). A recent article posted to 19fortyfive.com may help explain why. See “North Korea’s Submarine Fleet: Underwater Coffins Or Threat To The U.S. Navy?” by Christian Orr (posted 30 Aug 2022). Given the current state of the KPA, it is not surprising that even years ago Larry Bond gave them a Kilo-class SS in his Second Korean War book Red Phoenix (1989) just to make it interesting.

Ukraine Dogfights

Another interesting 19fortyfive.com article is “The Air-To-Air War In Ukraine No One Saw Coming” published 02 Sep 2022. Author Sebastian Roblin presents a survey of aircraft losses in the war, with a particular focus on trying to identify those that fell in air-to-air combat. He concludes:

It’s essential not to over-extrapolate from an incomplete dataset drawing on deeply selection-biased sources. However, it does suggest the technical advantages of Russian fighters (especially long-range radars and fire-and-forget missiles) are working in their favor.

Nonetheless, both sides’ aviation operations are geographically constrained by the robust ground-based air defenses of the other. On the balance, that means Russia’s air force can’t press its advantage into Ukrainian-defended airspace to claim air superiority. That allows Ukraine’s air force to continue flying and impose costs on a foe with a larger number of more advanced warplanes.

“The Air-To-Air War In Ukraine No One Saw Coming”

While the title of the article seems to focus on the air-to-air aspects of the Ukraine War and would therefore seemingly make good scenario fodder for a modern dogfight wargame like Air Superiority (GDW, 1987) or AirWar: C21 Max (Wessex, last updated 2008) the truth is that you probably need to use a more operationally-focused wargame. Titles like Harpoon 5 from Admiralty Trilogy Group (using a variant inspired by Persian Incursion) or a modern Red Storm (GMT Games, 2021) would be more useful.

Feature image courtesy Creative Commons

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wednesday – #SnippetThoughts >> The Dragon & the Hermit Kingdom: The Second Korean War (Decision Games, Modern War #45, 2019)

Recently played The Dragon & the Hermit Kingdom: The Second Korean War from Decision Games found in Modern War #45 from November 2019. The publisher’s blurb is as follows:

The Dragon and The Hermit Kingdom is a two player game that covers the hypothetical simulation of a second Korean War that could occur in the very near future. This game is a precursor to The Dragon that Engulfed the Sun (Modern War #42). It simulates the war that would have occurred on the Korean peninsula just prior to that game’s setting. The Dragon that Engulfed the Sun assumes that a Chinese victory had already occurred in Korea. This game, however, simulates the entirety of that preceding conflict, beginning with a supposed North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Game Overview, BGG
Courtesy BGG

Snippet Thoughts

Magazine game with typical single map, low density (single sheet of counters) and rules based on an ongoing series.

A different take on a “Third Party Intervention” scenario for a next Korean War; instead of the PRC entering to prevent the Combined Forces player from going too far north, postulates the PRC enters on the side of North Korea from the beginning of a conflict.

Order of Battle like a very typical “modern day” next Korean War game but with lots (and I mean lots) of airpower for both sides. Oh yeah, and the PLA/PLAAF/PLAN/PLASF too…

The PRC has fewer Cyberwar units than the West? That’s being very charitable…

Missiles and airpower become overwhelmingly important in “shaping” the battlefield.

If PRC intervenes in a Korean conflict, any reinforcement to the Peninsula will have to get past PLA anti-access/area denial (A2AD) systems. This is somewhat portrayed in the game (plenty of PLASF missile units).

What’s the Game’s Message?

If the Chinese intervene invade with the North Koreans it’s not going to be the ground forces the Combined Forces need worry about; it’s the airpower and A2/AD capabilities the PLASF brings that will shape the battlefields on the Peninsula. Oh yeah, and there is not much the Combined Forces will be able to do about it either…


Feature image courtesy wuxinghongqi.blogspot.com

Glossary: A2AD = anti-access/area denial; PLA = People’s Liberation Army; PLAAF = People’s Liberation Army Air Force; PLAN = People’s Liberation Army Navy; PLASF = People’s Liberation Army Strategic Force; PRC = People’s Republic of China

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0