The Buzz

South Korea's Plan to Make North Korea Suffer in War: Marines Attacking from an 'Aircraft Carrier'

Supporting the ROKMC and the new “Spartan” unit will be South Korea’s sealift forces, the flagship of which is the landing platform, helicopter ROKS Dokdo. With a full-length flight deck, island and well deck, ROKS Dokdo is similar in appearance and mission to the Wasp-class landing helicopter-dock ships of the U.S. Navy. Six hundred sixty feet long and weighing nineteen thousand tons fully loaded, Dokdo can carry up to seven hundred ROK Marines and their equipment, including ten trucks, six tanks, six amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs), three artillery pieces, ten Blackhawk-type helicopters and two Korean-made landing hovercraft.

Commissioned with great fanfare in 2007, Dokdo was to be the first of a three-ship class that included a second ship, Marado, and a third possible ship named Baengnyeongdo. Unfortunately, construction never began on the remaining ships and Dokdo risked becoming a white elephant. However, in the spring of 2017 South Korea finally began construction on Marado, and the fate of Baengnyeongdo is uncertain. South Korea also has a fleet of four landing-ship tank vessels, each capable of carrying up to seventeen ROKMC main battle tanks at a time.

Today, a ROKN/ROKMC task force could land a reinforced battalion of marine infantry covered by at least forty tanks. Adding a second Dokdo-class ship would increase that to two battalions. Given that any amphibious landing site won’t be far from ROKMC bases, any landing could be reinforced within a day by a second, equally large force, until enough forces are landed to push inland. ROK Marines could also hitch a ride on the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet’s amphibious ships based at Sasebo, Japan, making even brigade-sized landings possible.

Wherever in North Korea they land, the ROK Marines are in for a very tough fight. North Korea is heavily garrisoned and home to an army of 1.2 million, with several million more in the reserves and militia. Ideally, a landing would come while the North is fully committed to an attack on the South, leaving little fuel for KPA forces to counterattack a beach landing. The ROK Marines are truly the tip of the spear, and their commitment in wartime will signal the end of the Kim regime.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the DiplomatForeign PolicyWar is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

This first appeared in November. 

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