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U.S. Forces in Korea Face Unique Challenges

October 2001
By John Di Genio

Information dominance is the counter to a swift, sudden North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Almost 50 years after the end of the Korean War, Korea remains one of the world’s flash points—a place where the flames of the Cold War have yet to be fully extinguished. Although progress has been made during the recent North-South summit in Korea, North Korea still maintains one of the largest forward-deployed armies in the world. Its offensive posture, coupled with its recent development of ballistic missiles, lethal special operations forces and weapons of mass destruction, causes the Korean peninsula to be very volatile.

Military planners within the Korean theater expect that any resumption of hostilities will begin with a swift, sudden North Korean invasion of South Korea. U.S. Forces Korea depends on command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) capabilities to provide sufficient warning to commence noncombatant evacuations and other more traditional wartime operations. Therefore, achieving information dominance will be key to successfully accomplishing operational goals and objectives in the Korean theater.

However, according to General Thomas A. Schwartz, USA, commander in chief, United Nations Command, Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, “Over the last five years, U.S. Forces Korea has had to divert funds from other operations and maintenance programs to sustain ... command and control [C2] systems. We can no longer afford to take this approach. Our funding shortfall is significant [and allows] only what is required to maintain the status quo.”

In addition to budget constraints, this command has several theater-unique C4I challenges that potentially could have severe implications should mobilization recommence. The mountainous terrain in Korea hinders the exchange of crucial information during both armistice and wartime. The absence of dedicated frequencies for U.S. Forces Korea to test and field emerging equipment hampers efforts to defend the Republic of Korea. Technological differences in the C4I equipment used among the Korean, U.S. and allied forces potentially could prohibit the expeditious exchange of vital information.

Korea is a very precipitous country. Hilly terrain interferes with voice and digital transmissions with line-of-sight C2 equipment such as the single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS). To enhance transmission capabilities, U.S. forces would have to depend on signal relay points at tactically significant locations within theater and satellite networks for command, control, communication and intelligence capabilities. Unfortunately, a rapid North Korean invasion will hinder U.S. and allied efforts to expeditiously receive, stage, advance and integrate essential personnel and materiel. This, in turn, would impact the ability of the U.S., combined and allied forces to establish effective communication relay points at significant locations.

The Korean climate further hampers C2 activities. Torrential downpours and severe thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season and harsh winters potentially could interrupt radio, satellite or digital media transmissions. This would deny the United Nations, combined and U.S. forces the ability to communicate with field-ready units and to collect valuable data about the opposition forces.

In addition, the antiquated C4I architecture and infrastructure of the Korea theater constitute a major obstacle to achieving the information superiority that President George W. Bush describes in A Blueprint for New Beginning—A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities. Given the close proximity of the opposing forces—only 20 miles north of Seoul, the capital of South Korea—the subunified and combined commands need architectures and infrastructures that foster collaborative, interactive and real-time common operational understanding. Lagging infrastructure modernization hampers use of technology that promotes network-centric warfare, that leverages emerging space-based capabilities and that provides sensor-to-shooter capabilities.

However, the command has been transitioning from analog to digital processes. U.S. Forces Korea has engaged the Joint Forces Command to integrate cutting-edge C4I technology within theater during major mobilization exercises. This arrangement permits U.S. Forces Korea to integrate emerging C4I technologies into this theater’s architecture and infrastructure to meet regional threats.

A unique C2 situation exists here as well. Unlike the unified commands, Korea is a combined command. As such, Korean and U.S. military forces work together closely in the defense of the Republic of Korea. The Combined Staff comprises both Korean and U.S. military personnel. For example, the assistant chief of staff for command, control and communications systems, C-6, is a Korean general officer, while the deputy assistant chief of staff, C-6, and assistant chief of staff for command, control and communications systems, J-6,  is a U.S. Air Force colonel. This close working relationship between the two militaries requires complex, theater-unique, dual-language C2 systems to ensure information dominance on a digitized battlefield.

The Global Command and Control System-Korea (GCCS-K) and combined secure video-teleconferencing provide the go-to-war C2 capability. However, Korea has GCCS and GCCS-K operating simultaneously. Information on the GCCS terminal (classified secret–no foreign nationals) cannot be downloaded onto GCCS-K (classified secret–Republic of Korea/United States). Hence, information on the GCCS system has to be filtered before releasing it to Korean military authorities. U.S. Forces Korea is actively searching for an effective firewall that will permit using one terminal to access both GCCS and GCCS-K. Until such a solution is available, workstations often have separate GCCS and GCCS-K terminals, distinct circuits stored in safes, and different wiring and peripherals to support the two systems.

Unlike its predecessor, the Theater [Army] Command and Control Information Management System (TACCIMS), GCCS-K is not restricted to just the Korean peninsula. It has been expanded and extended to continental U.S. locations such as Fort Hood and on board naval C2 vessels. The enhanced capabilities of GCCS-K should permit the simultaneous transmission of a common operating picture to various command echelons, thereby giving the battle staff current, dependable information. However, although the theater has capable hardware and software to allow information dominance, the automation infrastructure is outdated. The command has recognized this dilemma and has diverted funds to improve the architecture.

Unfortunately, diverting funds to fix Korea’s C2 problems has caused funding shortfalls in other critical areas. Therefore, resource managers on the Korean peninsula have aggressively pursued additional funding to strengthen the command’s C2 architecture. For example, joint and combined C2 resourcing such as GCCS-K and automation infrastructure was the major funding issue addressed in the integrated priorities list and the commander’s narrative accompanying the 8th U.S. Army program objective memorandum. The vast majority of the anticipated fiscal year 2002 budget for C4I supports only the bare-boned minimum required to sustain current go-to-war capabilities. Technological growth and operational enhancements have been deferred to future years.

Acquiring new technology is only half the challenge facing the U.S. and Korean forces. Interoperability issues are magnified in the Korean theater. In Korea, the need to exchange information is expanded to include the military services of the host nation. In addition, should hostilities resume, some U.S. military units will fall under the operational control of Republic of Korea military forces.

U.S. forces use jam-resistant, frequency-hopping SINCGARS. The Korean military uses single-channel radios. Consequently, U.S. military forces in Korea have to use SINCGARS in single-channel mode to exchange information with South Korean military counterparts in the field. This increases the potential for North Korea to jam that frequency. The U.S. Maneuver Control System can pass only analog data to its Korean counterpart, effectively reducing the command’s ability to receive and transmit real-time digital information from and to Korean counterparts. For example, a forward observer requesting fire support from a Korean artillery battery would have to pass information through the U.S. systems. The information would then have to be converted into a format that the Republic of Korea forces could download into its systems to provide artillery support. This cumbersome process is extremely time-consuming. Given the scenario of a sudden attack, time is a luxury that the U.S., combined and allied forces simply will not have in the Korean theater.

In recent years, the Republic of Korea has emerged as a primary information provider and a major center of telecommunications in Asia. One price of this progress is a limitation on frequencies available for U.S. Forces Korea. The Korean government does not have a restricted bandwidth for U.S. Forces Korea, so the command has to compete with Korean commercial vendors for frequency and bandwidth. U.S. Forces Korea has to apply for frequencies to conduct exercises or field new equipment, and a significant amount of time elapses between the initial application for frequencies and the host nation’s approval.

Limited frequencies and a lengthy approval process have strained the ability of U.S. Forces Korea to conduct exercises using emerging technologies and fielding new equipment. For example, the command is scheduled to field the Apache Longbow helicopter during the current fiscal year. However, the Korean government has yet to grant frequency approval for training and operations because of conflicts with host nation commercial telecommunications providers. Additionally, there are no frequencies available to support unmanned aerial vehicles during armistice. Because command planners expect that North Korea will depend on a swift surprise attack, the inability to use unmanned aerial vehicles to their fullest capabilities hinders intelligence efforts and potentially reduces warning time. The Korean government gave only limited frequency approval for the joint surveillance target attack radar system (Joint STARS) and the Patriot air defense system. Although better than nothing, limited approval increases the North’s capabilities to effectively use their Scud and Nodong ballistic missiles.

U.S. Forces Korea is particularly dependent on the various information systems to receive, collect, analyze and transmit data. With this dependence, however, comes the risk that opposition forces will launch cyberattacks to disrupt command and control. U.S. Forces Korea is pursuing an information assurance program to protect vital information flowing throughout the command while defending the command’s systems from hostile intrusions. Additionally, U.S. Forces Korea will use information systems to exploit the vulnerabilities of adversaries to enhance the intelligence and information base.

However, the command’s intelligence backbone, the Pacific Command Automated Data Processing Server Site–Korea needs upgrading to 21st century technologies. Failure to provide upgrades to this system reduces this command’s early-warning capabilities to respond to a surprise North Korean attack.

Although this command’s very small aperture terminal (VSAT) provides mobile communication capabilities, the VSAT system is currently separated into three isolated networks. As such, the system is extremely fragile and vulnerable. Once again, U.S. Forces Korea realizes this operational problem and is working on consolidating VSAT into one network. This will improve user capacity, reduce operational costs and provide redundancy to this susceptible system.

Additional information on U.S. Forces Korea is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.korea.army.mil.

John Di Genio is a management analyst in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Resource Management, Headquarters U.S. Forces Korea/8th U.S. Army, Yongsan Garrision, Seoul, Korea. In his previous assignment, Di Genio served as an operations resource systems analyst, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, Unified/Combined/ Joint Manpower and Personnel, U/C/J-1, Headquarters United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea.