Here's How North Korea's Military Stacks Up Against the US
Policy + Politics

Here's How North Korea's Military Stacks Up Against the US

Toru Hanai

Earlier this week, the United States test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from California just days after North Korea tested a similar missile capable of reaching the American mainland.

The move is the latest escalation of tensions between the two countries. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, surprised the world last month with two successful tests of the Hwasong-14 missile.

Now, the President Trump says, “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that Trump told him he's willing to go to war over North Korea's missile program if the rogue nation continues to aim missiles at America.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, and a conflict will be avoided. But if war does break out, both North Korea and the United States and its Pacific allies have a myriad of weapons at their disposal. Here’s a sampling.

Slideshow: 21 Weapons the US Military Can Use to Stop North Korea

North Korean Navy and Air Force. It’s comprised of 72 tactical submarines, three frigates, and nearly 400 patrol vessels. Kim’s air force is believed to have 563 combat jets, mainly Chinese-built J-5s, J-6s, and J-7s dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

North Korean Army. Pyongyang has spent nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product on the military over the past the year, according to U.S. government estimates. Its army is huge - it’s estimated to have more than one million troops. But the International Institute for Strategic Studies says, “North Korea remains reliant on a predominantly obsolescent equipment inventory across all three services.”

Cyber. Kim already flexed his cyber muscles when he hacked into Sony pictures in 2014. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the US Army in South Korea, has called North Korea’s cyber abilities “among the best in the world and the best-organized.” Its elite cyber unit, Bureau 121, is staffed by some of the world’s best hackers, although its size is unconfirmed.

Hwasong-14 ICBM. The tests of this missile last month escalated tensions. It can reach the United States, but it probably can’t carry a nuclear payload.

Short range missiles such as Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 (both variants of Scud missiles). North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying ranges. This includes targets in South Korea. If a conflict erupts, Seoul, the South Korean capital, could be a target.

U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. This will serve as an important deterrent during any conflict. The United States currently has 1,367 deployed nuclear weapons across the American triad: ICBM's, strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. We also have the THAAD Missile Defense system, which can destroy missiles aimed at the US or our allies before they strike.

See Our Slideshow of US Defense Weapons

U.S. Navy. The Navy largely projects its power near North Korea with aircraft carriers capable of launching jets, helicopters, and attacks of their own. Right now, there are three in the region: the USS Nimitz, the USS Carl Vinson, and USS Ronald Reagan.

U.S. Air Power. The jets in the arsenal of the 18th Wing, based in Japan, include HH-60 Pave Hawks, F-15 Eagles, E-3 Sentries and KC-135 Stratotankers. It is conferred the Air Force's largest combat-ready wing.

American troops. The United States has more than 23,000 troops in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and nearly 40,000 in Japan. Their purpose is to defend any attack from the North, fighting along with our allies in South Korea and Japan.

M982 Excalibur artillery shells. The United States sent these weapons to the DMZ in 2012. It hits within 13 feet of its target 92 percent of the time, can burrow through concrete or explode above a target.  Patriot-3 (PAC-3) missiles and ATACMS surface-to-surface missiles are also there.