In a Second Korean War, U.S. Troops Will Fight Underground

U.S. Army looks at new tactics and ways to communicate

In a Second Korean War, U.S. Troops Will Fight Underground In a Second Korean War, U.S. Troops Will Fight Underground
U.S. Army war planners and weapons developers have been increasing efforts to fast-track networking technologies for soldiers operating underground in tunnel complexes and in... In a Second Korean War, U.S. Troops Will Fight Underground

U.S. Army war planners and weapons developers have been increasing efforts to fast-track networking technologies for soldiers operating underground in tunnel complexes and in dense urban environments.

While the Army created entities such as its Rapid Equipping Force to address fast-emerging threats, the prospect of major ground war on the Korean peninsula has taken on increased urgency in recent months.

“We have been looking at Korean peninsula ops,” Col. John Lanier Ward, REF director, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

This scenario has a particular influence on the REF — which exists to identify soldier combat needs, create requirements and work with industry and Army program developers to identify quick, often interim technologies that can have an immediate result.

Preparing for tunnel and urban combat with North Korea is, without question, not something entirely new or recent. However, while specifics of military options for North Korea are not being openly discussed by Pentagon war planners, many observers and analysts are talking about such a contingency.

Above, at top and below — U.S. soldiers train in tunnels. U.S. Army photos

There are many facets of a possible North Korean invasion of South Korea, not the least of which are North Korean conventional missiles and artillery would pose a substantial threat to populated areas south of the DMZ. But any kind of ground incursion, with or without the anticipated barrage of conventional missiles, would bring similar threats.

Furthermore, mechanized ground conflict would unquestionably call upon a wide range of necessary tactics — large armored vehicle formations, long-range precision-guided weaponry, combined arms maneuvers and air-ground coordination, among other things.

“We really focus on the soldier on the ground,” Ward, the REF director, said. “Any soldier can come to our website and say ‘I have a problem that I do not have a material solution to.’”

Given this, a point not lost on Army planners is the necessity of networking technology and communications devices — especially when underground or in dense urban environments. It’s by no means specific to Korea, however the geography, terrain, urban areas and North Korea’s own tactics on the peninsula would require U.S. ground troops to head below the surface.

A TALON robot explores a tunnel. U.S. Army photo

Subterranean operations often deny soldiers analog or digital communications, unmanned reconnaissance and ambient light — degrading situational awareness and blocking sensors that would allow U.S. troops to otherwise peer through obscurants. Line-of-sight radio connectivity is often compromised.

“As an Army we are becoming mission command and communications based. How do you get weapons systems and comms that can operate underground?” Ward said.

Citing historic instances of underground tunnel warfare such as operations in the Korean War, Vietnam and even Iwo Jima in World War II, Ward referenced Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley’s special teams designed to study future threats and the likelihood of combat in closed spaces.

Interestingly, five years ago, the Army’s REF received a request from the 2nd Infantry Division for equipment to conduct operations in Korean tunnel complexes. The U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group partnered with REF to assemble and assess government-developed and commercial off-the-shelf technologies.

The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force is also testing small radios and relay devices to connect soldiers underground with those on the surface.

The system relies upon a MPU5 Mobile Ad Hock Networking unit using a small puck engineered with a WiFi repeater that can function like a relay radio. REF officials say it is battery operated and kept on the ground. It uses bright LED lights with an adhesive on it for illumination, and works in tandem with a personal tracker device attached to a soldier’s boot.

A pedometer works directly with the wave radios, relaying wireless signals tracking a soldier’s distance to an end-user smartphone device, REF developers explained. This creates a mesh network with multiple radios functioning as nodes on a larger communications system.

As long as there is a line-of-sight connectivity from the puck to a node on the network, soldiers below can reach their commanders above.

The ad-hoc wireless network is intended to work in tandem with image-intensifying infrared night vision technology which can function without external illumination of any kind, REF officials said.

The 82nd Airborne Division at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in Indiana has previously conducted a week-long subterranean training event, culminating in a simulated underground rescue mission, service officials said.

That’s not all. The Army is also exploring how tactics would differ underground, according to Ward. “If I am breaching something above ground, I will use C4,” Ward said. “Underground, I may not want to subject my people to overblast.”

This article originally appeared at Scout Warrior.

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