How North Korea would retaliate
Stratfor takes a look:
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a five-part series that originally ran in May 2016 examining the measures that could be taken to inhibit North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The purpose of this series is not to consider political rhetoric or noninvasive means of coercion, such as sanctions. Rather, we are exploring the military options, however remote, that are open to the United States and its allies, and the expected response from Pyongyang. Part five can be found here.
North Korea is powerless to prevent a U.S. strike on its nuclear program, but retaliation is well within its means. The significant military capability that North Korea has built up against South Korea is not advanced by Western standards, but there are practical ways Pyongyang could respond to aggression.
The North Korean military’s most powerful tool is artillery. It cannot level Seoul as some reports have claimed, but it could do significant damage. Pyongyang risks deteriorating its forces by exposing them to return fire, however, which significantly restricts their use. Less conventional methods of retaliation, such as sabotage or cyber warfare, are less risky but also limit the shock that North Korea would desire.
After a strike, North Korea’s most immediate and expected method of retaliation would center around conventional artillery. Many of the North’s indirect fire systems are already located on or near the border with South Korea. By virtue of proximity and simplicity, these systems have a lower preparatory and response times than air assets, larger ballistic missiles or naval assets. Nevertheless, there are several critical limitations to their effectiveness.
Tube and Rocket Artillery
The biggest anticipated cost of a North Korean artillery barrage in response to an attack would be the at least partial destruction of Seoul. But the volume of fire that the North can direct against the South Korean capital is limited by some important factors. Of the vast artillery force deployed by the North along the border, only a small portion — Koksan 170-mm self-propelled guns, as well as 240-mm and 300-mm multiple launch rocket systems — are capable of actually reaching Seoul. Broadly speaking, the bulk of Pyongyang’s artillery can reach only into the northern border area of South Korea or the northern outskirts of Seoul. . .