Command, control, communications, computers and intelligence challenges in the Korean theater

by John Di Genio

"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 systems. We can no longer afford to take this approach. Our funding shortfall is significant, but contains only what is required to maintain the status quo." � GEN Thomas Schwartz, commander-in-chief, United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea, before the House Appropriations Committee�s defense subcommittee.

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 some progress was made during the recent North-South Summit in Korea, North Korea still maintains one of the largest forward-deployed armies in the world. North Korea�s 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.

Map of Korean Peninsula The Korean Peninsula.

This is hardly a scenario suggesting that peace and reunification are close at hand. Military planners within the Korean Theater expect that a resumption of hostilities will begin with a swift, sudden North Korean invasion of South Korea. Therefore the command depends on its command, control, communications, computers and intelligence to provide enough warning to commence non-combatant evacuations and other, more traditional wartime operations. Achieving information dominance will be key to successfully accomplishing operational goals and objectives in the Korean Theater. Regrettably, this is no easy task.

Effective C4I systems are urgently needed within theater to monitor North Korean movements during the current armistice environment and to command the martial activities of Korean, U.S. and allied forces should hostilities resume on the Korean Peninsula. This command, however, has several theater-unique C4I challenges that potentially could have severe implications should mobilization recommence. The mountainous terrain in Korea hinders the use of sophisticated line-of-sight C2 equipment to exchange crucial information during armistice and wartime. The absence of dedicated frequencies for USFK to test and field emerging equipment hampers efforts to defend the Republic of Korea against a rapid invasion from the north. Technological differences in the C4I equipment used among the ROK, U.S. and allied forces could potentially prohibit the expeditious exchange of vital information.

In this article, I discuss some of these C4I challenges the UNC/CFC/USFK command faces during the current armistice environment, and what it would likely encounter during contingency operations.

Terrain and climate

Korea is a very precipitous country. C2 equipment such as the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System is an LOS radio. Hilly terrain would interfere with voice and digital transmissions. Consequently, to enhance transmission abilities, U.S. forces would have to depend on signal-relay points at tactically significant locations within theater and on satellite networks for C4I capabilities.

Unfortunately, a rapid North Korean invasion will hinder U.S. and allied efforts to expeditiously receive, stage, onward-move and integrate essential personnel and materiel. This in turn would impact the abilities of the U.S., combined and allied forces to establish effective communication (relay) points at significant locations.

The Korean climate further hampers C2. Harsh winters as well as torrential downpours and severe thunderstorms during the summer monsoon could potentially interrupt communication events transmitted by radio, satellite or digital media. This will deny U.N., combined and U.S. forces the ability to communicate with field-ready units and to collect valuable data about opposition forces.

Architecture and infrastructure

The antiquated C4I architecture and infrastructure that exists within the Korea Theater is a major obstacle in 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 proximity of the opposing forces � some 20 miles north of Seoul, the ROK�s capital � the sub-unified and combined commands need to embrace architectures and infrastructures that foster collaborative, interactive and real-time common operational understanding. This is best accomplished through technology that promotes network-centric warfare, leverages emerging space-based capabilities and provides sensor-to-shooter capabilities.

Unfortunately, modern architecture and infrastructure in the Korean Theater lags behind. However, the command has been transitioning from analog to digital processes. To this extent, USFK has engaged Joint Forces Command to integrate cutting-edge C4I technology within theater during major mobilization exercises. This arrangement permits USFK to integrate emerging C4I technologies into this theater�s architecture and infrastructure to meet regional threats.

C2 systems

Unlike the unified commands, Korea is a combined command. As such, ROK and U.S. military forces work closely together in the ROK�s defense. The combined staff has ROK military counterparts. For example, the assistant chief of staff C-6 (information management) is a Korean general officer; the deputy assistant chief of staff C-6/assistant chief of staff J-6 is a U.S. Air Force colonel. This close working relationship between the two governments requires complex, theater-unique, dual-language C2 systems to assure information dominance on a digitized battlefield.

The Global Command and Control System-Korea and combined secure videoteleconferencing provide this "go-to-war" C2 capability. However, that being said, it should be noted that 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 � ROK/United States). Information on the GCCS system has to be filtered before releasing to ROK military authorities. USFK is searching for an effective firewall that will permit using one terminal to access GCCS and GCCS-K. But until that time comes, it�s common to find workstations with 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, GCCS-K isn�t restricted to just the Korean Peninsula. It has been expanded and extended to continental U.S. locations � such as Fort Hood, Texas � and on board naval C2 vessels. GCCS-K�s enhanced capabilities 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 hard and software to allow information dominance, the automation infrastructure is outdated. The command has recognized this dilemma and has traditionally diverted funds to improve the architecture. Unfortunately, diverting funds to fix Korea�s C2 problems has caused funding shortfalls in other critical areas.

Resource managers on the Korean Peninsula have aggressively pursued more funding to strengthen the command�s C2 architecture. For example, joint and combined C2 resourcing (GCCS-K, automation infrastructure) were the major funding issues addressed in the integrated-priorities list and the commander�s narrative accompanying the Eighth U.S. Army program-objective memorandum. Most of the Fiscal Year 2002 budget for C4I only supports the "bare-bones" minimum required to sustain current go-to-war capabilities; technological growth and operational enhancements have been deferred to the future out-years.


The Gulf War clearly demonstrated the need for the services to communicate with each other so they could exchange information in a timely manner. In Korea, the need to exchange information is expanded to include the military services of the host nation. Should hostilities resume, some U.S. military units will fall under the operational control of ROK 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.

America�s Maneuver Control System can only pass analog data to its Korean counterpart. This effectively reduces the command�s ability to receive and transmit real-time digital information from/to our Korean counterparts. For example, a forward observer requesting fire support from a Korean artillery battery would have to pass information through U.S. systems. The information would then have to be converted into a format ROK forces could download into their systems to provide artillery support.

As you can clearly see, this cumbersome process is extremely time-consuming. Given the scenario of a sudden North Korean attack, time is a luxury that U.S., combined and allied forces simply will not have in the Korean Theater.

Acquiring new technology is only half the challenge facing U.S. and Korean forces. U.S. and ROK information specialists need to aggressively pursue avenues that permit exchange of current information. Only through this near-real-time information exchange can the alliance be successful in achieving information superiority.

Frequency issues

USFK has to compete with Korean commercial vendors for frequency and bandwidth. Said another way, the Korean government doesn�t have a restricted bandwidth for USFK. Consequently, USFK has to apply for frequencies to conduct exercises or field new equipment. Since the ROK has emerged as a primary "information provider" and a major center of telecommunications in Asia, there are limited frequencies available for USFK. Therefore a significant amount of time lapses between USFK�s initial application for frequencies and the host nation�s approval.

Limited frequencies and a lengthy approval process has put a strain on USFK to conduct exercises using emerging technologies and new equipment. For example, this command was scheduled to field the Apache Longbow helicopter during FY01. However, the Korean government has yet to grant frequency approval for training and operations due to conflicts with host-nation commercial telecommunications providers.

Also, there are no frequencies available to support unmanned aerial vehicles during armistice. Since command planners expect the North will depend on a swift, surprise attack, the inability to use UAVs to their fullest capabilities hinders intelligence efforts and potentially reduces warning time.

The Korean government only gave limited frequency approval for Joint STARS and Patriot air-defense systems. Although this is better than nothing, limited approval increases the North�s capabilities to effectively use their Scud and No Dong ballistic missiles.

Information assurance

USFK depends on the various information systems to receive, collect, analyze and transmit data. Along with this dependence, however, comes the risk that opposition forces will launch cyberattacks to disrupt C2. USFK is pursuing a viable information-assurance program that will protect vital information flowing throughout the command while defending the command�s systems from hostile intrusions. Also, USFK will use information systems to exploit our adversaries� vulnerabilities to enhance our intelligence and information base.

Intelligence capabilities

The president�s comments about "leap-ahead technologies for new � intelligence systems" in A Blueprint for a New Beginning are certainly on target when it comes to the Korean Theater. This command�s intelligence backbone, the Pacific Command�s Automated Data-Processing Site-Korea, needs upgrading to 21st-century technologies. Failure to provide urgent upgrades to this system reduces this command�s early-warning capabilities to respond to a North Korean attack.

This command�s very-small-aperture terminal provides mobile-communication capabilities. Unfortunately, the VSAT system is currently separated into three isolated networks. As such, the system is extremely fragile and vulnerable. Once again, USFK realizes this operational problem and is working on consolidating VSAT in one network. This will improve user capacity, reduce operational costs and provide redundancy to this susceptible system.


Information dominance is the counter to a swift, sudden North Korean invasion of South Korea, and it will definitely be key to achieving overall military success in the Korean Theater. However, the Korean Theater has some obstacles to achieving information dominance. The mountainous landscape in Korea makes it difficult to use LOS devices for voice or digital transmissions. An antiquated infrastructure and architecture hinders the command�s abilities to take advantage of state-of-the-art technology that delivers a real-time COP.

Further complicating this theater�s C4I picture is the inability of U.S. forces to interoperate with ROK forces and our other allies. Running redundant GCCS and GCCS-K systems is inefficient and ineffective. The limited bandwidth the ROK has available has hampered USFK�s ability to test and deploy state-of-the-art C4I equipment. The command has aggressively pursued funding for enhancing the obsolete infrastructure and acquiring new technologies to leverage our abilities to "fight tonight" to counter a North Korean invasion.

Suffice it to say, robust C4I in the Korean Theater is the difference between operational success or failure; life or death; and continued armistice or a resumption of the Korean War.

Mr. Di Genio is an operations research-systems analyst with Headquarters UNC/CFC/USFK, assistant chief of staff U/C/J-1, Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, ROK.

(Editor�s note: Although information in this article was current as of May 2001, situations change in the fluid, sometimes-unpredictable Korean theater.)

Acronym QuickScan
C2 � command and control
C4I � command, control, communications, computers and intelligence
CFC � Combined Forces Command
COP � common operational picture
FY � fiscal year
GCCS � Global Command and Control System
GCCS-K � Global Command and Control System-Korea
LOS � line of sight
ROK � Republic of Korea
SINCGARS � Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System
UAV � unmanned aerial vehicle
UNC � United Nations Command
USFK � U.S. Forces Korea
VSAT � very-small-aperture terminal

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