Stratfor sees the backbone of a planned operation as being led by 10 B-2 bombers and 24 F-22 fighters with bombs, and 600+ cruise missiles from 2 cruise missile subs sent near North Korea and surface ships already deployed in the western Pacific:
In a world of perfect intelligence, the United States has the tools to dismantle the North Korean nuclear program, along with associated components, in a single, massive surprise strike. There are two huge unknowns, however, that prevent a truly accurate evaluation of the likelihood of a strike. First, we simply do not have a comprehensive or precise picture of the North Korean nuclear program, especially when it comes to the number of weapons and delivery vehicles — we do not know for sure where they are located or how well they are protected. Second, we have no way of knowing just how good the U.S. intelligence picture really is when it comes to the North Korean nuclear program. Predicting the likelihood of a U.S. strike is difficult to do when the decision to carry out an attack would depend heavily on the degree of confidence the United States places in its intelligence.
We don't know what we don't know. So while we can hit anything we find, that might not be enough.
And perhaps our experience with Desert Fox against Iraq in 1999 (a four-day aerial campaign) should encourage us. In that case, even a strike we didn't think was sufficient actually did lasting damage.
I think the problem with this strike comes from South Korea. While Japan would welcome such an American effort to prevent Japan from being the target (again) of nuclear strikes, would South Korea welcome such a crisis because America doesn't want to be a new target, even though South Korea has long been under the threat of conventional and chemical bombardment that would have effectively destroyed Seoul--the home of a quarter of South Korea's people?
A crisis that results from an American strike on North Korea (assuming it is successful) may cause America and Japan to sigh with relief, but all of a sudden South Korea becomes the only target for easy North Korean retaliation.
And if we kept the strike secret from even South Korea to maintain surprise, South Korea will be left scrambling to put their forces and civil defense in order to deter or cope with North Korean retaliation.
Sure, America could threaten a campaign against North Korean political targets should North Korea think about bombarding Seoul with high explosives or chemical weapons, but would the North Koreans calculate that restraint is the smart thing to do?
It is possible that we could do serious damage to South Korean trust in America (and in collateral damage, motivate renewed mistrust of a relieved Japan) by striking North Korea's nuclear facilities without advanced approval.
Perhaps South Korea would be grateful if we disarm North Korea and set them back. But I don't know if we can assume that.
Although we might strike a major blow against Iran's real nuclear program by smashing up North Korea's nuclear program.
UPDATE: This surely helps our case:
China is suspected to be taking indirect action against South Korea's decision last year to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system, South Korea's finance minister said.
It isn't that China wants South Korea to be defenseless in the face of North Korean nuclear missiles.
It's that China wants South Korea to be defenseless in the face of China's nuclear missile arsenal.
So we've got that going for us.
UPDATE: Stratfor looks at North Korean retaliation options.
They say that North Korea's chemical weapons capabilities are likely low in the short run what with the stocks deteriorating and the means of long-range delivery old and limited. This should be no shock to me because it reflects the general deterioration of North Korea's military that I've noted over the years.
But I've never read that and since North Korea puts so much into nukes, I guess I assumed that lack of news about problems indicated that chemical weapons, as "poor-man's nukes," were in better shape.
Also bio weapons are non-existent although the capability to manufacture them exists.
The air force is a semi-flying museum. My view is that if used as manned cruise missiles for one-way missions, they could do some damage.
The navy could do some damage, but it would be eventually sunk.
There is a cyber-war capability that could be used.
And North Korea's commando force could do serious damage infiltrating South Korea by attacking targets or even provoking friendly fire incidents between South Korean units suddenly nervous about anyone around them.
Their army is nothing but a slave labor force. But Stratfor doesn't mention the ability to bombard Seoul with tube and rocket artillery firing plain high explosives that are just across the DMZ.
That seems an odd omission.
Because that would be the safest thing to do that doesn't risk losing assets like working ships, planes, and actual decent troops like the commandos.