We aren’t there…yet
Every couple minutes I see an “URGENT: US ARMY IN KOREA AT DEFCON 2!” scroll by, so I checked;
By Jung Sung-ki [Yes it’s from 2009, but it explains what goes on]
The South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) has upgraded its surveillance level on North Korea, Thursday, following the latter’s nuclear test and firing of six short-range missiles Monday and Tuesday, the Ministry of National Defense said.
The CFC, led by a four-star American army general, raised its Watch Condition (WATCHCON) to the level two, which denotes vital indications of a security threat, early in the day, ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said.
It is the first time in 31 months that the CFC has raised its military-alertness level since October 2006, when Pyongyang conducted its first-ever nuclear test, Won said.
“WATCHCON 2 went into effect as of 7:15 a.m.,” the spokesman said. “Once the level is raised, the number of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets will be increased for a tighter watch on suspected moves in North Korea.”
The South Korean military’s Defense Condition (DEFCON) level, however, has been kept at level four, its usual level, he said.
The WATCHCON hierarchy, normally raised by agreement between the South Korean and U.S. militaries, has four stages ― WATCHCON 4 for normal peacetime posture, 3 for important indications of a security threat, 2 for vital indications of a security threat and 1 for wartime situation. In normal situations, the surveillance level remains at 3.
An official of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the CFC had already increased its operations of U-2 spy aircraft and RF-4 reconnaissance jets near the border with North Korea since the May 25 nuclear test. [my emphasis all]
The process of changing the reconnaissance posture for strategic and tactical warning of attack operated by ROK and US military forces is called the WATCHCON system. There are about 180 unusual North Korean military movements on the “Indication and Warning Lists” which are intensively monitored, based on the WATCHCON levels. The Watch Condition hierarchy is characterised by four stages: WATCHCON 4 (normal peacetime position), WATCHCON 3 (important indications of threat), WATCHCON 2 (vital indications of threat), and WATCHCON 1 (wartime situation). The WATCHCON is normally raised by the agreement of ROK and US military intelligence authorities.
In normal defense situations, the South Korean troops maintain Watchcon 3 surveillance status and Defcon 4 defense readiness status. When tensions rise, the status is upgraded, and in war, they are raised to Watchcon 1 and Defcon 1.
Tensions have indeed risen with the now proved sinking of a South Korean warship, but so far, overtly anyway, everything is still in the political arena.
Of course, if a North Korean submarine were to simply “vanish” off the face of the Earth….accidents happen, especially with them old rusty submarines.
UPDATE: Apparently it’s mostly back to business as usual for now;
The military has not raised the alert level since the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26, despite a government announcement of tough sanctions against North Korea and a North Korean threat of “all-out war.” A military spokesman said, “There seems to be a gap between what public and the military perceive as emergencies.”
North Korea on Monday reacted to Seoul’s announcement that it is resuming psychological warfare by threatening to shoot at South Korean loudspeakers across the demilitarized zone. “There has been no change in our military alertness against North Korea,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said. “We are not taking any special measures as no unusual signs of military action by North Korea have been detected.”
But the National Police Agency declared the second-highest alert for all officers nationwide as of 6 p.m. last Friday, citing increased possibility of North Korea’s provocations.