Inside Korea’s elite decapitation unit

IT IS a decapitation unit comprised of highly-trained elite soldiers.

It is also the unit South Korea could deploy in just 24 hours, ready and armed to carry out a strike on North Korea.

Officially known as Spartan 3000, Seoul hopes the unit will intimidate its northern neighbour and deter it from attacking first.

The unit has not been assigned with the job of literally decapitating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

According to Brendan Thomas-Noone, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, a decapitation unit’s main goal would be to neutralise their target’s ability to command and control their nuclear weapons and military forces.

“It can involve targeting the political and military leadership, but it can also target the communication and other infrastructure that is used to command those forces,” he said.

New York Times Korea correspondent Choe Sang-Hun reported Seoul is using the unit to send a menacing message to Pyongyang.

He wrote it was rare for a government to announce a strategy to assassinate a head of state, but Seoul wants “to keep the North on edge and nervous about the consequences of further developing its nuclear arsenal”.

The unit is due to be fully established by the end of the year, according to The Times.

South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo said the unit could conduct cross-border raids, while re-tooled helicopters and aircraft could also enter North Korean territory at night.

In reality the unit is capable of much more than that.


The special force unit, which was first unveiled last year, can be deployed to any part of the Korean Peninsula within a day, according to UK newspaper The Telegraph.

The unit conducted joint military exercises with the US last year and has been trained to tackle natural disasters.

South Korean media agency Yonhap reported its bigger objective is to destroy “key military facilities” in North Korea.

“In the past, the battalion-level unit took 24 hours to be deployed across the Korean Peninsula, while the regimental-level unit took 48 hours,” a military official told Yonhap.

“However, the new unit will be able to operate within 24 hours even at the regimental level.”


According to Mr Thomas-Noone decapitation strikes have a long history.

Mr Thomas-Noone, an expert in international security and nuclear deterrence, said the unit was all about proving South Korea was militarily capable.

“The idea behind decapitation strikes is you take out a country’s leadership or its ability to control its nuclear weapons as a way of disabling your enemy,” he said.

“The US tried to do this in 2003 in Iraq. It tried to take out Saddam and the Iraqi leadership with cruise missiles before the invasion started,” he said.

Mr Thomas-Noone said the strategy wasn’t without risk and was far from fail safe.

“Even if the leadership is killed, you don’t know who’s in control of the nuclear weapons or if there’s a back-up trigger,” he said.

Mr Thomas-Noone said South Korea would be trying to demonstrate it has the ability to execute its military strategy with this unit.

He said South Korea recently faced a cap on the range and capability of missiles it was allowed to have.

“The US took those restrictions off,” he said.

“This is about ensuring South Korea is capable of combat with North Korea.”


Just last month, South Korea’s top military general vowed to aggressively retaliate against the North and support for the “Kill Chain” system of defence.

Chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jeong Kyeong-doo said the threat from the North was more “serious than any other time”.

He also confirmed supporting South Korea’s controversial “three axis defence platform”, which involves three critical elements: the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike; the Korean Air and Missile Defence (KAMD); and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) scheme.

The strategy unveiled last year is due to be completed within the next five.

The Kill Chain strategy involves using a series of air, naval and missile strikes by conventional weapons designed to take out key North Korean targets.

Top generals, communication targets and even Kim himself would be targeted under this approach.


Seoul also has other lines of defence.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry confirmed four new launchers were installed last week to further help counter the growing threat from its rival.

Two launchers and a powerful radar are already in place at the former golf course near Seongju City, 217 kilometres south of Seoul and form part of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.

However, Seoul did not confirm when new launchers, which form part of the hi-tech American missile-defence system, would be fully operational.

THAAD is designed to shoot down short to medium-range missiles mid-flight.

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