World

USA Vs. North Korea: If There Is War, Who Has The Stronger Military and Most Nuclear Weapons?

A war between the United States and North Korea seems more probable by the week, with Tuesday's missile launch from Kim Jong Un's regime being only the latest fearsome provocation.

Kim and President Donald Trump were trading threats of mass destruction for months, and the launch of North Korea's most powerful ballistic missile yet had the Trump administration weighing the option of combat yet again.

If the United States and North Korea go to war, who is better positioned to win?

The two nations have been enemies for decades and stockpiling weapons in case a conflict broke out. If it comes to that, here's what each side would be facing.

11_30_North_Korea Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are engaged in an ongoing war of words. Getty Images

Who has the stronger military?

The U.S. has the strongest military in the world and unquestionably outmatches North Korea, though that doesn't mean a conventional conflict between them would be quick and easy. 

The Global Firepower Index is a ranking of the military strength of 133 nations based on more than 50 factors, including available manpower, diversity of weapons (which often matters more than quantity), geographical factors and local industries. In 2017, the U.S. was ranked number one, while North Korea came in 23rd. 

The U.S. has roughly 1.3 million active duty troops and 999,000 reserve troops, according to the Global Firepower Index. Comparatively, North Korea has around 1.1 million active duty troops and 5.5 million reserves, giving it the fourth-largest army in the world.

If war suddenly broke out between the two countries, U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula—numbering roughly 28,500—would be outnumbered and undersupplied. But most of the fighting in such a conflict would fall on South Korean troops. South Korea currently has around 627,500 active duty personnel and around 5.2 million in reserve. The U.S. also has plans in place to rapidly move personnel in the region—such as the 45,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan—to the Korean Peninsula in the event of a war. 

11_30_North_Korea_US_Military The U.S. has roughly 1.3 million active-duty troops. Getty Images

The U.S. outmatches North Korea when it comes to airpower.The U.S. military's total aircraft strength is roughly 13,760. North Korea's total airpower, meanwhile, is under 1,000 aircrafts. 

The U.S. has 5,884 combat tanks, 41,062 armored fighting vehicles, 415 total naval assets (including 10 aircraft carriers) and the highest defense budget in the world––close to $600 billion. The U.S. also has missile defense systems in place that could potentially intercept North Korean missiles, such as THAAD in South Korea.

Comparatively, North Korea has 5,025 combat tanks, 4,100 armored fighting vehicles and a defense budget of about $7.5 billion. North Korea has around 967 naval assets, but the vast majority are patrol craft (468), and it has no ships that can transport warplanes.

North Korea is also believed to have chemical and biological weapon stockpiles that it would likely employ in a war. The United States has condemned other countries, such as Syria, that use those weapons.

North Korea's military might be great in size in many respects, but its technology is also outdated, and its soldiers are known to be extremely malnourished. A North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea in early November was found to have dozens of unusual parasites (one as long as 10 inches) and raw corn kernels in his stomach. It's hard to imagine North Korea's soldiers would last very long in a conflict if they are in such poor health. This is yet another reminder that quality often counts for far more than quantity. 

Who has more nuclear weapons?

The U.S. has the second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world (after Russia), with roughly 6,800 warheads–– 1,800 deployed, 4,000 stockpiled and 2,800 retired. North Korea is believed to possess anywhere between 25 to 60 nuclear warheads, based on assessments from the U.S. intelligence community and independent experts. 

The pressing question now is whether North Korea has acquired the technology to successfully launch a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile at the U.S. mainland and have it reach its target. Despite claims from the regime, North Korea doesn't seem to have reached this goal. But experts have said it isn't far off from acquiring the necessary technology and may have this capability as early as next year. 

The U.S. military already has extremely reliable long-range missiles that could be launched within minutes and reach distances over 6,200 miles. In other words, America's nuclear arsenal is far larger and more advanced than North Korea's.

A war between North Korea and the U.S. would be extremely bloody, experts have warned

Most defense experts would agree there's no question that the U.S. would win in a war with North Korea, but many have concluded that millions could die in the process, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel as well as civilians in Korea, Japan and Guam.

11_30_missile_test_nuclear Kim Jong Un in a photo from the Tuesday missile launch, released by North Korea's state-run media. Reuters

A recent Congressional Research Service report estimated as many as 300,000 could die in the first few days of fighting between the U.S. and North Korea––even without the use of nukes. A separate assessment from 38 North, a website analyzing North Korea, estimated that 2.1 million could perish if nuclear detonations occurred over Tokyo or Seoul.

The U.S. military recently concluded that ground invasion would be necessary to destroy North Korea's nuclear arsenal, since little intelligence is available on the location of its military assets, which would make airstrikes unreliable. This could get extremely complicated given the close proximity of North Korea to Russia and China, countries that would not benefit from a pro-America, unified Korean Peninsula.