172. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1


  • U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action in Korea
Reference is made to a memorandum by the Deputy Secretary of Defense for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated 27 September 1956, subject: “U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action in Korea,”2 and to a memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA) for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated 22 September 1956, subject: “Modernization of Forces and Equipment in Korea.”3 The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the initial step which must be taken prior to a realistic determination of the minimum [Page 323] levels of U.S. and ROK forces in Korea is to modernize U.S. forces and equipment to include atomic capable forces. Regardless of the numerical ratio between the UN command forces and the Communist forces, the capability of the UN command to indefinitely deter a renewal of hostilities in the face of the Communist modernization is dependent on the replacement of obsolete and obsolescent equipment.
Despite reductions in over-all strength since the Armistice, Communist armed forces in Korea could still launch a limited attack with little warning. The Chinese Communists will continue to have the unopposed capability to reinforce units in contact along the demarcation line with a minimum of six armies in from 10 to 14 days after the initiation of movement from present assembly areas. North Korean Armed Forces are now estimated to include a reequipped and reorganized army of about 350,000 men and an air force consisting principally of 310 jet fighters (50 Frescoes, 245 Fagots, and 15 Midgets), 70 jet ground attack (Fagots), and 75 light jet bombers (Beagles). The Chinese Communists now have about 290,000 men in North Korea. (For detailed breakdown of Communist forces, see Appendix “A” hereto.)4
The combat elements of the ROK Army and the ROK Marine Corps are well trained and combat ready, but their capability to conduct sustained defensive action would be hampered by a lack of logistical experience and the deficiencies of their automotive equipment. (A continuous action is being taken to correct the latter.) The amphibious capability of the ROK Marine Corps is 1 Reinforced Regimental Landing Team. Similarly, the ROK Air Force is restricted to daylight, fair weather, air to ground operations by one F–51 Fighter Squadron and one C–46 Transport Squadron. The three F–86F squadrons, which are now in a training status, will give the ROK Air Force a daylight VFR, Air Defense, and Counter Air Capability. A continuation of the current modernization program of the ROK Air Force to include all six of the fighter-bomber squadrons will be necessary. The effectiveness and capability of the ROK Navy is adversely influenced by a limited number of minesweepers, gun fire support restricted to three-inch guns, and effective fire power well below U.S. standards. Although by U.S. standards the effectiveness and capability of the ROK Navy is limited, it is considered ample for its currently assigned mission. The personnel strength of the Korean Armed Forces on active duty is about 720,000 with a reserve strength of about 450,000. (For detailed breakdown of friendly forces, see Appendix “B” hereto.)4
The U.S. forces presently deployed to Korea consist of two infantry divisions and one fighter-bomber wing with necessary support forces. The total U.S. personnel strength in Korea is 50,000. The present strength of UN forces other than U.S. and ROK forces is 7,600.
In our memorandum for you, dated 2 November 1955, subject: “Planning Force Bases for Korea—FY 57–59”,5 we stated that, prior to the initiation of a reduction of ROK Armed Forces the following three conditions must be achieved:
The enemy situation be such as to permit reduction in ROK active forces.
Adequate and effective reserve forces be attained.
The physical plant required for the accommodation of the divisions converted to reserve status be in being.
The present status with respect to the above conditions is:
The enemy situation will permit a phased reduction in UNC forces if the U.S. forces and equipment in Korea are modernized.
The first cycle of the reserve training objectives for the first two ROK reserve divisions will be met by March 1957. In addition, total individual reservists expected to be trained in CY–56 is 206,690. The three cycles of the training objective for the ten reserve divisions presently authorized by the U.S.-ROK Agreed Minute are scheduled for completion in the period March–July 1959.
As of August 31, 1956, construction of accommodations for the ten reserve divisions authorized by the U.S.-ROK Agreed Minute was 98 per cent complete. Construction of facilities for additional reserve divisions will require 18 months from the time detailed planning is initiated.
However desirable the redeployment of all U.S. forces from Korea may be from a military point of view, the implications of such a move require that the following be considered:
The possibility that President Rhee may take risks to reunify Korea by force and thereby involve the United States in a renewal of hostilities.
A major problem may arise during Korean selection of a successor government if President Rhee should pass from the scene.
The redeployment of major U.S. forces from Korea would probably result in the withdrawal of the ROK Armed Forces from the operational control of the U.S. commanders.
In the light of the above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the minimum levels of ROK and modernized U.S. forces in Korea which should be maintained over the next two years are: [Page 325]
U.S. Forces (Including atomic capable forces)
  • 2 U.S. Infantry Divisions
  • 1 Fighter Bomb Wing
ROK Forces
  • 16 Infantry Divisions
  • 14 Reserve Divisions
  • Approximately 61 combatant ships
  • 1 Marine Division
Air Force
  • 6 Fighter Bomber Squadrons
  • 1 Transport Squadron
  • 1 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 1 Tactical Control Squadron
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Arthur Radford 6
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 62 D 1, NSC 5514. Top Secret. Wilson sent this report to the NSC under cover of a memorandum to Executive Secretary Lay. The report was circulated to the NSC under cover of a memorandum from Lay, October 12. Both memoranda are attached but not printed.
  2. In this memorandum, also addressed to the Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, Deputy Secretary Robertson noted the action taken by the NSC with respect to Korea on September 20 and directed the Joint Chiefs to prepare a report on the minimum level of U.S. and Republic of Korean forces which it would be in U.S. interests to maintain over the next 2 years. (JCS 1776/560; Department of Defense Files)
  3. This document was a covering memorandum used by Assistant Secretary Gray to forward an undated memorandum directed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff which was awaiting Secretary Wilson’s signature. Gray noted in his covering memorandum that he was forwarding the attached memorandum to the Joint Chiefs for their information in Wilson’s absence. The attached memorandum, dealing with modernization of forces and equipment in Korea, reviewed the conclusions relating to modernization reached by lawyers from the Departments of State and Defense on September 11. For a summary of these conclusions, see footnote 8, Document 168. [7 lines of text not declassifed]
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed. (JCS 1776/544; Department of Defense Files)
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.