Texas-based soldiers test new technology to clear tunnels in South Korea
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 17, 2017
CAMP STANLEY, South Korea — Soldiers recently used high-tech communications and night-vision gear to infiltrate a bunker standing in for a chemical weapons lab at a semi-abandoned base north of Seoul.
On Friday, the Texas-based “Black Knights” from the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment air-assaulted from Black Hawk helicopters to Camp Stanley in pre-dawn darkness, linked up with South Korean forces, and entered the bunker in an exercise dubbed Warrior Strike.
The soldiers negotiated a half-mile long, horseshoe-shaped tunnel and numerous alcoves that look like the sort of place an enemy might hide chemical weapons.
North Korea’s affinity for digging is clear to anyone who has visited the third infiltration tunnel near the Demilitarized Zone that marks the border between the two Koreas. Now a tourist attraction, it’s one of several discovered in the area. It’s estimated that these tunnels could have moved tens of thousands of North Korean troops under the border each hour during an invasion.
South Korea’s defense ministry estimates there are 6,000 to 8,000 underground facilities in the North, ranging from shelters to storage sites for artillery and nuclear weapons.
During the Camp Stanley training, troops were equipped with gear that the Korea-based 2nd Infantry Division has on hand to boost tunnel-warfare capabilities. These include a new radio device — the Mobile Ad Hoc Networking Unit, or MPU5 — which acts as a WiFi-like node and creates a peer-to-peer radio relay, allowing the transmission of text and imagery between troops in the tunnel and to a commander on the surface.
1st Lt. Norman Holcomb, a Company B platoon leader, said the device outperformed the radio system currently being used. It also communicates with trackers that attach to soldiers’ heels like spurs.
Troops in the tunnel wore AN/PSQ-20 night-vision goggles that use thermal detection when ambient light wanes. The goggles were fielded in 2009 but their $18,000 price-tag and 2-pound weight mean they haven’t seen much use in the force.
The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group evaluated the technology while U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Vincent Brooks and the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff observed.
Holcomb said the WiFi worked well but that the tablet he carried during the raid was hard to operate with gloves on. He didn’t like the night-vision goggles but said thermal capability was useful deep in the tunnel.
The new gear gives troops an edge in a battlespace that could extend underground, said Lt. Col. John Moris, the Black Knights’ battalion commander.
“We can’t just look at military operations in two dimensions; we have to look at three dimensions and the subterranean component,” he said.
The soldiers will apply the training to other battlefields if called upon, Moris said.
“We try to prepare and train for any and all contingencies,” he said. “This is just another aspect — another facet of what we can see in operations.”