Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nightmare Range, South Korea

I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. In our POW (plain old world) one doesn't often come across geographical names that measure up to Lovecraftian standards, along the lines of his Mountains of Madness

But here's a real one that comes close: Nightmare Range, a target-practice area in far north South Korea. It's just a hop-skip-and-a-ricochet from the DMZ, certainly reachable by shell from the DPRK's dug-in heavy artillery just north of the border.

Here's a map, from a recent naval survey of training sites, with the label for Nightmare Range highlighted at upper left, with its location to the side:
The border with North Korea is the gray line on the map just above Nightmare Range. On an island in the Yellow Sea south-southwest of Nightmare is Chik Do Range -- see the other label. Chik Do is where US bombers did practice runs last month. So we haven't been as provocative as some commentators are saying; practice bombing runs at Nightmare Range would have pushed tensions up a lot more.

Here's an aerial photo of Nightmare, from the Wikimapia site:  

This obscure location came up briefly during an August 18, 1976, meeting of the Washington Special Action Group (WASAG), a small but very influential foreign-policy advisory group in the Ford Administration and, previously, the Nixon White House.

The subject that day was what to do about a murderous attack in which a squad of North Korean soldiers jumped a small American-ROK team that was attempting to trim a poplar tree for better sightlines between observation posts in the DMZ.

Among the many response concepts bounced around by WASAG (not all of which have been declassified) was having American aircraft do practice bombing runs all the way up to Nightmare Range. That was scrubbed as too provocative, and more modest measures were taken when finishing the tree-trimming two days later ... but with a great deal of firepower waiting just over the nearest hill. Call it armed arboreal diplomacy.

For those interested in knowing more about what North Korea itself called an "ultra-tense" situation, I'm researching it as part of an article on military alerts to be published in Air&Space.


  1. We dropped inert bombs on Nightmare range during Team Spirit exercise in 1980. Always fun to pull off the target and be light up by NK AAA and SAM radar.

  2. We had a huge combined arms exercise there in November and December 1985 called Operation Bearhunt. Every ordinance you can imagine was delivered by our Marine Amphibious Unit and our ROK counterparts by our artillery, mortars, F18s, Cobras, A10s, everything I've even seen fly. We inserted by helicopter with our 155mm guns. It was insane the amount of firepower we laid down 24/7. It never got dark we were firing so many illumination rounds.

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