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Strategic Weapons: The North Korean Phantom
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February 5, 2013: What is North Korea doing moving several large TELs (Transporter Erector Launcher) around the country? The TELs are carrying a long range (up to 5,000 kilometers by the size of it) missile. All this makes no sense, which is fairly typical for much of what goes on in North Korea.

The TEL and its missile first appeared last April in a North Korean military parade. There for the world to see was a 16 wheel TEL carrying what appeared to be a three stage ballistic missile. Both the TEL and the missile had not been seen before. The missile was named KN-08, and what was odd about it was that it had never been tested. North Korea has never been known to carry out long-range missile tests undetected. Some thought KN-08 was a fake, just something to make the cold, hungry, and broke North Koreans feel better about themselves. Markings on the TEL identified it as “Hwasong-13 Self-Propelled Launcher” and North Korean. There are two other North Korean Hwasong missiles, both of them short (up to 500 kilometers) range liquid fuel rockets. These two were called Hwasong-5 and Hwason-6. Defectors from North Korea indicate that the official name for all North Korean ballistic missiles is Hawsong and that indicates that a missile named Hwasong could be the latest one.

What was also interesting was the TEL, which is an unusual vehicle specially built to carry, then erect and survive the launch of a ballistic missile. The North Korean TEL was unlike any seen before but the cab was similar to a Chinese heavy transporter. North Korea may well have bought these heavy trucks and then modified them into TELs. This is what Iran did for a long time, until sanctions officials ordered heavy truck manufacturers to stop selling Iran the big vehicles that could be converted to TELs by the buyer. It was later revealed that the North Korean TEL was based on a Chinese vehicle exported to North Korea.

Large trucks modified to be TELs are often not real TELs. There are a lot of manufacturers out there who build huge (12-20 wheel) trucks, and these are often used to carry military equipment (like 60 ton tanks). A 12-50 ton ballistic missile is no problem but installing the hydraulic gear and controls to erect the missile to a vertical position is tricky. Even more difficult is hardening the rear of the vehicle to minimize the damage from the rocket exhaust. This last bit can be dropped if you only expect to use these TELs once for a live fire. The 16 wheel North Korea TEL may have been one of those "use once and abandon the trailer" models.

It is believed that the TELs and their cargoes are being moved around to encourage North Koreans and to mess with foreign intelligence agencies. North Korea has been observed carrying on like this before.

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