Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Hwasong-15 - TEL Convoy

Hwasong-15 CrewThe Hwasong-15 Transporter Erector Launcher [TEL] is an enlarged version of the Hwasong-14 TEL, though with an additional pair of roadwheels, bringing the total to nine wheels on each side. The erection mechanism is entirely new, with hydraulic cylinders on either side of the TEL, as opposed to the position under the cradle seen on previous TELs.

By now it must be apparent that the Deus Ex Machina of this rocket, if not the predecessors, is the caravan of vehicles that undertake the on-site pre-launch fueling of this rather husky rocket. While the Hwasong-14 was about the size of an SS-11, the Hwasong-15 seems more about the size of an SS-17. Using storable hypergolic propellants, the Soviets were able to deploy these ICBMs in silos fueled for launch on short notice. It would evidently be impractical to erect a rocket as large as the Hwasong-15 in a fully-fueled status. The group portrait of the launch team includes about 150 individuals, yet there are never more than a dozen people visible in pictures of the various stages of the launch. Presumably many of the folks who only made it into the group photograph were involved in fueling the rocket.

This fueling process would entail an entire caravan of vehicles [propellant tanker trucks, pump trucks, and so forth], and this caravan would be visible to ROK and US intelligence [even if done at night under the "cover" of darkness]. And this fueling process would take time, surely a few tens of minutes.

The precise composition of the Hwasong-15 convoy and the amount of time required from arrival at the launch site to launch is not reported in the public literature. The nearest Soviet counterpart, the R-14/SS-5 was estimated to require from one to three hours of launch preparation, from a prepared site.

The SS-26 STONE [8M723K1 Islander-E] missile TEL carries two solid-fuel missiles. The system has no need for fuel tank trucks, but does require a five-vehicle convoy consisting of a Command and Staff vehicle, a Life Support vehicle, a Mobile Data Processing vehicle, and a Maintenance vehicle [a Transporter Loader Vehicle - TLV - carries a second pair of missile that provide a reload capability]. The TLV reload vehicle would not be required by the Hwasong-15.

The Soviet R-14 (GRAU classification 8K65, NATO - SS-5 Skean) was a Soviet , medium-range Soviet-made liquid single-stage ballistic missile (IRBM), and the largest transportable Soviet era missile. Teh R-14 convoy included a lifting crane (load-lifting units) 8T25 and 8T26 (load-carrying capacity 10 tons) to erect the missile systems at launch positions, of a sort used with the R-9 , R-12 , R-14 , R-16 and R-36 ballistic missiles. The MAZ-529 single-axle tractors were widely used in the Strategic Missile Forces of the USSR. They were used as lifting and positioning units 8U210, 8U224, 8U224P, 8U224M, tractors for 7-ton starting unit 8U217, cranes 8T25 and 8T26 (load capacity of 10 tonnes) for ballistic missiles R-9, R-12, P-14, P-16 and P-36. The Engineers Forces MAZ-529 was used as a part of self-propelled scrapers, rollers, loading platforms for installation of different equipment.

The R-14 convoy included a Control start-up machine [8H114], Machine tests [8H115], Power Machine [8H225], Diesel power station [ESD-10], Diesel-compressor station [8G315A], converter unit [522], Truck crane [8T26, load-carrying capacity 10 tons], Transport and lifting trolley [8T145], Nitrogen extraction station [8G318], Launch ["Starting"] table [8U229], Installer [8U224, conveyor of the 7-ton launch device 8U217], Docking machine [8T332], Nitrogen Filler [8G135U], Service unit [8T144], Wash-neutralizing machine [8T311 - on the basis of ZIL-157 and subsequently on the chassis ZiL-131 - designed for decontamination of equipment], Air heater [8G27], Machinery accessories [8T353, 8T354, 8T355], and Aiming devices [8S20], for a total of 16 vehicles.

Propellant was carried in the Oxidizer tanker [8G134, transported by tractor MAZ-535 (subsequently replaced with MAZ-537)] and fuel tanker 8G140 [on the basis of uniaxial tractor MAZ-529E]. The R-14 carried 57.4 tons of AK-27I [Nitric acid - 69.8-70.2% HNO3, 24-28% N2O4, inhibitor 0.12-0.16%, H2O 1.3-2.0%] oxidizer, and 23.2 tons of Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH, heptyl). For the somewhat larger 2-stage R-16 ICBM, it seems that two two trucks of each type were required, for a total of four propellant vehicles.

Hwasong-15 convoySo the total Hwasong-15 convoy would probably consist of the TEL with the un-fueled missile, at least five [based on the much simpler SS-26], but probably no more than about 15 vehicles [based on the much older SS-5]. Based on the SS-15, it seems that four propellant trucks would be needed. So the total convoy might be the TEL, four propellant trucks, and up to ten other vehicles [the average of the SS-5 and SS-26] - a total of 10 to 15 vehicles, for ease of calculation.

It would be comforting to assume that the point of origin of these convoys would be a well known garrison, and that the convoy would parade down a highway towards a pre-surveyed [and previously identified by ROK/USA targeters] launch site. The counter example, and more probable problem, is that the TELs are hidden in highway tunnels [the DPRK is mountainous, and there are many such tunnels]. Probably the TELs are deployed separately from the other vehicles, which might easirly be dispersed at multiple locations. So the Hwasong-15 convoy, rather the resembling a marching band, migh resemble a flash mob, with various vehicles converging from multiple parking locations to the pre-arragened launch site, which would not be fully populated with the convoy until tens of minutes before launch.

But converge they must, and for several tens of minutes there would be a conglomeration of heavy military vehicles were there had hitherto been nothing of the sort. Vigilant surveillance with imaging radar, coupled with powerful change extracton software, should identify the improvised launch complex fairly quickly. Probably there would be decoy convoys, but the ROK/USA targetting doctrine would be to kill them all [and the Lord will know his own].

The US and ROK military would notice deployment of the missile caravan, notice the start of fueling, and could have time to initiate a pre-emptive attack before the missile could be launched. The North Korean missile crew would be in a race against to to launch their missile before the certain destructiong.

The visible and time consuming fueling of this missile would re-create the hair-trigger launch on warning posture that prevailed between the USA and USSR during the Cold War. There are other elements of the military postures on either side of the DMZ that are hair-tiggered [eg, the Koksan Guns], but none with the stakes posed by this missile.



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