Trailer Talk

Where Did the North Koreans Get Those Missile-Toting Trucks?

Blog commentary by Tom Berg, Senior Contributing Editor

April 18, 2017

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe
What looks like a Chinese civilian-design tractor-trailer carries a North Korean missile meant for submarine launching. Note the sailors sitting stiffly at attention on the platform behind the cab. Photos: KCNA and wstech.com
What looks like a Chinese civilian-design tractor-trailer carries a North Korean missile meant for submarine launching. Note the sailors sitting stiffly at attention on the platform behind the cab. Photos: KCNA and wstech.com

As a long-ago soldier, I'm intently watching news stories about North Korea’s missiles, some of them launched and some paraded through the streets of the country’s capital. And as a truck guy, I'm wondering where the nasty Commies got the trucks and trailers that carry the fearsome weapons, and just what kind of vehicles they are. Turns out I’m not the only one.

On the internet there are reports that the trucks and tractor-trailers were made by friendly Commies, in China, with – yikes! – American and German powertrain components in at least one of them. And the trucks themselves are sparking discussions about breaches of non-proliferation treaties among Communist and western nations.

The camouflage-blue rig is carrying a modest-sized missile reportedly designed for launching from submarines. On a platform behind the cab are white-uniformed sailors sitting stiffly at attention with rifles at arm’s length – a seated “parade rest” posture, I’d call it. I could find no information on the vehicle’s specifications, but the tractor looks like a Chinese civilian-type based on European designs.

The huge eight-axle trucks supposedly carrying new intercontinental ballistic missiles (several sources think the big canisters were empty) are definitely Chinese, according to several articles I found. The Wanshan WS51200 chassis are 16x12s (eight axles, six of them driven), resembling (but not related to) Oshkosh heavy equipment transporters used by the American military. Wanshan sold the trucks to North Korea for hauling timber, and the North Koreans illegally converted them to military use, Reuters reports.  

North Koreans converted Wanshan 16x12 trucks to missile erector-launchers, reports say. Powertrains include Cummins KTTA-700 and ZF automatic transmissions. 
North Koreans converted Wanshan 16x12 trucks to missile erector-launchers, reports say. Powertrains include Cummins KTTA-700 and ZF automatic transmissions.

Wanshan is a specialist in off-road military vehicles, according to the Wikipedia page. The builder has looked for civilian uses for its military trucks, and this photo shows a chassis painted in un-military red.

Civilian version of Wanshan's WS51200 is meant for off-road hauling of timber, ore and fuel. But paint it olive-drab and outfit it with an erector-launch body, and the rough-terrain truck becomes a military threat. 
Civilian version of Wanshan's WS51200 is meant for off-road hauling of timber, ore and fuel. But paint it olive-drab and outfit it with an erector-launch body, and the rough-terrain truck becomes a military threat.

To expand a bit on componentry: The WS51200's engine is a 700-hp Cummins KTTA-19, twin turbocharged and aftercooled with a 19-liter (1,161-cubic-inch) displacement. It’s based on the KT-450 and KTA-600, which Cummins sold here as Big Power truck engines in the 1970s (I attended the KT’s introduction in Columbus, Indiana, in 1973).

Like other American and European companies, Cummins has joint ventures in China. Several years ago it introduced an ISG diesel that’s since been produced there. The ISG forms the basis for the new 11.9L X12 diesel destined for North America and to be built in Jamestown, New York.

The big truck's WSK440+16S251 automatic transmission is from Germany-based ZF, which also does business in China (and makes and sells automotive components in the U.S.). The Chinese market is huge and any world-class company worth its mettle (and metal) needs to be there to survive in the global marketplace.

China may be a potential enemy to us, but it is also a huge trading partner. To paraphrase an old saying, where goods cross borders, soldiers do not and President Trump is asking the Chinese to lean on the North Koreans to back off from their belligerency. 

Now, let’s lighten up. We know that on Easter Sunday, the day after their big parade, the North Koreans tried to test a missile but it exploded on launch. But, who knew that a missile fell off a trailer not long before that, sending their Dear Leader into a rage? The Daily Cardinal, the University of Wisconsin’s student-run newspaper, did. Ha ha, the Cardinal has a writer who's a real spoofmeister.

Comment On This Story

Name:  
Email:  
Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.

Author Bio

sponsored by

Tom Berg

Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

Newsletter

We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.

GotQuestions?

sponsored by

ELDs and Telematics

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

GotQuestions?

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All