After President Trump’s failed attempt to broker peace on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea resumed ballistic missile tests in 2019. They have done so many since, it has become quite hard to keep track of them all. However, two tests, in September 2021 and in January of this year, stand out because the missiles were launched from a train. Putting missiles on a train makes some sense. If it were to come under attack, North Korea needs to ensure it can still launch its missiles. Mobile launchers make it much harder for an adversary to find and destroy them on the ground. And North Korea has poor roads but a fairly well-developed train network. Finding the launchers becomes a shell game; just about any box car in the country can house an unpleasant surprise.
The train in September consisted of a single Soviet-built M62 diesel locomotive; a very common type in communist countries. This pulled two freight cars. The first was a regular Chinese-built P61 box car. The second was externally similar, but it had an opening roof, extra doors in its side and launchers for two ballistic missiles inside. I admire the skill that goes into building a LEGO train, but the last time I built one was in 2014. And the one before that was in 2009, so it is fair to say that I rarely build trains. But North Korean missiles on a train definitely piqued my interest. I have built number of other missile launchers recently, including a Soviet MAZ-547 transporter erector launcher for an SS-20 ballistic missile and a Cold-War cruise missile launcher. This fits that theme perfectly.
Furthermore, I also happen to write professionally about missiles from North Korea and I write computer models to predict their trajectories. So, the research that went into building this model is directly linked to what I do for a living. Over the years I have found that quite a few people in similar lines of work are actually LEGO builders.
In the last few years, I have been building a range of LEGO minifigure-scale missiles and missile launchers. They range from cruise missiles launchers to ICBMs. My latest model is a so-called TELAR, part of the Soviet surface-to-air missile system called “Buk” (Russian: “Бук”; English “beech”). NATO calls it the SA-11 “Gadfly”. Soviet military doctrine emphasized integration between ground forces and their air defenses. Because of this, many Soviet surface-to-air missile systems used tracked vehicles, so that they could move together with the ground forces.
TELAR stands for a transporter-erector-launcher and radar. The name covers what it does quite nicely. The Buk TELAR carries four missiles on top of its turret, on rails that can be erected before launch. It has its own missile guidance radar in a dome at the front of its turret. The crew sits inside the armored hull below. Usually, such TELARs operate together with a few others, as well as a command post and a surveillance radar, which also are tracked vehicles. But, because it has its own radar, it can also operate on its own. Like most of my LEGO builds, it is not actually all that tough, though. It is only tough in the sense of that I found building a minifigure scale armored and tracked vehicle tough going. So, my hat is off to all of you out there who build minifigure-scale armor. This is one of the first times I have done it and I really struggled to keep it small enough. I wanted the scale to look right with the minifigure soldier next standing next to it. As a result, there is so little space inside that I could only fit a driver. And, like most of my builds, the model is actually quite flimsy. In fact, none of my models from the last ten years or so would ever be suitable as a child’s toy, even those that aren’t weapons of war. However, I do like the end result; it is a unique addition to my collection.
I live in a Dutch seaside town that lies mostly below sea level. So, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of coastal defences is the seawall visible at the end of the road. However, there’s an entirely different type of coastal defence of a less peaceful nature. The “Rubezh” coastal defence system looks like something straight out of a GI Joe cartoon, but it was a Soviet mobile anti-ship missile launcher. The version I built served with the East-German Navy, until German reunification at the end of the Cold War in 1990.
In early August, I’ll be at BrickFair Virginia, displaying LEGO models in a Cold War military collaboration. I’ve written about several of these in the last few months. I also intend to highlight some of the models by other builders who are participating. I’ve mostly built Western systems for the collaboration, so I wanted to build another Eastern block model. I specifically wanted it to be East-German because the division between East and West Germany was central to the Cold War.
At the moment I am building models from the Cold War for a collaboration with my friends at BrickFair Virginia. I already presented my Soviet SS-20 “Saber” about a week ago. That missile platform was seen as a direct threat to Western Europe. Whilst I was buying parts for that, I was already planning to build one of the weapons systems that NATO fielded in Europe: the BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). Or, more precisely, the vehicle used to transport and launch them.
It consisted of a large German-built MAN truck that pulled a semi-trailer with the launcher. This housed up to four cruise missiles in a box that was elevated to an angle of 45 degrees before launch. I built the vehicle to a scale of 1/43, making it roughly 53 studs long. Building its four-tone camouflage scheme (with dark green, dark tan, tan and black) was a challenge, especially on such a small vehicle.
A little more than forty years ago, with the Cold War still in full swing, the Soviet Union introduced a new ballistic missile: the RSD-10 “Pioneer”. NATO code-named it the SS-20 “Saber”. It had a range of 500-5500 km and carried three nuclear warheads, each of which was roughly ten times as powerful as the bomb used against Hiroshima. It seemed purpose-built to threaten Western Europe. The missile’s short flight time, of roughly 15 minutes, left very little warning. Furthermore, it was mobile, which made it even harder to counter. A large six-axle MAZ-547 transporter erector launcher carried the missile, housed inside a large cannister, to dispersed launch sites.
My diorama shows the launcher at a snow-covered launch site, with the missile cannister raised upright for launch. On the model it is almost solid, so there is no actual missile inside, but you can just see the tips of the three warheads. Unlike most of my models, it is minifig-scaled (I picked 1/43) and built mostly without visible studs. I built it for a Cold War themed collaborative build for BrickFair Virginia, in the coming August.
Flickr user SHROUD is working on a long term project using LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) to bring his vision of an epic scale Capital Ship to life. The CS Ecliption is being released in modular sections to make it more manageable and to avoid crashing the program. This particular module is one of the Void Pirate Flagship’s gargantuan missle launchers.