Friday, 23 November 2012

Book Post - A Brace Of Nukes

He remembered the cold gloom, the sound of dripping water and the looming shapes in the darkness beyond the finger of grey light the gap in the door let in. Days after, he had returned with a torch and his two closest friends for safety in numbers. They fought over who went first, almost dropping the torch in their fear. Emboldened by the silence, fearful of the echoes, they crept farther down the iron staircase and onto the wide concrete floor, huge doors to their left and right. One of the nearest doors was open, marginally, and they sidled in to prise open one of the stacks of crates. What they found scared them so much they ran out, removed the prop and let the door slam shut. They covered the whole thing up with undergrowth again. As they stood in the clearing, shivering with the cold and fear, they nicked their hands with Hoffmann’s knife and took a blood oath never again to mention the dark cavern to anyone except each other.
From Beirut - An Explosive Thriller

Gerhardt Hoffman sells two Oka nuclear warheads through arms dealer Peter Meier to future Lebanese President Michel Freij. Hoffman, a portly bankrupt, had discovered them as a child, playing in the woods on the East German/Czech border.

The Oka warheads in Beirut - An Explosive Thriller are, worryingly, pretty soundly researched. The OTR-23 Oka class missile (Designated by NATO as the SS-23 Spider) was developed in 1980 by the Soviets to carry both conventional and nuclear payloads and be launched from mobile launchers. It took over as a short/medium range mobile tactical missile system from the infamous SCUD B - the missile that Saddam had so much fun with.

The nuclear warhead, designated 9N63, was detachable and, as featured in Beirut, is about three metres long.  The Oka's successor, made by the same company, is the Iskander, currently in deployment by Russia and armed (we are told) with only conventional warheads.

A large number of Oka missiles were covertly deployed by the Soviets in the late 1980s to Warsaw pact countries to get around INF treaty (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) limitations. The INF treaty was intended to eliminate short-range nuclear missiles, but the Soviets tried to fly the Oka under the radar, claiming it wasn't covered by the treaty. This was followed by a round of Soviet obfuscation that made it hard to trace quite what was deployed and stored quite where.

Over 120 missiles were involved in the covert redeployment of Oka missiles – potentially including the 9N63 nuclear warheads. There is some evidence that loading equipment associated with handling the detachable nuclear warheads was part of that deployment, which would lead to the conclusion that the Soviet Union shipped nuclear warheads covertly to facilities in Warsaw pact nations.

Adding to the confusion, Czechoslovakia (which possessed 24 of the Oka missiles) subsequently split into two nations. The Slovaks claimed their missiles 'lacked key components' for the deployment of the 9N63 warhead.

Documented remaining stockpiles of the Oka were destroyed by both the Czech Republic and, finally in late 1999, Slovakia – it is now obsolete and all remaining Oka missiles and 9N63 warheads have been confirmed as destroyed.

Well, apart from two...
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