Saturday, 26 January 2013

North Korean Main Battle Tanks (English Version)

  • T-54/55, Type 59

North Korean T-55 MBT

T-54/55, including its various variants, is, without argue, the tank with the largest production number on earth. Since its introduction, around 86000 to 100000 have been produced. Sources indicate that the Korean People's Army (KPA) today has around 2000 of these tanks in service. The operating numbers of each variant is controversial, but one clear fact is that, being a post-WWII MBT, it is completely obsolete by today's standards, and their age poses great difficulty to the maintenance, given their already poor condition. The last time North Korea had obtained these tanks was in 1992. Today, they are no match to South Korean K1A1 and American M1A1 MBTs.


  Armour-wise, the thickest part on the turret is 203mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armour). The hull is only 99mm thick. ERAs, which are commonly fitted on modern tanks, are not applied. Due to their poor condition, this type of tank has long been absent from North Korea's frequent military parades.
The 100mm main gun loses in every aspect when compared to current 120mm and 125mm guns. At a range of 1000m, its AT rounds can penetrate approximately 300mm of RHA, provided that they did not miss.
T-54 (Type 59)s and T-55s can be differentiated from appearance by the presence of semi-sphere ventilation devices on their turrets.

Chinese Type 59
The semi-sphere ventilation device is on the top of the turret, in front of the MG

  • T-62

Model of a North Korean T-62

In the early 1960s, American engineers installed a 105mm main gun on their newly-developed M60 MBT. As a response, the Soviets developed a 115mm gun, and placed it on an improved version of T-55, the T-62. Its armour is slightly thicker compared to that of the T-55: 242mm for the turret, 102mm for the hull. This resulted in a slight increase in weight. Retaining the same engine, the mobility has decreased as a result. My opinion is that the T-62 has no huge improvement over the T-54/55 except for the main gun.
  According to some sources, North Korea had obtained about 500 T-62s from the USSR before the year 1980. After which it began production of key parts in its own plants and used them to assemble more T-62s and variants, including the Chong'ma-ho.

 As of 2011, an estimated number of 2000 T-62 and variants are in service in the KPA.

  • Chong'ma-ho

This type of tank is rather interesting to study. It is commonly agreed that they are built on the chassis of the T-62, but incorporates many North Korean technologies. Five variants have been witnessed by keen journalists and fans, each one possessing improvements over the previous. On the turret, ERAs are installed on both front and back. A laser range finder and IR searchlight can also be found. Early versions of the Chong'ma-ho retained the 115mm gun from the T-62. Pictured below are Chong'ma-ho's on parade on the 60th Anniversary of the Worker's Party of North Korea.

  Some sources indicate that the fifth version has a new Fire Control System (FCS), including a new ballistic computer and thermal vision. The main gun is swapped for a 125mm unit, probably a copy of the Russian 2A46.
Chong'ma- ho's are regarded as advanced tanks in North Korea, and are thus allocated to elite units of the KPA. Such units will act as spearheads in case of invasion of South Korea begins.

  Many assume that North Korea has acquired more recent T-72 and T-90 tanks. This assumption is based on the fact that several Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or former Warsaw Pact countries had these models in stock. North Korea might have obtained these tanks, together with samples of ERAs, for research. North Koreans are fairly familiar with the technologies of the T-62, including the chassis and engine. Through a process of reverse engineering, engineers are able to install parts of later tanks, i.e., 125mm smooth bore gun, ERA, newer FCS, and high-power Diesel engines, on the already familiar T-62s. This provided a cost-effective way to unlock the potential of the old T-62.

  Nevertheless, it is without doubt that the T-62 is way outdated. Even the later T-72s did not stand a chance against M1 MBTs in the Gulf War. The combat effectiveness of Iraqi troops are seriously affected by low morale and lack of training. In serious shortage of petrol and food, it is a question whether normal combat training and exercises are still regularly taking place in North Korea. At least one can get some clues from the increasing number of abandoned jets on the airfields due to lack of maintenance.

  • Pok'pung-ho

Pok'pung-ho form the right side

First discovered by journalists and military fans outside North Korea in the year 2002, this type of MBT was thus named as M-2002. Early production models can be traced back to the 1990s. This was a rather turbulent time for many communist countries: the USSR had dissolved, politics were unstable in Eastern Europe, many governments had been overthrown and replaced. During this period, American troops began the invasion of Iraq, also known as Operation Desert Storm. The poor performance of Iraqi T-72 tanks when resisting American troops shocked many of its operators. With the knowledge of K1 MBTs being allocated to South Korean armoured corps, North Korea began reflecting on its own armoured forces and tank tactics. Studies on three types of Soviet tanks, namely the T-72, T-80, and the T-90, had been carried out. Some sources claim that North Koreans had also acquired samples of Chinese Type 88 tanks for studying purposes.

The chassis and engine of the Pok'pung-ho are identical to that of the T-72, except for a slightly increased length and an additional pair of road wheels. Early models are equipped with 2A20 115mm main guns, which was later upgraded to the 125mm 2A46. Later models had composite armour and ERA specifically designed. A 14.5mm MG is installed on the top of the turret, which also houses four smoke grenade launchers on each side.

Pok'pung-ho in parade

The appearance and build quality of these tanks seem rather obsolete compared to tanks of the same era. No additional armour is installed to protect the road wheels and most parts of the tracks, as well as the engine hood, making it prone to personal AT weapons. On some models, a thin plate of armour is installed in front of the lower hull, which leads to premature explosion of incoming AT shells before they impact on the main armour.

A Pok'pung-ho during exercise

Currently, no photos of the interior have been leaked. The Pok'pung-ho is likely to be equipped with an autoloader similar to that of the T-72, as well as a Fire Control System. Russian 125mm 2A46 guns are capable of firing Anti-tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), thus it is safe too assume that the Pok'pung-ho possesses the same ability. It is also clearly shown in the photos that certain parts of the Fire Control System are not effectively integrated, such as the laser rangefinder and infrared searchlight.

The South Korean K1A1 MBT, which is slightly smaller in size compared to the M1A1 Abrams

K1A1 MBTs during winter exercise

The production has been fairly slow due to economic hardships and the nuclear programme. Around 200 of these tanks are currently in service in the KPA, all of which are allocated to the elite 105th armoured division. This spearhead unit operates both the Chong'ma-ho and the Pok'pung-ho.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

朝鲜的主战坦克 / North Korean Main Battle Tanks (Chinese Version)

  • T-54/55,59式

北朝鲜 T54/55

        这型坦克以及其多种改型,以大约8万6千辆至10万辆的产量,毫无争议地成为了世界上产量最大的坦克。资料显示朝鲜装备有总数约2000辆左右的此系列坦克(,T-54,、T-55和59式均有(North Korea Country Handbook, May 1997, US Department of Defense) 。关于每个型号的具体装备数量,不同的资料来源有不同的数据,似乎存在争议。带有一点可以肯定,那就是朝鲜装备的这些坦克早已老旧,保养不当更给这些博物馆级的装备雪上加霜。朝鲜最近一次获得这型坦克已是1992年,而在当时它们已经远远落后于西方的主战坦克,如M60,M1以及韩国的K1系列。




  • T-62
        美国国防部97年5月出版的《North Korean Handbook》中,把北朝鲜的T-62和“天马虎”列为同一种坦克。可能此书的编者认为“天马虎”只是T-62基础上幅度不大的改进型,甚至有人认为,“天马虎”坦克就是在北朝鲜T-62坦克上换装14.5毫米高射机枪而成的。个人认为,“天马虎”的基础无疑是T-62,只是改动幅度没有如此之小。

北朝鲜 T-62(模型)


  • “天马虎”




  • "暴风虎"








Friday, 15 June 2012

On April 15 N.Korea Military Parade (English Version) / 4月15日朝鲜阅兵式 (英文版)

APRIL the 15th is the first Paramount Leader of North Korea, Mr Kim Il Sung's birthday. To commemorate his 100th birthday last month, Pyongyang held a grand military parade, the typical North Korean way to celebrate monumental events. As a result of the high frequency of military parades, few new weapons have been displayed. There will always be new additions to the existing armoury every time a parade is held, but we military fans have been left an impression that those 'new' equipment has already existed and been planned to be unveiled on specific events. I did not watch the video footage of this event, and my observations are all made from a number of photographs.

    My personal view is that in recent years, North Korea has fewer breakthroughs in technology, its weapons and equipment are kept on the same level for nearly a decade. Some equipment that appears to be new additions, but their first production and introduction in other countries can be traced back for years. I have  also found out some interesting pieces, some of which we may not be familiar with, to share with you.

    1) 9K111 Fagot (NATO reporting name AT-4 Spigot)

Loading vehicle should be the product of the UAZ (Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant), sinilar to the UAZ-469. For specific information, please visit But this is not the focus. This type of anti-tank missile was developed by the Tula Machinery Design Bureau (Tula KBP) and production began in 1970, production model named 9K111 Fagot, NATO reporting name AT-4 Spigot ( not to be confused with the AT-4 unguided anti-tank weapon of Swedish origin). When using 9M111M missile, it is capable of piercing 400 mm of homogeneous rolled armour (RHA), and only 230mm when the armor is tilted to an angle of 60 degrees. They would probably get a chance when attacking M48 tanks, but when  attacking South Korean K1 series tanks? Although I do not have the data of the K1's armour, but my conclusion should be: powerless. Moreover, South Korea hopes to complement the existing K1 tanks with newly developed K2 tanks, meanwhile phasing out the outdated M48 series. This missile would also be unable to penetrate South Korean T-80U tanks, and can only be used to attack other armoured targets. Missile launchers are placed on open top loading vehicles with four men on board, two of whom are equipped with T-88/T-98 (AK-74) assault rifles,no machine guns are mounted on the vehicles. The members are so poorly protected, even infantry can easily deal with them, hence its survivability on the battlefield is rather low.

    2) 9K310 Igla-1 SAM (NATO reporting name SA-16 Gimlet)

The truck-mounted quad anti-aircraft guns and dual SA-16 missiles with all female operators in the second figure seem rather special. However, it appears to be an old photo. The first photo was taken on the 15th, in which the soldiers are holding radios or maybe GPS scramblers. I need some help to identify the nature of this device. North Korea is able to produce the base models of SA-16 SAMs. Its original designer, Kolomna, said that it has an opportunity of 30% to 48% to shoot down targets with no countermeasures, typical performance of an SAM in the 70s.

    3) RPG-7 Rocket Grenade Launchers

Only in North Korea, we see KPA infantrymen on a parade with RPGs. This almost makes it an North Korean speciality. the second photo was shot in previous parades, in which common PG-7 HEAT rockets are shown. In contrast, soldiers in the Apr 15th parade are holding launchers armed with 105mm PG-7R grenades, a fairly new design that emerged in 1988. It is equipped in relatively small numbers due to its high cost as a tandem HEAT grenade that is particularly effective against ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour). The smaller warhead on the front end would destroy ERA bricks and allow its main warhead to be undisturbed when attacking the main armour. Penetration ability is estimated to be around 600mm. This weapon poses a greater threat to South Korean K1 tanks, as compared to the AT-4 missiles just shown.

    4) Newly developed Long Range Ballistic Missile

This is the first official debut of the new Long Range Ballistic Missile in woodland camouflage. However no official information is found. It is reported that China supplied the carrier of this missile with a possible range of 4500km. Wan Shan Automobile Factory, which has collaborations with a missile carrier producing factory in Minsk, exported the vehicles to North Korea. The three-stage missile has never been test-fired, making us suspect its value in combat. The failures of North Korean rocket tests proved that the nation is not  capable in developing such long range missiles. Therefore it would be a success for this missile to fly and reach the target area, before we further question its accuracy. The camouflage patterns are rather in fashion compared to the Scud-like missiles the country has shown before.

    5) Light Machine Gun, unknown model.

Look at this RPK-like light machine gun that plays the same role as the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) in the US military. Folding stock, 30-round metal magazine are elements of assault rifles instead of light machine guns, while its long and heavy barrel, and the bi pod attached clearly indicates it is the North Korean counterpart of the RPK-74. Anyone know its specifications?
   These are my personal observations of the parade, comments are welcome, as I have already posted it share with you.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

4月15日朝鲜阅兵式 /On April 15 N.Korea Military Parade(Chinese Version)

        1)9K111 Fagot 反坦克导弹

       载车原型应是乌里昂诺夫斯克机车厂的产品,酷似UAZ-469。具体介绍请见英文)。不过这不是重点。此型导弹系原苏联图拉机械设计局开发,1970年开始生产,型号为9K111 Fagot。北约名称AT-4 Spigot,注意不要和瑞典AT-4型火箭筒相混淆。朝鲜装备的是哪种具体型号,及装备数量多少,我并不清楚,维基百科上未列出数据。使用9M111M导弹时穿甲能力为400毫米均质轧钢装甲,对于以60度角倾斜时的装甲只有230毫米的穿甲能力。攻击M48坦克还有机会,但攻击韩国K1系列坦克时呢?尽管我没有K1坦克装甲的数据,但结论应该是:力不从心。况且韩国希望用新开发的K2坦克与K1形成互补,并逐渐淘汰M48系列,此导弹面对韩国少数T-80坦克也是无力,只能用来攻击其他装甲目标了。导弹发射器置于无顶棚载车上,载员4人,携2支T88/T98(AK-74)突击步枪,无车载机枪。成员防护如此之差,步兵即可搞定,相信战场生存能力不会很高。

        2)SA-16 “手钻”单兵便携式防空导弹