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North Korean armor

Ch’ŏnma-ho

Main Battle Tank (1981) North Korea, 1200+ built

Development

Certainly, among the most prolific tanks of the People’s army of North Korea, the Ch’ŏnma-ho is relatively well known by experts worldwide, although information available are pretty scarce. Most visual recognition elements are coming from interpreted propaganda and parade footage, and rare museum photos. The very basis of the model came from the Soviet T-62, the first tank to sport a 115 mm smoothbore gun combined to an autoloader. The development of this model is uncertain. It could be at the origin, a Syrian T-62 copy, while the modernized Type 2 was probably based on a reverse-engineered Soviet T-62D. This gave the first model known retrospectively the Chonma-Ho I, with apparently little changes for the original. After which new versions were produced or retro-modernized until the Fifth model in recent years. Due to an estimated production of 1200 to 1250 tanks of this model forms the backbone of the North Korean armored divisions, estimated to a total of 2000 main battle tank stationed right next to the DMZ, for an estimated total of 5400 armored vehicles, including several types of APCs and IFVs.

*Hello, dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Design

The Ch’ŏnma-ho (Chosŏn’gŭl: 천마호; Hanja: 天馬虎), or “Pegasus”, “Pegasus-Tiger”, is apparently a faithful copy of the T-62. It is characterized therefore by the same hull derived from the T-55, larger cast turret with a pear-shaped cross-section, with a commander cupola to the left, and loader hatch to the right. The armament comprises a 115 mm smoothbore gun of the 2A20 type and secondary armament an AA heavy machine gun of the KVT type located around the loader’s hatch, locally produced, as well as a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun. The 550 hp original diesel was replicated, propelling the 40-tons tank to around 50 kph. The tracks were of the single pin type, with a five twin roadwheels per side, rear drive sprocket, front idler and no return rollers. Compared to the T-55, the front glacis was flatter, and 100 mm or less in thickness (lighter than the original T-62), while the cast turret had a gradual decrease in thickness from the base up. Storage boxes varied in shapes between the flat and drum types.

Production

The Second machine industry Bureau was in charge of the project in 1976. The production formally began in collaboration with SMIB in 1980 and a first batch was delivered until 1989 of 470 tanks of the 1st type. But with the fall of USSR and gradual distance taken by China, North Korea found itself left to devise the Juche, or self-reliance politic when designing the Chonma-Ho 2 and further upgrades, making it a proper national tank.

Variants

Ch’ŏnma-ho II

Devised when the USSR collapsed, this second types incorporated many advances copied from the latest version of the T-62. Firstly, a laser range finder is fitted above the main gun. The early type 1 was upgraded to receive MANPADS. The engine was probably modernized according to experts, receiving components from Slovakia. It seems also a storage rear turret basket was also added and spaced armor generalized. On the turret ring around the turret, this extra armor is called “boom shield”.

Ch’ŏnma-ho III

Started in the mid-1980s, this upgrade includes the “boom shield”, and probably a glacis armor upgrade plus the addition of full-hull side skirts and a new thermal shroud for the 115 mm smoothbore gun, plus night vision upgrade.

Ch’ŏnma-ho IV

This improvement shows the addition of EDZ light explosive reactive armor bricks on the turret side, at least eight blocks. There is some composite armor on the glacis and turret front, which contains ceramic components. The turret also sports side-mounted smoke launchers in two banks per side, four in all. A full ballistic computer is added to the fire control system, as well as a better gun stabilization system, better communication systems. The suspension is upgraded, integrating hydro-pneumatic components, while the new engine is 750-hp strong to cope with the added weight, possibly in excess of 45 to 48 tons. There are also lugs for ERA blocks (Kontakt-3 standard).

Ch’ŏnma-ho V

There is evidence that part of the modernization program was conducted after North Korea received a T-72 in 1992 and a T-90 in August 2001. Therefore the model V seems to have been upgraded with as many improvements from these two tanks. The model V was a transition tank, preparing the arrival of the new Pokpung Ho. The major improvement is the adoption of a new 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore gun, complete with a new FCS, better ballistic computer and better thermal imager.

Ch’ŏnma-ho VI

Stretched chassis with 6 roadwheels per side, modified armor including rubber plates skirts to defend against shaped-charge warheads.

Chonma-Ho Command

Command tank modified with extra radios and fake main gun, based on an early type I or II.

Ch’ŏnma-ho ARV

Armoured Recovery Vehicle, turretless, with a fixed casemate, dozer blade, winch and crane.

Juche-Po

Self-propelled artillery version, using a modified version of the Tok-Ch’ŏn artillery piece, formerly mounted on the ATS-59 chassis. Four versions at least were developed, ranging from the D-30 122 mm and D-74 122 mm, to the M-46 130 mm and the ML-20 152 mm howitzer. The latest is the SM-4-1 130 mm howitzer (1992). All these guns are turret-mounted with the rear open to left recoil cylinder, and a stretched 6-wheeled chassis.

Operators & service

So far, the Chonma-ho is in service only with North Korea and Iran. The NK army had around 1000 of these in service today together with around 800 of the original T-62. Iran purchased 150 tanks in 1981, that were delivered between 1982 and 1985.

Sources/Links about the Chonma-ho

The Chonma Ho on Wikipedia
Other resources.
https://www.militaryfactory.com/armor/detail-page-2.asp?armor_id=392

Chonma-ho specifications

Dimensions 6.63 x 3.52 x 2.4 (21.8 x 11.5 x 7.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 40 tons ( ibs)
Crew 4 (Driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Diesel 750 hp (560 kW) pwr 18.75 hp/ton
Suspension Independent torsion bars
Speed (road) 50 kph ( mph)
Range 450 km ( mi)
Armament Main : 115 mm 2A20/2A46 Smoothbore Gun
Sec. KPV 14.5 mm AA HMG, 7.62 mm LMG coaxial
Armour 120 mm front, spaced, ERA
Total production 1200+ in 1980-90.

Gallery

Chonma-Ho VI

Chonma-Ho I (1981)
Chonma-Ho I (1981)
Chonma-Ho II
Chonma-Ho II
Chonma-Ho II
Chonma-Ho II
Chonma-Ho III
Chonma-Ho III (1990s)
Chonma-Ho IV
Chonma-Ho IV (fall 1990s)
Chonma-Ho V
Chonma-Ho V (2000s)

By David.B

Tank Encyclopedia's Creator, webmaster and illustrator since 2010.

8 replies on “Ch’ŏnma-ho”

Some new information about DPRK tanks were published on a Chinese military magazine Ordance Knowledge兵器知识 on its August 2015 book. These words were claimed to be based on the display of the Pyongyang Military Museum Tank section and the words of DPRK traitors. The following is the summary of that article.
First, DPRK has imported 650 Soviet T-54/55 in the 1960s, and received at least 500 Type 59 and 175 tank chassis from China. DPRK also assembled some 300 T-54 tanks with Soviet parts and named them “Kim II-Sung -68” (year 1968).
Then in 1976, DPRK asked for military aid from USSR. Not willing to give away the then advanced T-72 and T-64, USSR gave them 500 T-62s instead. DPRK also produced the T-62 with licence and gave it the name “Chonma-ho” (天马号/天马虎 in Chinese character). The first tanks were named “Chonma-ho 76” (Western intelligence: Chonma-ho-I/II).
While the Chonma-ho 76 was a direct copy of T-62, DPRK ones were not satisfactory when compared to Soviet ones. This was due to the failure to provide qualified rolled steel armor plate, and poor quality of fire control (still using the TSh-2B-41). Those 150 exported to Iram were criticized by local users. Later variants (or probably Chonma-ho-II by western observers) were improved and equipped with a domestic-made laser rangefinder.
In 1991 new Chonma-ho tanks were designed and manufactured. The new model was “Chonma-ho 91”. It was first seen in a parade in 1992, thus receiving the name M1992 from observers.(The 4th picture in this gallery is “91” in a parade. It is unsure whether it is called “III” or “IV” by western observers.) With enhanced hull armor and ERA bricks on the turret side, it outperformed previous DPRK tanks. The welded turret replaced previous cast ones, and is equipped with smoke rounds on its side. The FCS is still the same as that of late Chonma-ho 76 tanks.
Side skirts have been added to the hull sides, and the turret has been reinforced with composite armor on its front, which was said to defeat 500mm vs HEAT rounds. The main armament was still 2A20 115mm gun.
In 1998, a new improved variant, the Chonma-ho 98, appeared. (The 7th picture in the gallery is a “98” No.216 displayed in the Pyongyang Military Museum.) It weighs 38 tons, and can be enhanced with add-on ERA bricks. Few information are unveiled.
In 2001 some DPRK troops were equipped with new Chonma-ho 214 tanks, but the tank itself first appeared in public in the 2010 parade. Using a similar hull, the “214” changed the appearance of upper glacis armor which improved its protection. (Picture 5 and 8 in the gallery are Chonma-ho 214 tanks.) It also uses a welded turret with composite armor and ERA equipped or available. The main armament remains the same.
Then came the “215”. With a brand new hull featuring 6 pairs of road wheels, it reminds us of the Chinese Type 80 testbed. But the chassis is completely domestic. Its turret has add-on armor like the BDD on T-55 and T-62 tanks. (Prehaps it is called “VI” by the west.) Its FCS has been greatly modernized, which may guide ATGMs and integrate a gunner’s night vision optics.
In 2010 parade, a new tank was spotted by observers. Instead of the so-called “Pokpung-ho” which was said to be based on T-72/90, it is an improved variant of “215”, the “216”. It features improved protection with additional armor on the upper glacis and the turret front, and most “216” tanks were equipped with a pair of 9M113 ATGMs and one single Igla-S copy on the top of the turret.
There has long been a rumor that DPRK has copied or reverse-engineered USSR T-72 tanks, or at least borrowed some key technology (such as 125mm smoothbore gun, autoloader, etc.). Indeed DPRK has wanted to purchase T-90 in 2001 but was rejected. The truth is that DPRK developed the “Seongun-ho” (先军号 in Chinese, or “Military First”) with some parts identical to T-72. Probably the so-called “Chonma-ho V” in this page and its illustration is actually the Seongun-ho.
As for the main armament, the 115mm 2A20 remained unchanged until the Seongun-ho.

Would you have any more information on production numbers? It is mentioned that intil ’89 the production was 470 vehicles, but it does not state whether this includes the 150 exported to Iran or whether these were all ‘1’ models.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any information about the production numbers. The first batch of 150 Chonma-ho-76 tanks were definitely “I” or early models. Later models were improved “II”s. Also the early tanks were either imported from USSR and PRC or received as military aid, or assembled in North Korea. Therefore the production number is still uncertain.

Thank you for responding. I’ve found in the Sipri database that NK received a total of 500 T-62’s from the USSR and Czechoslovakia in the late 70’s in 2 batches; it also mentiones 470 more during the 80’s, but I suspect those would be build by the North Koreans themselves. From what I’ve gathered it seems that the first batches of NK produced T-62s (Chonma-ho 1s) were of poor quality, especialy the armor but also other components such as stabilizers. This improved on later models, but I can’t find too much info on these improvements or on production numbers. A total of 1200 produced is mentioned in the article; if the production was 470 between 1980 and 1989, this would mean NK continued to produce Chonma-Ho’s throughout the 1990’s to reach that number. Often however the 500 Soviet/Czechoslovak tanks are mixed in with the Chonma-ho.

By the way, the “Pokpung-ho” is a South Korean name for the Seongun-ho. The Seongun doesn’t feature an autoloader, therefore the crew is still 4.

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