North Korea (Late 1980s – Unknown, may still be in operation)
Armored Personnel Carrier & Weapons platform – Production run of unknown number (likely moderate & out of production)
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more often simply known as North Korea, maintains a defence industry which produces all kinds of military vehicles for its armed forces. Ever since the 1970s, and increasingly so over the years, North Korea has been manufacturing its own armored personnel carriers, light tanks, main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery pieces of all purposes (fire support, but also anti-tank, and even anti-ship missile launchers on armored personnel carrier hulls) and self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. The majority of these products can be fairly clearly linked to a Soviet or Chinese ancestor though, even if they have varied considerably from this original inspiration. The Chonma-Ho and even Songun-Ho series of MBT can be linked back to the T-62. The 323 APC, as well as the M1981 light tank and the derivative M2009 Chunma-D APC can be linked back to the Chinese YW531A, the M2010 wheeled APC to the BTR-80, the M1989 SPAAG to the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, etcetera.
Once in a while though, in parades in Kim-Il Sung square, one may observe some vehicles with vastly less clear links to Chinese or Soviet vehicles. In this case, while some inspiration can be found, the vehicle still mostly appears to be a North Korean development starting from scratch or almost scratch. At the very least, it starts from a base different from whatever China or the USSR delivered to the DPRK decades ago. An example of such a vehicle is the elusive and rare M1992 APC.
An unknown development, first seen in 1992
As its name given by the American Department of Defence suggests, the M1992 armored personnel carrier was first seen in 1992, during a parade commemorating what the DPRK considers to be the 60th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, allegedly founded in 1932 as an anti-Japanese occupation organization.
North Korean vehicles first appearing during parades is extremely common and is the main source of information for outside audiences. The lack of ties of the M1992 to well-known vehicles in comparison to other North Korean vehicle types means theorizing on its development process is even more difficult. The vehicle was likely designed and produced in the late 1980s though. The vehicle has been seen in three different configurations. One appears to be an armored personnel carrier. Two appear to take the base of this armored carrier, but modify it to operate as a weapon platform instead, one for Chinese Type 63 107 mm rocket launchers, and the other for the 9K38 Igla man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).
The base design of the M1992 armored personnel carrier
The M1992 takes the form of a fairly crude-looking 4×4 vehicle. The armored body found on the vehicle somewhat resembles the BRDM-1 armored car, though this type is not known to ever have been in the DPRK’s service. As the BRDM-1, it uses a welded construction, with a “boat-like” front hull and a shape generally suggesting the vehicle was intended for amphibious operations. As the BRDM-1, the M1992 features two windows with shutters for the two crew-member, the driver and commander, to look out of. The vehicle appears to be provided with three headlights, two to the right and one to the left.
The engine of the vehicle is very likely installed at the front. While the armored body of the M1992 resembles the BRDM-1, the vehicle is thought to be built using a large variety of commercially-available parts, and that body may have just been placed onto the chassis of a commercially-available truck. The model of the engine is obviously unknown, but it appears to be a diesel.
At the rear of the crew compartment, one may find the infantry-carrying section of the M1992. The vehicle features a rather boxy rear and is generally not too different from a vehicle like the BTR-40 or BTR-152 in terms of silhouette, though it has a roof. The infantry compartment appears large enough for around six soldiers. It features a number of hatches that can be used to exit the vehicle, but likely also operate its weaponry. Two weapons are mounted on the M1992 roof. Towards the front, the vehicle disposes of a 30 mm AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher. Commonly used on North Korean vehicles, this weapon fires 30×29 mm grenades with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead. Those grenades are fired at a rate of 400 rpm from a 29-rounds belt and may be used in indirect fire roles at up to about a kilometer and a half. This grenade launcher provides the M1992 with its anti-infantry firepower, along with perhaps the passengers’ own individual armament.
To the rear of the infantry compartment, the vehicle’s anti-armor armament is mounted. It consists of a 9K111 “Fagot” wire-guided anti-tank missile. The type was introduced and likely pushed into local production in the Korean People’s Army during the 1980s, supplementing the 9M14 Malyutka (locally produced as the “Bulsae-1”). The North Korean-manufactured variant of the 9K111 is known as the “Bulsae-2”, though it is unknown whether the M1992 mounted original Soviet-delivered missiles or North Korean copies. The missiles which were delivered to North Korea were the slightly improved 9K111-2, which is believed to have an armor penetration of 460 mm when striking a flat plate.
There are no known views of the rear of the vehicle and, as such, whether or not some form of door for the infantry to exit is present is unknown. The vehicle is, however, known not to have any waterjets. On water, its movement is thus brought by the wheels and tires, which typically means the vehicle is slower and less maneuverable in water.
The vehicle’s armored protection is unknown, but seeing its size and construction, it likely is only protected against rifle-caliber bullets and small artillery fragments, likely being vulnerable to most ammunition from 12.7 mm onward. The vehicle’s dimensions and weight are not known, but definitely appear fairly moderate. While the mobility of the vehicle is not possible to estimate given the engine is unknown, the M1992 is likely somewhat mobile and agile, and it may have served as a scout vehicle in addition to an armored personnel carrier.
Multiple Rocket Launch System (MRLS) variant
During the same 1992 parade, a derivative of the M1992 vehicle was also showcased. In comparison to the APC variant, this model had the superstructure lowered to the rear of the driver and commander’s post. To the rear of this lowered part, the vehicle-mounted a battery of Chinese Type 63 107 mm rockets, very widely used by the Korean People’s Army. These are arranged in three rows of eight rockets, giving a total of 24 per salvo. The infantry compartment was likely re-arranged to stock more ammunition for the rocket launchers, but seeing as the vehicle remains small, it is likely only enough ammunition for a couple of additional salvos may be stored in the vehicle. It also is unknown whether or not this launcher may be rotated, or entirely depends on the vehicle’s movements to be aimed.
The Type 63 is a very common multiple rocket launcher in the Korean People’s Army, produced locally and used in massive numbers. It is notably found on the “Sonyon” variant of the 323 armored personnel carrier, a version that replaces the turret for a battery of rockets, while otherwise keeping the infantry-carrying capacities. The Type 63’s 107 mm rockets have a limited range of around 8 km and fire 18.8 kg rockets with a fairly limited explosive charge of 1.3 kg. The system is however very cheap, and easy to assemble in batteries of multiple launchers. This gives it a good potential to saturate a designated zone, which is likely how it is used in the Korean People’s Army, alongside some much larger and longer-range rockets also operated by the DPRK.
Air Defence Variant
In an exhibition somewhat more recent than 1992, a third variant of the M1992 was observed. This variant retains the hull of the MRLS variant, with a lowered superstructure rear of the crew’s post. Instead of a battery of Type 63 rockets, it instead mounts a rotatable battery of four man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). In this case, the vehicle features four 9K38 Igla missiles or a locally-manufactured variant.
When this variant was developed is unknown, however, the rarity of the M1992 means it likely dates from around the same era as the two other models. It was not shown during the 1992 parade for unknown reasons. The 9K38 is very commonly mounted on all kinds of military vehicles in recent North Korean parades, suggesting the proliferation of the missile as an attempt to counter the overwhelming close-air support advantage the forces of the Republic of Korea & United States would have in a conflict. The M1992 variant could have provided light anti-aircraft vehicles for motorized convoys, typically using M1992-type vehicles. This is not the case probably, as the family has not been widely adopted in the KPA’s service.
Conclusion – A “one-off” that was seemingly never adopted in massive numbers
A quick look at the M1992 may give it a somewhat ambitious look. With three different versions assuming vastly different roles – armored personnel carrier/potentially scout vehicle, self-propelled multiple rocket artillery, and self-propelled air-defense system – the type may have seemed like a wheeled APC the Korean People’s Army may have attempted to standardize on. However, this was in no way the case.
The M1992 was never seen in service outside of the 1992 parade, and the only other time it was seen at all was in a military exhibition in which a number of prototypes were also shown. Ever since 1992, no footage of the Korean People’s Army using the vehicle has been found, despite a large number of parades showcasing most of the KPA’s armored vehicles inventory. In all likelihood, it would appear the M1992 was never adopted in massive numbers by the Korean People’s Army. Though the 1992 parade suggests several dozen were built, production likely ended at that, or not a whole lot more. Why the North Koreans choose not to adopt the vehicle in massive numbers is unknown. Perhaps the vehicle suffered from a number of issues, or perhaps the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the following disaster that the 1990s were for North Korea meant foreign, commercially-available parts could no longer be procured easily.
The Korean People’s Army policy of pretty much never retiring military vehicles which are still working means the M1992 likely still sees some service somewhere in North Korea. However, since it was first seen, a new North Korean-produced wheeled armored personnel carrier, with a scout variant, has been introduced: the BTR-80-inspired M2010. With this type, the KPA finally appears to have found a North Korean-produced wheeled APC to settle on. This means a preferred successor has been found to fulfill the role of the old M1992.
|Crew||Likely 2 (driver, commander)|
|Armament||30 mm AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher, 9K11 Fagot/Bulsae-1 Anti-Tank Guided Missile|
|Armor||Very light (likely no more than rifle-caliber bullets protection)|
|Mobility||Amphibious (no waterjet/movement assured by wheels & tires)|