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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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).
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.
Stretched chassis with 6 roadwheels per side, modified armor including rubber plates skirts to defend against shaped-charge warheads.
Command tank modified with extra radios and fake main gun, based on an early type I or II.
Armoured Recovery Vehicle, turretless, with a fixed casemate, dozer blade, winch and crane.
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
|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.|