Korea

North Korea rolls out new tank
By David Isenberg

Early this year, North Korea succeeded in developing a new main battle tank, the capabilities of which are nearly identical to those of the T-90 tank Russia developed in the early 1990s, according to a June 17 report in the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

There had been previous signs that North Korea was working to develop this tank. Last August, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, during a trip to Russia, visited Omsk, about 2,250 kilometers east of Moscow, regarded as the center of Russia's defense manufacturing industry. There he toured the giant TransMash defense plant, which produces T-80 and T-90 tanks. It was reported then that North Korea wanted to purchase an upgraded model of a T-90 tank recently developed by the company as part of its efforts to modernize its conventional weapons.

North Korea's development of the tank is consistent with its emphasis on expanding ground-force mobility. North Korea's army now has nearly 4,000 tanks, including one it developed based on the Russian T-80, a sample of which it brought in from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the most advanced type at that time. Among the country's tanks are some 800 T-62s, 275 T-59s, -55s and -54s, and 250 T-34s.

This is hardly the first time that North Korea has used Russia as a role model in terms of weapons production. Beginning in the late 1970s, North Korea began to produce a modified version of the 115mm-gunned T-62 tank, which was the Soviet army's main battle tank in the 1960s. Over the years it has become clear that North Korea has made considerable modifications to the basic Soviet and Chinese designs in its own production.

Although the exact design specifications have not been revealed, the new tank can be regarded as very advanced, given that the T-90 main battle tank is the most modern tank in the Russian Army's arsenal. It went into low-level production there in 1993.

While the Russians have developed export variants of the T-90, the T-90S (or "C" in Cyrillic) and the T-90SK command variant, it is unclear whether either of them was made available to North Korea as it developed its model.

The Russian T-90 has a 125mm main gun. It can also fire a laser-guided missile with a hollow-charge warhead that is effective against both armored targets and low-flying helicopters. The missile gives the T-90 the ability to engage other vehicles and helicopters before they can engage the T-90. The computerized fire control system and laser rangefinder, coupled with a gunner's thermal sight, permits the T-90 to engage targets while on the move at speeds of 45-65km/h, and at night.

The T-90 compares favorably to its Western counterparts such as the US M1 Abrams, German Leopard-2, British Challenger-2, and French LeClerc. It weights less, its main gun is bigger, it carries a guided weapon, the range of its night sight is longer, and it has jammers that disrupt the targeting systems of anti-tank missiles. However, as this is a first-generation system it is probably not as capable as comparable Western systems.

The tank is fitted with precision laying equipment and an automatic loader to guarantee a high rate of gunfire. Secondary armament includes a coaxial 7.62mm PKT machine gun and 12.7mm machine-gun mount for air and ground targets. It also features a new generation of armor on its hull and turret.

The North Korean tank was developed by Ryu Kyong-su Tank Factory in Shinhung, South Hamgyong province. The tank's performance tests were learned to have taken place near Pyongyang on February 16 in commemoration of Kim Jong-il's 60th birthday. The designation of the latest North Korean tank has yet to be confirmed. Since Pyongyang named the tank it developed in 1985 "M-1985", some experts speculate that it may designate the latest one T-2002.

North Korea would not be the first Asian country to have a variant of the T-90. As of mid-2000 India planned to acquire T-90 tanks, based on field trials that had already been completed. Russia had agreed to expedite the delivery at India's request. About 80 tanks were to be sent by April this year.

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Jul 6, 2002



 

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