By Bijan Razzaghi
With tensions high in on the Korean Peninsula the possibility of a confrontation has become more prevalent. If there is a ground war North Koreas armored forces would likely be employed against allied forces. North Korea possesses nearly 5000 tanks they include 500 Pokpung Ho’s or M-2002 ,1000 Cho,onma,hos, 800 T-62s ,1600 T-55s and 550 PT-76s. Some experts believe North Korea might have the T-72. Major tank to tank combat has not taken place since the 2003 invasion of Iraq with exception to the war in Eastern Ukraine. The US has usually used air power to confront Libyan and IS tanks in the most recent combat operations over Syria and Libya. North Korean tanks would not stand a chance against US forces if they were used in the open and would not find good use in the mountains just North of the DMZ. Instead tanks are more useful in urban areas and direct lines beyond a dense area where they can be camouflaged. It is important to understand the capabilities of North Koreas Armored forces and understand the capabilities of each individual tank.
Pokpung Ho (M-2002)
North Korea currently possesses 500 M-2002s. It is North Koreas most modern tank and uses a heavily modified hull of a T-62 with the Torsion bar suspension. The hull has been heavily modified with reinforced amour and reactive amour, there has also been speculation that it shares the same engine used on the T-80 with 1250HP. This would make the Pokpung Ho fast enough to rush allied forces from an enclosed defensive position. The latest model uses a 2A/46 125mm cannon but earlier models used a 115mm cannon. The orgins of the fire control system are not yet known yet it is likely from the T-72 or Type 85, some have also suggested it is from the Chieftain. The tank has also been seen in parades armed with twin ATGMS and SA-16 MANPADS on the turret. The purpose of these ATGMS is likely to overwhelm the more advanced K-2 and M-1A1/A2 Abrams tanks with projectiles. The combination of the ATGMs and main gun can overwhelm modern active protection systems. There is no known active protection capability on the Pokpung Ho
Based on the information available it is likely the Pokpung Ho poses a threat comparable to a modern T-72 or T-90 without active protection. The tank would likely be employed by North Korean Forces near population centers or front lines where they couldn’t be threatened by air power.
The Cho,onma hos was built by North Korea in the 1980s and is a heavily modified North Korean T-62. The tanks latest upgrade include reinforced amour possibly taken from the T-90 and T-72S that was delivered in 2001. The Cho,onma V upgrade replaced the 115 mm smooth bore gun with a 125mm 2A46 gun adding more fire power. The Cho,onma also has a laser range finder which the orginal T-62s did not have. The Cho,onma remains inferior to modern M-1 Abrams and K-2 yet in large numbers can charge defensive lines. The smaller size of the Cho,onma compared to the M-2002 allows it to operate in the more mountainous regions. The Cho,onma might also be employed as a mobile fire support in urban settings similar to how Iraq used T-62s in 2003. The Cho,onma does not pose a major threat to allied forces but can present a challenge in close quarters environments.
T-62s and T-55s
North Koreas nearly 2000 1960s and 70s era T-62s and T-55s are obsolete, they lacking sophisticated amour, optics and fire power to compete with modern tanks. Despite this North Korea would employ them as mobile artillery pieces in concealed areas, trenches and urban areas. The T-62s might be used to convert into Cho,onma’s and their hulls can be converted into M-2002s.
In modern warfare Tanks still play a major role supporting infantry, defending lines and providing fire support, yet when it comes to North Korea there tanks would likely not last long in a ground war and are vulnerable to air power. The threat posed by light infantry armed with anti tank weapons is far greater.