As part of it’s annual show of force in response the annual U.S / South Korea Military drills the North Koreans decided to hold what they called a “Tank Crews Competition” and posted it to Korean Central Television’s YouTube page.
The drills events seemed to mimic the Russian tank competitions. Most of the video consisted of still frames of tanks firing, driving along obstacle courses or jumping off ramps in dramatic fashion. In the background a female announcer made dramatic pronouncements as the video played.
North Korea’s tanks completely lack reactive armor. Unlike their Russian and Ukrainian cousins who have been covered in explosive reactive armor and even equipped with active defense systems, the Korean tanks are totally bare. Lacking ERA even on the front sections.
In addition to lacking ERA Korea is still fielding T-55s and Type 59s (basically Chinese copies). The T-55 was first produced as an upgraded version of the T-54 which was designed in 1946 to supplant the famous T-34. The T-55 added nuclear biological and chemical (NBC) protection among other upgrades.The T-55 is therefore, older than the DPRK itself.
The frontal armor of the T-55 basic rolled homologous armor and is sloped to add protection; but comes in at only around 100 mm in the front and 80 mm on the sides. Compare this to the slightly more modern T-72 with composite armor equivalent to 520 mm in the front against sabots and 950 against HEAT rounds. T-55s on display were also lacking any modern control systems. They haven’t been modernized in any way.
Another relic on show was the Type 85 light tank. Believed to descended from the PT-76 Soviet amphibious tank produced in the early 1950s. It’s 85 mm gun was designed during the Second World War and again, there is no spaced or reactive armor to protect it’s thin 30 mm steel armor from attack. Although it does have the ability to launch Sagger missiles from it’s gun.
There were some more modern tanks on display as well. One of North Korea’s indigenous tanks, the Pokpung-ho is thought to be based on the above mentioned T-72. The Pokpung does seem to be more modern from the fire control standpoint. It is thought to mount either a 115 mm or a 125 mm cannon and what appears to be an IR lamp for targeting. Not much is known about the actual electronics or interior of he tank.Although, again, it had no ERA or spaced armor skirts to help it compete with current generation tanks.
The bottom line
Like everything out of North Korea this “competition” was for show. While the Pokpung-Ho is clearly a somewhat modern tank, the fact that the DPRK is showing off non-modernized T-55s is laughable. Most of the North Korean Armor is 1950s vintage that hasn’t been upgraded with modern armor or fire control systems. I would suspect that should they ever go to war, the North Korean tanks would make for good target practice for the ROKs newer K1A1 main battle tanks but not provide much of a challenge.
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