North Korea's New Tank: A Preliminary Analysis (An Upgraded T-62?)

October 13, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: Korea Watch Tags: North KoreaICBMNuclear MissileMilitary ParadeTankT-62

North Korea's New Tank: A Preliminary Analysis (An Upgraded T-62?)

The Hermit Kingdom just revealed a slew of new military hardware. Here is one of the more interesting pieces.

North Korea recently marked the 75th anniversary of the Korea Workers’ Party in true Pyongyang fashion—a military parade replete with rows upon rows of goose-stepping North Korean soldiers, airplane formations, and ostentatious displays of military power.

Among the notable scenes from the anniversary was Kim Jung-un’s emotional speech aimed at a domestic audience, in which a visibly-shaken Kim made a heartfelt apology for failing to significantly improve the lives of rank-and-file North Korean citizens, as well as his reassurance that North Korea is ready and prepared to defend itself in the face of foreign aggression.

Another important moment was when North Korea’s massive new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was unveiled. The ICBM, carried upon a twenty-two-wheel launch vehicle surprised many North Korea analysts and experts, though the ICBM’s exact capabilities remain speculative.

One of the other noteworthy pieces of technology revealed during the event? North Korea’s new main battle tank.

Some New, Some Old

Although western sources have not given the new tank a specific designation yet, several conclusions can be surmised from the tank’s brief parade appearance.

This is likely North Korea’s most-advanced tank and appears to incorporate several features seen on other advanced main battle tanks like the United States’ M1 Abrams, or Russia’s T-14 Armata tank.

One factor that is immediately apparent is the armored vehicle’s relatively compact size. Unlike the M1 Abrams, which tips the scales at around 70 tons, North Korea’s newest tank appears to be decidedly lighter. Rather than reflecting a lack of industrial manufacturing capability, the small size is more likely a nod to the Korean Peninsula’s austere and hilly geography, and in particular the North’s more mountainous terrain—a landscape that would favor smaller, more nimble platforms. Interestingly, someone decided that a tan desert-style camouflage scheme would be a good idea, despite the Hermit Kingdom’s lack of desert landscape.

The main gun is possibly smaller than the Abrams own 120mm main gun—Pyongyang’s new tank could sport a 115mm main gun. Power shortcomings due to the North Korean tank’s smaller-diameter barrel could be partially made up for with a longer barrel and does not necessarily imply an ineffectual main gun. In addition, the new tanks also sported a pair of anti-tank missiles on the right turret side, which may be copies or variants of an older Soviet-designed anti-tank missile.

Clearly, North Korea would like observers to think that their new tank incorporates the latest in composite armor, though this is difficult to confirm. One of the conclusions that can be drawn about the tank’s armor protection is the rear turret and rear hull’s slat-style armor which is intended to minimize damage caused by high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) type munitions—effectual but not modern.

Despite this new platform’s angular and modern-looking hull and turret lines, it is possible that it shares some design features with the much older Soviet-designed T-62. In fact, Pyongyang has a history of modifying the T-62 to meet their own particular needs, and it would not be surprising if this tank, like other North Korean tanks, is of the T-62 lineage rather than representing a from-scratch design.

Postscript

Much remains to be learned about Pyongyang’s new main battle tank. It is still unknown if the tank has entered full-rate production, though a more likely scenario is that the few examples seen on parade are either still in the prototype stage, or low-rate initial production models. Watch this topic closely for further future developments.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: KCNA/Screenshot.