Military Wiki
Tank 3.jpg
Ch'ŏnma-ho V (Ma) during the North Korea's 60th Anniversary Parade
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin  North Korea
Production history
Designer Second Machine Industry Bureau[1]
Designed Before 1980[2]
Manufacturer Second Machine Industry Bureau[3]
Produced 1980[2] - Present
Number built More than 1,200[4][5]
Weight 40 tons
Length Hull length: 6.63 m (21.8 ft)
Width 3.52 m (11.5 ft)
Height 2.4 m (7.9 ft)
Crew 4

Armor Cast turret, Spaced Armor, explosive reactive armour
115 mm 2A20 Smoothbore Gun/125mm 2A46 Smoothbore Gun
KPV 14.5 mm heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm machine gun in coaxial mount
Engine Diesel
750 hp (560 kW)
Power/weight 18.75 hp/ton
Suspension torsion-bar
450 km
Speed 50 km/h

The Ch'ŏnma-ho or spelled as Chonma-ho (Chosŏn'gŭl: 천마호; Hanja: 天馬號), which means "Sky Horse" or Pegasus, is one of North Korea's secretive indigenous main battle tank designs. The tank is also known by the name of 천리마 전차 (千里馬, or the "Chollima Tank". The original Ch'ŏnma-ho is based on the Soviet T-62. There are at least five different operational versions of the Ch'ŏnma-ho. Since its inception, the Ch'ŏnma-ho has been upgraded various times. Not much is known about it, and its most recent public appearance was the 60th Anniversary Parade held in Pyongyang, North Korea, on 25 April 1992, celebrating the 60th anniversary of North Korea's ruling party.

A history of North Korea's armour

A conceptual drawing of the Ch'ŏnma-ho, with several upgrades, including the light explosive reactive armour.

After the cease-fire of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea found itself in need of much more modern equipment. During the war, North Korea had been sold T-34s by the Soviet Union to combat American M4 Shermans and M26 Pershings. According to a report to the United States Congress in 2000, the North Korean military had more or less 2,000 tanks garrisoned along the demilitarized zone alone.[6] This means that between the years 1954 and 2000 the North Koreans were able to stockpile over 2,000 tanks, including Soviet T-55s and T-62s and Chinese Type 59s and Type 62s. A North Korean general who defected to South Korea also said that due to a lack of fuel military exercises are limited.[7] It is also possible that many of the older vehicles used by the North Korean People's Army are not well maintained and have suffered from years of use. This still remains true even assuming good maintenance, and the North Korean army would not be the only military experiencing this. Between 1939 and 1953 much of Spain's armour fell into disrepair due to its age, and the same could be true for the North Korean military.

Although not much is known about the North Korean military after the Korean War, it is known that they have many different types of tanks. These include the Type 59 and Type 62, as well as the T-54, T-62 and possibly the T-72. The T-54 was probably sold to North Korea between 1960 and 1970, while the T-62 was reportedly sold in the mid 1980s. Unconfirmed reports indicate a few T-72s may have been provided to North Korea in the early 1990s. It is known that the North Koreans still make limited use of vintage Second World War T-34s as well as well as the Soviet era PT-76/85 amphibious tanks. Up to 3,800 tanks are coupled with at least 12,000 self-propelled artillery pieces and thousands of other towed artillery pieces of unknown type and number.[8] The North Koreans also have at least nine different types of armoured personnel carriers, including the BMP-1.

The Ch'ŏnma-ho has been issued to North Korea's premier armored formations, and would lead the initial attempts to break through South Korean defences. Other armour is relegated to a secondary role in this corps or to North Korea's four mechanized corps. To underscore North Korea's concept of combined arms and the importance of armour, and therefore the importance of the Ch'ŏnma-ho, North Korea's sole armour corps is directly grouped with two mechanized corps and a single artillery corps.[9] However, this forms the second echelon of North Korea's deployment to the DMZ, with the first echelon composed of four infantry corps,[9] and the rest in strategic reserve. This may also play a part in a defensive strategy, as the North Korean army is arrayed in depth, and the armour might be strategically placed to both provide offensive power and a second echelon composed of mobile defences to plug a South Korean breakthrough along the DMZ.[10]

Soviet T-62. The Ch'ŏnma-ho is a direct copy of the T-62 with several upgrades.

The Ch'ŏnma-ho is a product of North Korea's approach of juche, or self-reliance, which also includes several indigenous self-propelled artillery pieces. The idea of juche comes from a North Korean sentiment of abandonment by their allies, China and Soviet Union/Russia.[11] This accounts for their drive towards overproduction and for recent North Korean nuclear developments, as well as the production of long-range missiles which provide North Korea with its longer range striking power. This all manifests itself within the 'triangle' of North Korean military development - armour, artillery and missiles. In fact, this seems reminiscent from Soviet military theory, including the application of overwhelming artillery support and the use of large amounts of armour to create a breakthrough after the initial artillery disruption. In that sense, North Korean military strategy is very mobile, and the large amounts of tanks underscores this. The Ch'ŏnma-ho is an attempt to partially address the technology gap between its current dated tank forces and South Korean K1A1 and the US M1A2 Abrams tank.

Production history

There might be two versions of the Ch'ŏnma-ho 1: the copy of the Syrian T-62 in the late 1970s, and an original copy exported by the Soviet Union which may be the T-62D.[12] The Ch'ŏnma-ho is not related to the Chinese Type 62. Despite its relation to the T-62, the original version of the Ch'ŏnma-ho had thinner armour and was consequently lighter.[13] This version of the tank has two distinctive bolts on the bottom portion of the upper glacis plate. The Ch'ŏnma-ho I name was also given (at least by the West and South Korean white papers) to the imported T-62, which was later slightly upgraded to the IM version. Although no dates are available, the Ch'ŏnma-ho I was later upgraded to the II version with a laser rangefinder above the mantlet.[14] According to online sources this Ch'ŏnma-ho was upgraded once again, probably in the mid-1980s, with a 'boom shield'. The Ch'ŏnma-ho III might have also seen an armour upgrade with the addition of full-hull skirting and a new thermal shroud for the original 115 mm main gun.[15]

The most modern Ch'ŏnma-ho tanks seem to be the IV and V versions. The Ch'ŏnma-ho IV is fitted with what resemble EDZ light explosive reactive armour bricks. Judging by photographs, these are mounted specifically on the turret side, with at least eight bricks per side. The Ch'ŏnma-ho IV is reported to be upgraded with new side-mounted smoke launchers.[14] North Korea is rumored to have received a few examples of the T-72s after 1992, and possibly a single T-90S main battle tank in August 2001.[15] Any conclusion regarding whether the Ch'ŏnma-ho has been upgraded to the standards of either the T-72 or the T-90S would be highly speculative at this point.

File:Chonmaho5 003.jpg

A propaganda image of Ch'ŏnma-ho V

Around 90% of the Ch'ŏnma-ho is indigenously produced.[16] There is evidence, however, that North Korea has purchased entire engines, or engine components, from Slovakia.[17] Furthermore, it is thought that ceramic components, possibly for an upgraded armour scheme, are from foreign sources, as well as fire control components.[16] It is not clear how much is indigenously produced in regards to the different variants of the Ch'ŏnma-ho. The figure of 90% could have changed considerably between the original Ch'ŏnma-ho I and the Ch'ŏnma-ho V, although it should be kept into consideration that many of the major features are probably purchased from abroad - especially for the upgrades of the tanks. It is not clear how much North Korea can afford on producing on its own, or how much it can afford to import for that matter. It is thought that North Korea is considerably low on resources, especially money, and this belief has been perpetuated after North Korea's nuclear test incidents in 2006.[18] It is possible that Russia is supplying North Korea with several components for North Korea's tank projects which include the Ch'ŏnma-ho and quite possibly the M-2002, although no hard evidence can support this claim.

According to available information the North Koreans are developing a new main battle tank at the Ryu Kyong-su tank plant in Sinhung, with prototype performance trials in 2002.[15] This news arrived simultaneously with Kim Jong-il's trip to Russia in 2001, where he visited the Omsktransmash tank plant which produces the T-80U tank. This new tank may be a further improvement of the Ch'ŏnma-ho, or a new tank altogether. This new tank has been called the M-2002. The news concerning North Korea's future main battle tank has certainly driven South Korea to look for outlets for their own national tank programs, including the future South Korean Main Battle Tank, the K2.

Deployment history

It is unknown which units of the Korean People's Army might be outfitted with the Ch'ŏnma-ho. It is clear that the Ch'ŏnma-ho is a general replacement for previously employed tanks, including the T-62, T-34 and Type 59 medium tanks.[19] It is very possible that the Ch'ŏnma-ho will equip the spearhead and elite of North Korea's armoured forces. They are apparently deployed in sufficient numbers to be strategically significant. There might be as many as 800 T-62s in the North Korean army,[20] of which any number could be one of the five Ch'ŏnma-ho variants.


  • Ch'ŏnma-ho I (Ga) - Lightened copy of the T-62 with thinner armour.[3]
    • Ch'ŏnma-ho II (Na) - Upgrade of the Ch'ŏnma-ho I with an external laser rangefinder fitted above the gun mantlet.[3]
      • Ch'ŏnma-ho IV (Ra) - Upgrade fitted with storage trunk and tools in the rear, three banks of 4 smoke grenade launchers and ERA fitted to the sides of the turret.[3]
        • Ch'ŏnma-ho V (Ma) - Upgrade with explosive reactive armour bricks, more turret storage volume, smoke grenade launchers, a 125 mm gun, an autoloader and a new engine. However the inclusion of the 125mm smoothbore gun and autoloader is not confirmed. The box over the gun mantlet houses now not only the laser range finder but also a night vision camera.[3]
    • Ch'ŏnma-ho III (Da) - Upgrade fitted with 'boom shield' armour around the turret.[3]
  • Ch'ŏnma-ho II - Designation for imported T-62.
    • Ch'ŏnma-ho IM - Improved imported T-62.[3]


  • Ch'ŏnma-ho ARV - Armoured recovery vehicle with a casemate superstructure
  • Ch'ŏnma-ho Command - Command variant of the tank with a fake main gun
  • Juche-Po - Self-propelled artillery gun on a modified Ch'ŏnma-ho chassis. The Juche-Po is an improvement over the Tok-Ch'ŏn artillery piece, which was mounted on an ATS-59 chassis. There are at least four M1991 versions of the Juche-Po, each mounting a different gun; the D-30 122 mm, D-74 122 mm, the M-46 130 mm and the ML-20 152 mm howitzer. A fifth M1992 version is armed with the SM-4-1 130 mm howitzer. These artillery pieces can be identified by their six road wheels, as compared to the Tok-Ch'ŏn's five, and a prominent recoil cylinder which protrudes from the turret. Another major difference is the fact that the Juche-Po has a fully encased rounded turret, as opposed to the older open-topped self-propelled artillery pieces used previously.


  •  Iran - 150 ordered in 1981 from North Korea and delivered between 1982 and 1985.[2][4][5]
  •  North Korea - 470 were produced between 1980 and 1989 (the original order was placed in 1976).[2] Overall more than 1,200 were produced.[4][5] 1,200 T-62s and Ch'ŏnma-hos were in service as of 1985, 1,500 as of 1990, 1,800 as of 1995, 800 as of 2000 and an unknown number as of 2002 and 2005.[21]

See also


  1. Bermudez Jr., p 50.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 CH¹ONMA-HO. Retrieved on December 11, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "softland"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Igor Witkowski. Czołgi Świata. W-wa. 
  6. 2000 Report to Congress: Military Situation on the Korean Peninsula
  7. About:Military History
  8. 2000 Report to Congress
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hodge, pg. 6
  10. Hetherington, pg. 9
  11. Hetherington, pg. 3
  12. Warford (2005), p.2
  13., Ch'ŏnma-ho.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jedsite.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Warford (2005), p 3.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Geibel
  17. Bermudez (2001), p 51.
  18. Macintyre, Time Asia
  19. Bermudez (2001), p 50.
  20. Isenberg
  21. Equipment Holdings - Korean People's Army


External links

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