North Korea Upgrades Tank Force (June 2002)

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

North Korea has rolled-out a new main battle tank with characteristics very similar to those of the Russian T-90 series of 1990s vintage, according to The Chosun Ilbo newspaper of South Korea. This development follows by a year North Korean President- for-Life Kim Jong-ilís visit to Omak, Russia, where he received a tour of the TransMash plant which produces the T-90 and T-80 tanks. These tanks had been developed to defeat US M1A1 Abrams, German Leopard-2, British Challenger-2, and French LeClerc battle tanks in a ground war once envisioned to rampage across central Europe. It is believed that Russia currently has as many as 300 T-90s deployed, most in its Far Eastern Military District. The Russians have developed export variants of the T-90, the T-90S and the T-90SK command variant.

North Korea's interest in new tanks is consistent with its paranoia about South Korea and the West and its continuing emphasis on expanding army mobility. North Korea is believed to have about 4,000 tanks of all vintages, according to The Chosun Ilbo. The T-90 retains the 125-mm 2A46-series main gun of the T-72 and T-80, which is capable of firing APDS, HEAT and HE-FRAG projectiles, and time-fused shrapnel projectiles. It also fires the Refleks 9M119 AT-11 SNIPER laser-guided missile with a hollow-charge warhead, which is said to be effective against both armored targets and low-flying helicopters. The missile can penetrate 27-inches of reactive armor out to 2.2 miles. The computerized fire control system and laser range finder, coupled with the new Agave gunner's thermal sight, permit the T-90 to engage targets while traveling at 40 mph, day or night.

The T-90 is equipped with the TShU-1-7 Shtora-1 optronic counter measures system which is designed to disrupt the laser target designation and rangefinders of incoming ATGMs. The T-90 is also equipped with a laser warning package. Shtora-1 is an electro-optical jammer that jams the enemyís semiautomatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) antitank guided missiles, laser rangefinders and target designators, and responds with electronic jamming, aerosol obscuration dispersal, or forward-firing grenade countermeasures. India has also been involved in acquiring the T-90 in its ever escalating problems with neighbor Pakistan. About 80 T-90s are believed to have been sent to India so far this year to counter Pakistanís T-85s.

The North Korean version of the T-90 has been developed by the Ryu Kyong-su Tank Factory in Shinhung, South Hamgyong province. The designation of the latest North Korean tank has yet to be confirmed but, based upon past practice, may be called the T-2002.