In the early 1980s China’s primary MBT in service was the aging Type 59 which was obsolete compared to the Soviet T-62, T-64 and T-72 and other Western designs. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) thus requested new tanks that could match Russian designs, which led to the development of the Type 69 tank that incorporated some technologies from a captured Soviet T-62 tank. However the Type 69 failed to satisfy PLA requirements and was only an export success that saw limited domestic service.
Further tank development commenced which led to the WZ122, Type 80 and Type 90 prototypes. The Type 80 began development in 1980 under 617 Factory along with 201 Institute, 447 Factory, and 616 Factory. The only variant that went into PLA service was the Type 88 in the late 1980s. The Type 88 was further developed into the Type 96 in the 1990s
The Type 80 inherited the design philosophy of the Type 69/79 which combined a Soviet style chassis and turret with Western technology. Like the Type 69 series, the initial Type 80 design possessed a hemispherical bowl-shaped turret similar to the T-54/55. Another similarity was that the driver sat in the left forward section of the hull. However, the Type 80 used a local copy of the NATO 105mm rifled gun instead of the Soviet 100mm rifled gun. It was also the first Chinese design to be observed using a system of six road wheels and three support rollers. The first Chinese tanks to incorporate applique composite armor were later variants of the Type 80 family.
The Type 85-I (Storm-1) series had a new welded turret design. The export Type 85IIAP was the first tank in its family to equip a 125mm smoothbore gun which was later equipped on the Type 88C/Type 96.
The Type 80 and 85 series were prototypes for export while the Type 88 series was for domestic use. The “II” designation is usually for export tanks (Except Type 85)
|Dimensions and weight|
|Length (gun forward)||9.33 m|
|Hull length||6.33 m|
|Main gun||105-mm rifled|
|Machine guns||1 x 7.62-mm, 1 x 12.7-mm|
|Elevation range||– 4 to + 18 degrees|
|Traverse range||360 degrees|
|Main gun||44 rounds|
|Machine guns||2 250 x 7.62, 500 x 12.7|
|Engine power||730 hp|
|Maximum road speed||60 km/h|
|Vertical step||0.8 m|
|Fording (with preparation)||?|
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a significant number of T-72s were decommissioned from Soviet service and scrapped for metal. North Korea acquired some of these scrapped T-72s and obtained core technology for use on the P’okp’ung-ho through reverse engineering. North Korea’s interest in the T-90 was demonstrated in August 2001 when Kim Jong-il visited the Omsk Transmash defense plant which builds the T-90 during his visit to Russia. However North Korea failed to acquire T-90 since then, as South Korean and Russian governments agreed to cease supplying arms technology since 1994.
What initiated the need to develop a new tank was likely the poor combat performance the export variants of T-72 displayed during the Gulf War. Shocked at the destruction of Iraqi T-72s by western tanks such as the M1 Abrams, compounded with the fact that South Korea operates the K1 MBT, which has similar performance to the early models of the American M1 Abrams MBT, North Korea decided to significantly modernize its tank fleet to bridge the performance gap between its Ch’onma-ho MBTs and the South Korean K1 MBTs. However, economic struggles and a lack of several core technologies seem to have prevented North Korea from achieving high production numbers for the P’okp’ung-ho before the late 2000s
The first P’okp’ung-ho is believed to have been produced in 1992 in the Ryu Kyong-su Tank Factory, located in Sinhung, South Hamgyong province under the Second Economic Committee and Second Academy of Defense Science. The capabilities of later variants have been augmented significantly. Because of North Korea’s limited industrial capability, compounded by the fact that North Korea has also spent most of the resources allotted for the development of the P’okp’ung-ho on its nuclear program, North Korea was believed to possess fewer than 250 of these tanks in 2007. However, production seems to have picked up starting in 2010. The tank was witnessed by parties outside of North Korea in 2002 and thus codenamed the M-2002. The P’okp’ung-ho was shown to the public during a North Korean parade in 2010, as well as during military exercises in 2012.
Unclassified images of the P’okp’ung-ho finally surfaced in 2010, which showed the tank design appeared to be developed from the later models of the Chonma-ho and influenced by the Type 85 and the T-72. The P’ok’pung-ho has better mobility, survivability and firepower than the Ch’onma-ho.
The P’okp’ung-ho’s primary armament is almost certainly the 2A20 115mm gun in early examples; however, later versions seemed to be armed with the 2A26/2A46 125mm smoothbore gun. which fires AP rounds produced in North Korea. The tank also has a heavy KPV anti-aircraft machine gun and a coaxial machine gun, as well as four smoke grenade launchers on the each side of the turret. The tank does not have the capability to fire ATGM from its main gun.
Although the engine compartment and the layout show some resemblance to a T-72 hull, the chassis is basically a heavily modified version of T-62, with greater length and an additional pair of road wheels. The glacis plate of the Pokpung-ho is heavily sloped and protected by appliqué armor in the initial version with ERA added in later versions. The turret is reinforced with wedge-shaped armor modules in Pokpung-Ho I and seems to be protected by composite armour similar to the early export model T-72M in Pokpung-Ho II with ERA added in Pokpung-Ho III. The panels along the tracks seem to be made of a light laminar armour.
Although the horsepower of the P’okp’ung-ho’s engine has been speculated to be as high as 1500, the engine is likely to have around 1000-1100 horsepower. It has been reported that North Korea rejected developing the 1,250 hp (930 kW) engine of the T-80, judging that it would not be suitable for a tank engagement within the narrow, mountainous terrain of Korea, and that it would prove to be of little difference on defensive missions. During aggressive missions, the P’okp’ung-ho can quickly engage the enemy due to its already excellent speed and acceleration, which is the basis of North Korean tank tactics.
The fire control system of the P’okp’ung-ho is relatively modern and based on the presence of a meteorological mast is almost certainly computerized, and some reports claim that it may be based on the Chieftain FCS, which Iran may have illegally exchanged for North Korean technology. If the P’okp’ung-ho’s FCS is based on the T-72’s, it may implement the PNK-3 or PNK-4 day and night sighting system with the 1K13-49 periscope combined passive/active sight guidance system. However the night sighting system is most likely to be the same with obsolete T-62. The quality of the equipment are likely inferior to the South Korean counterparts.
The P’okp’ung-ho also has an infrared sensor (TPN-3-49 or TPN-4), a laser rangefinder and a search light, all of which allow the P’okp’ung-ho to operate during the night. Although the quality of the equipment are likely inferior to the South Korean counterparts, the P’okp’ung-ho is believed to be a considerable threat at medium/short range engagements, although lacking when firing from long ranges at night.
Pokpung-Ho I – The initial variant. Armed with the 115 mm 2A20 gun from the T-62 series and equipped with applique and spaced armor. First observed publicly during the spring of 2010.
Pokpung-Ho II – A variant with heavily improved armament and protection, the Pokpung-Ho II mounts a 125 mm 2A26/46 smoothbore gun and has a new turret seemingly augmented with composite armour. ERA was also fitted on the front glacis. First observed publicly during the October 10, 2010 military parade. SA-7 MANPADS can also be fitted.
Pokpung-Ho III – Currently the most advanced variant of the Pokpung-Ho, this version possesses most of the traits of the Pokpung-Ho II but has additional reactive armour on the turret front and forward part of the turret roof.
Pokpung-Ho IV – An upgrade of the Pokpong-Ho I rather than II or III. 2 AT-5 Spandrel launchers fitted above main armament and 1 SA-16 MANPADS fitted on the turret rear.