Armor: July 8, 2002


: The 17 June "Choson Ilbo" South Korean daily newspaper reported that North Korea had succeeded in developing a first-rate tank with capabilities nearly identical to the Russian T-90S. The undesignated tank's performance tests (which some analysts are already referring as the "T-2002") took place near Pyongyang on 16 February, in commemoration of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's 60th birthday. When Kim Jong-il visited the Russian tank factory at Omsk in August 2001, he expressed interest in the T-90S (in addition to other advanced weapons systems).

It was developed by Ryu Kyong-su Tank Factory (Shinhung, South Hamgyong Province); Ryu Kyong-su commanded the North's first tank division during the 1950-53 Korean War. In recognition of his role in the tank's development, the factory's chief engineer was promoted to a senior position in the Second Economic Committee and took charge of the military economy.

This report generates two questions; how close to a T-90 is the design, and how can the North Koreans afford it (when their economy teeters on total collapse)? In all likelihood, the "T-2002" is some form of upgrade with a better Fire Control System and ERA (similar to the Russian T-72BM) to the existing North Korean T-72 fleet.

The North Koreans are quite adept at 'reverse engineering'. In 1978, North Korea began producing the first of 75 "T-62 Chonma-Ho"s (a modified version of the 115mm gunned T-62 tank) and manufacture an estimated 90 percent of it locally, except for precision parts like ceramics, control systems and engine components. The South Korean press first reported that the North had scores of T-72 "style" tanks on 12 July 1996. - Adam Geibel