Ch’ŏnma: The Pegasus on the battlefield – Delving into specifications, adaptive variants, and successful operations

The Ch’ŏnma, often known as the “Pegasus Tank,” is the secretive primary combat tank of North Korea. Since its T-62-based origins, it has undergone seven operational variants. It is versatile with a diesel engine, flexible armament, and a strong armour structure.

The Ch’ŏnma, commonly referred to as the “Chollima Tank,” is a covert main battle tank that North Korea created. In Chosŏn’gŭl (Korean script), the word “Ch’ŏnma” means “Pegasus,” and it is sometimes mispronounced as Chonma-Ho. The Soviet T-62 served as the basis for this native tank design. Since its creation, the tank has undergone numerous modifications, with at least seven operational models built.

Over the years, the Ch’ŏnma tank has received considerable updates that have improved its capabilities and modernised its features. This tank is mysterious because not much is known about it in the public domain, although it is an important part of North Korea’s military arsenal. The 70th Anniversary Parade in Pyongyang on September 9, 2018, marked the Ch’ŏnma’s most recent public appearance. In honour of North Korea’s 70th anniversary, this event showcased the country’s military might and technological innovations.

 

Specifications:

Claiming a base mass of 37 tonnes, this tank has a hull length measuring 6.63 metres, a width of 3.52 metres, and a height of 2.4 metres. With a crew of four and a sturdy armour structure that comprises a cast turret, spaced armour, and explosive reactive armour, it offers improved protection in combat.

Equipped with a strong armoury, it offers a primary 115 mm U-5TS smoothbore gun, complemented by secondary weaponry like a KPV 14.5 mm heavy machine gun and a coaxially mounted 7.62 mm machine gun. With its adaptable armament, the tank can deal with a wide range of threats in a variety of situations.

The Ch’ŏnma is propelled by a diesel engine under the hood, producing 750 horsepower in the Ch’ŏnma-92 and 580 horsepower in the standard model. This significant power is converted into a power-to-weight ratio of roughly 15.67 horsepower per tonne for the base Ch’ŏnma and 18.75 horsepower per tonne for the Ch’ŏnma-92 and subsequent models using a torsion-bar suspension system.

It has a remarkable operational range of 450 kilometres and a top speed of 50 km/h when it comes to mobility. With the capacity to combine manoeuvrability, protection, and firepower for efficient military operations, these qualities combine to make the Ch’ŏnma a formidable and nimble presence on the modern battlefield.

 

Variants:

One example of the Ch’ŏnma-ho’s adaptability in military applications is its use as the foundation platform for several specialised versions based on the North Korean main battle tank. An example of such a vehicle is the Ch’ŏnma ARV, which is an armoured recovery vehicle with a superstructure made of casemates. Its improved recovery capabilities guarantee efficient support in combat situations. A further variation is the Ch’ŏnma Bridgelayer, which emphasises its military engineering role and allows for quick troop movement across obstacles by substituting bridge-launching equipment for the conventional turret.

The Juche-po represents a self-propelled artillery cannon built on a modified Ch’ŏnma chassis, surpassing its predecessor, the Tŏkch’ŏn artillery piece placed on an ATS-59 chassis. The Juche-po is notable for having at least four M1991 versions, each of which is outfitted with a different artillery armament, like the SM-4-1 130 mm howitzer, D-30 122 mm, D-74 122 mm, and M-46 130 mm Different from the Tok-Ch’ŏn, which had five road wheels, the Juche-po has six road wheels and a turret that is rounded and completely enclosed, unlike the prior self-propelled artillery pieces that were open at the top. Moreover, a large recoil cylinder that projects from the turret signifies a major improvement in both functionality and design. These variations demonstrate how versatile the Ch’ŏnma-ho platform is for a range of military applications, such as engineering, artillery support, and recovery missions.

 

Operations:

The Ch’ŏnma, a main battle tank of North Korean manufacture, has seen active deployment in many conflicts, such as the Ethiopian Civil War and the Iran-Iraq War. It demonstrated its efficacy and versatility by playing a vital role in ground operations in both areas.  The tank can go across a variety of conditions, from deserts to harsh mountainous areas, because it is made to function in a variety of terrains. Its versatility makes it ideal for the demanding and dynamic environments that are frequently found in combat. 

The Ethiopian Civil War provided a thorough testing ground for the Ch’ŏnma’s operational capabilities, characterised by complex topography and diverse landscapes, and the Iran-Iraq War, marked by mountainous and desert terrains. Consequently, the tank’s engagement in these conflicts highlighted its capacity to manoeuvre and engage in combat across a variety of terrains, adding to its reputation as a dependable and adaptable armoured vehicle in a range of combat scenarios.