Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Photographs from North Korean ATGM tests

A North Korean soldier fires an upgraded Bulsae ATGM
North Korea recently released a number of photographs showing tests of a "new" anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system or a "new" variant of an ATGM supposedly developed in North Korea.

Based on the available photograph it appears to be a variant of the AT-4 Spigot (9K111 Fagot) missile of the Soviet Union. This missile system is supposedly known as "Bulsae-2" (Korean for "firebird"or "phoenix") missile and entered service in 1973 according to a Korean source.
According to a forum post regarding the Bulsae ATGM, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yearbook 2005 claims that about 23250 Bulsae ATGMs have been sold by North Korea to Russia between 1976 and 2004.

Bulsae-2 launchers mounted on North Korean Army jeeps
What exactly has been upgraded or newly developed by the North Korean missile engineers for the new missile is unkown. An apparent difference between the original AT-4 Spigot ATGM is the different configuration of the launcher unit. A close-up of the Bulsae-2 ATGM launcher can be seen below.
The Bulsae-2 is also operated by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades in Gaza.
While the optics channel and the launcher plattform seem to be identical with the original Spigot launcher from the Soviet Union, the actual optics have been changed. The 9Sh119 optical sight (the lower sight) seems to be rather unmodified, but above this the guidance system has been altered/replaced. What the idea behind the other two openings on top of the sight is, is not exactly known. It could be an integrated night-vision sight (which due to the lack of thermal imagers in North Korea seems somewhat improbable) or a different guidance method, which is less suspectible to jamming.

Alternatively the upgrades from North Korea are focused on the missile itself, possible are improvments to the warhead and/or the rocket engine in order to boost penetration and/or range.
North Korean tank being hit by Bulsae
Maybe even more interesting than the North Korean using (and possibly upgrading) the old Soviet AT-4 Spigot missile system is the target for their missile tests. The missile was fired at a Chonma-216, a tank which was first revealed to public in 2009 under the name P'okpoong (Pokpung). However it was supposedly revealed by Korean sources that this is a fake designation and was never used. The tank is said to be designated M-2002 by NATO intelligence.
North Korean tank being hit by Bulsae
The Chonma-216 is an improved version of the Chonma-215, fitted with a superior fire control system. Both of these tanks are based on the previous Chonma series, developed from the Soviet T-62 tank, which was assembled in North Korea under licence. The Chonma-216 can also be identified by it's smoke-grenade launchers, of which two banks, each consisting of two smoke grenade dischargers, are mounted on either sidfe of the turret. The Chonma-215 and it's predecessor versions however are fitted with a single bank of four smoke grenade dischargers on each side of the turret.
Unlike the T-62 and the earlier Chonma tanks, the Chonma-215 and Chonma-216 have a lengthened hull with six roadwheels instead of five. This is supposedly due to mounting a larger and more powerful (according to speculations 800 to 1200 hp) engine.
Close-up picture of the Chonma-216 tank after being destroyed supposedly by the new upgraded Bulsae
The photograph above does provide some details about the Chonma-216. The applique armor at the turret front of the Chonma-216 does have a slight wedge-shape and a thickness of  200-300 milimetres. It leaves an area at the right side of the main gun unprotected, which has about half the size of the gun mantlet opening. This is due to the mounting location of the infra red light and the coaxial port.
It has been speculated that the turret applique armor and the hull applique armor are based on the brezhnev brow armor package (aka BDD armor) developed for the T-55AM and T-62M in the early 1980s. This armor consists of a number of thin spaced steel plates located in a steel box filled with plastic/resin (supposedly polyurethane). According to Steven Zaloga this boosted the protection level of the T-55 to the level of the original M1 Abrams model with Chobham armor.
The Chonma-216 has been speculated of being using laminated composite armor for the main turret armor aswell. Sources for the armor technology might have been indigenous research, old Soviet export tanks (such as the T-72M1 with kvartz composite armor) or China. 
The BDD armor consists of spaced steel plates located in a plastic layer.

Based on the welding seams on the turret roof and a quick comparsion with the T-55 - which essentially has the same turret armor layout as the T-62 aka the original Chonma (but with slightly thinner armor) - and the T-72M1, it appears that the Chonma-216 has quite thicker armor than the T-62 - it's armor thickness seems to be more comparable to the T-72M1.

T-55, Chonma-216 and T-72M1 - armor thickness at the gun mount/gun trunnions.
The T-72M1 has a maximum turret armor thickness of about 600 mm, whereas the T-55 has a maximum armor thickness of only 200 mm at the turret front. The Chonma-216 seems to have roughly comparable armor thickness to the T-72M1, but due to the different angle and the different size of the turrets (which is quite hard to judge - the T-72M1 has a very small turret thanks to it's autoloader, on the other hand North Koreans are not very tall on average and the turret size might have been decreased compared to the T-62) this seems to be a very rough approximation only. The Chonma-216 has an additional armor module mounted at the front of the turret however and might thus have slightly thicker frontal armor than the T-72M1. According to the older document "N Korea Military Tactics In A War With US - A Strategy Of Massive Retaliations Against US Attacks" from Han Ho Suk, Director Center for Korean Affairs, claims from North Korea say that a version of the Chonma tank had a maximum armor thickness of 700 mm at the turret front.

The Chonma-216 is the fourth tank in the frontal row. The 215 with the same armor and engine is the third tank.
An interesting aspect is the location of the penetration. The missile did not penetrate the frontal applique armor, but there are two holes possibly caused by the penetration. One hole is located on top of the turret roof, which would mean that it's either an extremely lucky shot (the missile hitting the sloped roof and not bouncing off, while the fuze manages to work) or that the new version of the Bulsae uses a top-attack warhead (EFP or HEAT). Another location for a possible penetration at the turret is what appears to be a hole located just below the coaxial machine gun port - if this was caused by the missile it again would have been a lucky shot.
On the left armor module at the turret front there seem to be traces of the impact of a HE charge, which caused only minor exterior/cosmetic damage.

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