TechNorth Korea Unveils M2020 Tank, Claims Superiority Over Russian Tech

North Korea Unveils M2020 Tank, Claims Superiority Over Russian Tech

Tanks M2020
Tanks M2020
Images source: ©
12:01 PM EDT, March 24, 2024

The state media of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea reported on March 13 that the Korean People's Army's newest tank, known in the West as the M2020, debuted at a training ground during military exercises. This advanced tank is believed to rival, if not exceed, Russian military technology.

The event saw the presence of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who even took a turn driving the tank, Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam, and the Korean People's Army's chief of staff, Ri Jong Gil. According to reports by the Korean Central News Agency, the exercises included team competitions, with the 105th Armored Division emerging victorious. This suggests that the North Korean military's latest addition might be battle-ready, or at least, that's the impression state propaganda aims to project.

Kim's pride

The tank dubbed the M2020 (its Korean designation remains unknown, implying it's a 2020 model), was first showcased during a nocturnal military parade in October 2020, marking the 75th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea's foundation. Its design, recalling the American Abrams tanks (through the turret shape) and the Russian next-gen T-14 Armata tank (hull and active protection system layout), caught widespread attention. Its hefty chassis hints at a weight surpassing 110,231 pounds.

The tank follows a classic design with the driver's compartment up front (positioned centrally), a combat compartment in the middle featuring a manned turret, and the engine compartment at the rear. The specifics about the engine’s power and the type of power transmission system remain undisclosed; however, estimates suggest a 1200-1500 HP (883-1103 kW) engine, reportedly of Chinese origin.

Initial observations suggested robust frontal armor, though details on its quality are scarce. The sides are protected by light skirts around the driving and combat sections, while bar armor shields the engine compartment against shaped charges, a feature that extends to the turret. The turret itself appears strongly armored, featuring an active protection system reminiscent of Russia's Afganit system.

M2020 armament

The main armament is a 125-mm gun with a barrel longer than the 2A46 family's 48-caliber guns, equipped with a bending control device. A 7.62 mm machine gun seems to accompany it. Another 7.62-mm machine gun, likely manually operated, is mounted near the gunner's hatch. A double anti-tank missile launcher has also been installed to the turret's right.

While details on the fire control and communication systems remain under wraps, a device resembling a panoramic sighting system is visible in front of the commander's hatch. Single radio station antennas hint at the absence of special command modifications. Initially reported to have a three-person crew, it has now been updated to four, eliminating the possibility of an automatic loader. This configuration mirrors the Abrams, with specific adjustments made for the loader and command crew’s placement. A notable hatch on the niche's roof may serve as a vulnerability or merely an access point. The latest model also features reactive armor, akin to the older Russian Kontakt-5 system but less bulky and potentially less effective.

Russia might find it embarrassing that North Korea successfully demonstrated its active protection system, marking a significant milestone, albeit in a testing phase. The system's sensors comprise dual laser radiation sets and four radars (possibly including optoelectronic heads), with twelve anti-projectile launchers serving as effectors.

The fire control system, while theoretically modern and featuring thermal imaging for both the commander and the gunner, presents practical limitations due to the commander's fixed observation device—an outdated approach by today's standards. The engine, expected to produce 1200 HP, should afford the tank reasonable mobility.

Propaganda dimension

At first glance, the M2020 seems state-of-the-art, but it arguably falls short of the latest Russian or Chinese models in various aspects. Regardless, it marks a significant technological advancement for North Korea, overshadowing its existing arsenal comprised of:

  • about 970 unmodified and approximately 2000 modernized T-62 tanks (Chonma-ho-1/2/3 in service since 1961);
  • 2200 aged T-54 and T-55 tanks alongside the Chinese T-54A clone, Type 59;
  • an unspecified number of T-72 tanks;
  • over 600 dated Soviet light tanks PT-76 (active since 1951) and the local M1981/PT-85 models.

Although numerically formidable, North Korea's armored fleet predominantly reflects Soviet technology circa 1980.

In contrast, South Korea has produced impressive tanks since the 1980s, notably the latest K2 models. Continuous development has notably narrowed the technological gap with the global tank elite despite South Korea's smaller number of units than Kim Jong Un's arsenal.

Related content