By Massimo Tessitori
The Songun-ho is a new development of the Pokpung-ho, first shown in the parade of 2010 in Pyongyang.
The name 'Songun' means 'Military first', a principle dominating North Korean policy and economy; the suffix 'ho' means 'model, type', and is optional in the designation.
Very few informations are available on this type, so we can try some deductions from the images.
|Here are some images of the original operative model in parade in Pjonjang
in 2010. Let us call it Songun-ho I.
The most apparent characteristic of this tank, when compared to the Pokpung-ho, is the vintage-like cast turret, similar to that of T-62 and early Chonma-ho, but obviously higher.
While the reason for the return to a cast turret is unknown (perhaps they improved their casting techniques and were able to obtain a thicker armour without making them frail for grains growth), the reason for its increase in height is to lodge a 125 mm gun, bigger than the 115 mm Rapira gun of the T-62 and Chonma-ho.
It should allow not only some more space to the crew, but also some more degree in elevation and depression of the gun, an important factor on a mountainous ground as Korea is.
The gun hasn't any autoloader as installed on T-72s: the gunner's position is in front of the tank commander as on Chonma-ho, and the loader stands on the right. With the driver, the total crew is of four.
A laser rangefinder is located over the gun barrel.
|These images allow some comparisons between a Songun-ho II and
a Pokpung-ho. Besides they allow to see something of the upper and rear
parts of the tanks.
This photo shows also the installation of two Manpad (?) SA missiles aside the gunner's machine gun, manually operated, plus two AT-5 Spandrel over the laser rangefinder, operated from inside the tank. Clearly, the external installation of antitank missiles proves that the gun isn't able to fire guided missiles on its own.
The hull is clearly related to that of Pokpung-ho, being a stretched version of that of Chonma-ho. The size should be about the same; its total lenght could be esteemed with some cut and drag on a scale drawing of a T-62.
Neverthless, the hull has some differences when compared to the Pokpung-ho:
there are sheet covers over the fenders, more or less as on T-72 and ZTZ-96 but different from those on the right skirt of Pokpung-ho; those covers doesn't seem closed boxes, but cover the upper, outer and front side only. Under the covers, the layout of boxes and cans is thought to be similar to that of T-62 (apart for the rear of the right one, where rectangular grilles are visible, covering some air intake or cooler.
A limited area of the frontal plate is covered by what seems an array of reactive armour elements.
The skirts, made of rubber sheets, are reinforced with some thicker sheets as on Pokpung-ho and the latest Chonma-ho, inspired to T-80U.The tracks visible on parade photos look as those of Chonma 214, 215 and 216: similar to those of early Chonma (and T-62), but provided with rubber parts, probably removable.
About Songun-Ho, these photos show how wide the rear extension of the turret is; they show the engine deck, whose grilles seem to be closed by folding covers. The exhaust outlet is on the left side, on the usual position for T-62-derived tanks. The main surprise is the presence of two rectangular openings, probably closed by grilles, on the rear upper part of the right cover of fenders. I don't know what they are for.
|The turret is provided both with an heavy machine gun KPV of 14.5 mm caliber on the loader's hatch,a coaxial gun, and a support for a SA-16 Manpad surface-to-air missile close to the tank commander's hatch. Hatches are similar to that of T-62A. Photos show the wind sensor behind the tank commander's position, the radio mast, four smoke mortars on each side.|
|Above, above left, left, belowleft: other images of Songun-ho tanks
on parade in 2010.
I wonder what is the thing with a black lens on the left of the turret's roof, clearly visible on the photo above. A night vision sustem or a guide system for antitank missiles that could be installed over the laser rangefinder?
Below, a detail of the KPV 14.5 mm machine gun. Its support is very similar to that of the DShKM of standard T-55 and 62, but the suport of the machine gun itself is longer. The aiming device is completely different too.
These images of a Songun-ho on manoeuvres show it while emerging from some frozen river.
The photo is interesting because the tank hasn't its side skirts; the shape of the upper part of the track allows to se where the 3 support rolls are located. Seems that the tracks hadn't the rubber blocks when out of the streets of the capital city.
The image shows also the considerable lenght of the box and canister than protrude behind the turret. It's unknown if such extension communicates with the inside of turret, and if contains an ammo magazine, or it is simply a store for other loads accessible from outside only; the latter idea looks more likely.
Note that the tank on manoeuver hasn't the MANPAD missile on the turret.
|Images of tanks fitted with reactive armour on the turret's front.
Let's call them Songun-ho II.
All the bricks are oriented to the front, and give limited protection from lateral attacks. Besides they are wider and less numberous than corresponding Russian protection on T-64/72/80, so each fired brick leaves more unprotected space to a second hit.
The reactive armour bricks on the front of the turret look completely different from those on the top and on the glacis plate, that are very thin.
Note the absence of missiles on these photos: probably they are not an update, but an easily dismountable option.
The same tank, nearly a profile.
Below, a photo collage from a South Korean forum, putting into evidence the similarities of the gun barrel of Songun to that of T-72.
The image gives a detail of the basket on the rear of the turret too.
Left: a detail of the reactive elements on the roof of the turret.
The fender is angulated, being higher on the front; this characteristic is common to the T-62.
The photo below, when enlarged, allows to see that two opposite screwheads on each wheel hub are painted red.
Here are two attempts to esteem the size and the profile of this tank.
This is a version of the photo above, slightly rotated and with a geometric construction to identify the perspectical pole. The grey diagonals are to find the central axis projected on the ground.
This is the same foto, deformed in the attempt to compensate perspectical warping. The rear part of the hull was leghtened so all the wheels have the same diameter on both axis.
The correction of the turret was more difficult, because it isn't contained in one plan. So, it was enlarged of 13% (this number is given by the ratio of the length closer red line, on the plan of the left side of the hull, and the length of the dark red line at the center axis). Some parts of the turret are closer to the viewer, so they have been reduced or moved guessing to compensate this. The MG , being beyond the mid of the tank, has been enlarged.
The gun was deformed and enlarged to have a constant diameter after and before the smoke evacuator.
The distance between the axis of the first and of the sixth road wheels include 30 track links, just as on the T-62. If the links have the same step of T-62, this distance should be 4093 mm.
So, the overall length of the tracks and wells is about the same of T-62, but the Songun looks to have its hull and engine deck protruding on the rear, so the total length of the hull should be increased.
The drawing below, made after a correction to the road wheel interaxis to take into account the perspective of the last wheel's hub, is put aside a frontal view sized in coerent way. The main sizes were esteemed with proportions.
The tank is wider of a T-62 (about 3530 mm versus 3300) but the tracks appear of compatible width.
Some excellent photos of the Songun were shot in the parade of 2017.
This one is particularly interesting not only because of the camouflage and of the self-adesive mark on the turret side, but also because it is the clearest available till now of the top of the tank.
The camouflage, painted over the standard olive green background, consists of sand yellow bands, slightly oversprayed with some brown paint; besides, foliage green blotches are added to the olive green background.
An enlarged detail of one tank.
The engine deck is barely similar to that of the T-72.
The purpose of the grilles over the right mudguard isn't clear, perhaps it is an auxiliary cooler or a filter; anyway it looks made by thin trasversal flaps covered by a thin mesh.
Three good photos allowing to see many details of the front and of the camouflage.
Left: on the background, another Songun is creating a smoke curtain from its exhaust outlet by adding an apposite additive to the fuel, as used on Soviet tanks.
The same photo allows to see clearly which lights have a clear lens, and which have a black one for IR.
Rare photo from the left side. This allows to see the turret involved into a Barracuda-like camouflaging net with sand, olive and green rectangular modules.
Note the shadow on the ground; it shows a wide tube fixed under the supports for auxiliary fuel drums; this tube seems to have a flange and a cover on the right end. It is not clear how it is suspended under the supports.