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Category: Iran

North Korean Koksan M-1978 170 mm self-propelled artillery piece. Iraq, 2008

North Korean Koksan M-1978 170 mm Self-Propelled Artillery Piece

The Koksan M-1978, or simply M-1978, is a North Korean self-propelled gun (SPG) featuring a 170 mm gun. It must be noted before moving forward that as with all North Korean military discussions, concrete information is limited; this includes the M-1978 SPG. The main gun in the M-1978 is mounted in an open mount on what is suspected to be Chinese Type 59 chasis a platform and two retractable spades located on the rear of the vehicle. When the vehicle is in a firing position the spades are lowered. The M1978 employs a large muzzle brake. The designation for this SPG is not native; but rather assigned by the US Department of Defense. The reference Koksan M-1978 is to the year and the location in North Korean in which the vehicle was first noted by western analysts; specifically, in 1978 in Koksan county, North Hwanghae Province. The vehicle was first seen in a public display in a parade in 1985 in North Korea. The M-1978 does not carry any ammunition; this would need to be delivered by support vehicles. It is believed that the M-1978 has a range of 40 km; and 60 km when shells are used with a booster (rocket assisted).

The M1978 appears to be crewed by between 6 and 8 personnel; this is reinforced by a photo of an Iranian M1978 with it’s crew. However it must be noted that the Type 59 is manned by a crew of 4. If the Type 59 is the chasis for the M1978 (or a comparable vehicle) then it likely has limits for onboard personnel transport to at most 4 people. We can speculate then that the remaining crew would travel in support vehicles such as the munitions transport vehicle(s).

Export operators include Iran; which used this weapon system during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Iraq captured at least one Koksan M-1978 during the Iran-Iraq war; which would end up on display at the University of Anbar, only to be taken by US forces in 2008 (in relation to the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003).

The Koksan M-1978 is believed to still be in active use. A 2013 inspection of Korean People’s Army (KPA) unit 641 by Kim Jong Un showed the unit’s M-1978’s on display for review. Unit 641 is believed to target the South Korean held island of Baengnyeong; off South Korea’s north-west coast. Unit 641 is on the south-west border in close striking distance to Baengnyeong.

The deployment of the M1978 is not known with precision; various attempts describe it as deployed at the regiment or battalion level. Possibly a regiment of 36 units, made up in turn of 3 battalions of 12 units. This along with supporting equipment (vehicles and the like) and personnel. Such attempts at determining the deployment of the M1978 are speculative to be sure; however satellite photos of Unit 641 shows two distinct storage facilities close to each other with each facility housing 4 M1978 SPGs.

Many artillery pieces including the M1978 are stationed near the Korean Demilitarized Zone with South Korea as a part of a broader strategy of the North Korean Military.

SPG: Koksan M-1978
Main Armament: 170 mm gun
Secondary Armament: N/A
Weight: Unknown
Speed: Unknown
Crew: 6 to 8

Works Cited

  1. “Koksan (Artillery).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 15 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koksan_(artillery). Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
  2. Pike, John. “Military.” M-1978 / M1989 (KOKSAN) 170mm self propelled (SP) gun, www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/m-1978-170.htm. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
  3. “M1978 Koksan 170-Mm self-Propelled gun.” Military-Today.com , www.military-today.com/artillery/m1978_koksan.htm.
  4. “KPA Unit 641.” Satellite Analysis of DPRK, WordPress.com, 20 Aug. 2015, nkbypanda.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/kpa-unit-641/. Accessed 16 Aug. 2017.
  5. Mansourov , Alexandre Y. “North Korea coming to Assad’s rescue.” The Korea Times, 13 June 2013, www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2013/06/197_137440.html. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.
  6. “North Korea (1978) Self Propelled Gun .” Tank Encyclopedia, 14 Apr. 2015, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/coldwar/North_Korea/Koksan-M1978.php. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.

Armoured Units of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL depending on the context) has coalesced into a nation state, it has acquired a diverse selection of military hardware. This includes armoured units.  Among the various pieces of equipment deployed by ISIS are the Badger MRAP, Humvees, T-54/55, T-62, and T-72 main battle tanks (MBT), as well as M1117 armoured cars, MT-LB, BMP-1, and M113 APCs. The tanks, MT-LB and BMP-1 are Soviet Stock, and the Humvee, M1117, and M113 are all native to the United States. Depending on the sophistication of ISIS armoured vehicle recovery and repair, possible additions include the US native M1 Abrams MBT. ISIS armoured stock are spoils of war; possibly captured from a variety of places including the Iraqi Military, the Military of Syria, and other militant groups, as well as Iran. On the ground ISIS is currently fighting against a multitude of opponents; this could include any of the following,

  • Other militant groups
  • Kurdish forces
  • The Military of Syria
  • The Military of Iraq
  • The Military of Iran

Given the nature of the acquisition of ISIS’s military equipment and the highly fluid nature of the conflict in which she is fighting, her inventory of Armoured Fighting Vehicles has the potential to change rapidly. Future acquisitions could easily include more of the above as well as: M1 Abrams MBT, BMP-2, et al..

The actual size of ISIS’s armoured units is difficult to estimate given ongoing acquisitions and attrition; although it had been noted as being approximately 40 strong for two of the MBTs: 30 T-54/55 and roughly 10 T-72 tanks. Although these estimates were from earlier in the year regarding the T-54/55 and T-72. ISIS employs a strong collection of Technicals; pick-up Trucks with mounted weapons (and possibly armour as well); ISIS’s limit for these vehicles realistically is limited to her desire as pick-up trucks and supporting mountable weapons should be in ample supply. In a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article it was estimated that ISIS employs approximately 30 M1 Abrams already. Given the state of the war, it is not a question of if, but rather when ISIS will expand it’s inventory of US military hardware. However despite this fact the M1 Abrams is an iconic weapon system; given ISIS’s documented interest in lauding its perceived attacks on the West, including the murder recently of US journalists, it would seem logical that an M1 Abrams would prove an excellent backdrop for an ISIS propaganda video.  As such I do not believe ISIS currently has any M1 Abrams.

Based on my own research (with an emphasis on visual evidence) I estimate the following numbers for ISIS’s AFV inventory,

  • T-54/55 MBT – 10 to 20; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. Likely from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
  • T-72 MBT – 3 to 5; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. Likely from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
  • T-62 MBT – 20 to 30; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. A large stock of these were captured from the Iraqi military however the Syrian Civil War would have also fostered an environment to acquire these.
  • MT-LB – 3; seized from the Iraqi military; also possibly in use by Syrians.
  • M113 – 3 to 5; including two captured from the Iraqi military.
  • BMP-1 – 3 to 5; stock from the Syrian military from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
  • M1117 – 3 to 5; several seized from the Iraqi military
  • Badger MRAP – 3 or less; seized from the Iraqi military.
  • 2S1 Gvozdika Self Propelled Artillery – 3 or less; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military.
  • 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) SAM missile systems – 3 captured in Iraq from the Iraqi military.
  • Humvees – perhaps 10 to 20 acquired from the Iraqi military.

I estimate ISIS total inventory at approximately 80 vehicles at most; this does not include Technicals and related vehicles such as Humvees. Technicals by far represent the majority of AFVs employed by ISIS; with the above representing a small fraction: perhaps as little as 1 to 3% although likely 1% or less. Given ISIS’s resources, she is well equiped to use and maintain these systems; the exception being the 2K12 Kub system’s main armament. There are claims that the US weapons systems will prove difficult to maintain; with a lack of spare parts and technical expertise. This is false; ISIS’s arrary of Technicals includes many illustrating a high degree of inginuity and resourcefulness. It is hubris to think that ISIS is incapable of maintaining its inventory of AFVs; her real limits will be with missiles of any size including captured ballistic missiles and aircraft. Further, ISIS is well equipped with mobile man operated anti-aircraft systems such as shoulder fired manpad systems. These systems provide a degree of secuirty for ISIS’s AFVs; while not absolute, they are a major factor for consideration in any airstrike targeting ISIS AFVs.

A video showing captured T-62 MBTs in a field; ISIS captured these from the Iraqi Military. They sit with a few APCs, possibly Soviet MT-LB APCs. I estimate in this video 10 T-62 and 3 MT-LB AFVs along with possibly 2 more MT-LB and 3 more T-62 in the far background.

Another video showing a parade of armour including T-62 MBTs and a BMP-1.


A video showing ISIS Technicals and an M113 APC.


Works Cited

Bender, Jeremy. “As ISIS Routs The Iraqi Army, Here’s A Look At What The Jihadists Have In Their Arsenal.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 8 July 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014. <http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-military-equipment-breakdown-2014-7>.

Parrish, Brent. “The Growing ISIS Arsenal, Pt. 1.” The Right Planet. 29 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014. <http://www.therightplanet.com/2014/08/the-growing-isis-arsenal-pt-1/>.

Firik, Mehmet Kemal. “ISIS’s Weapon Inventory Grows.” Daily Sabah. 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <http://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2014/07/03/isiss-weapon-inventory-grows>.

“ISIS Ambushes Iraqi Army in Anbar Province.” HubPages. 15 July 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <http://perrya.hubpages.com/hub/ISIS-Ambushes-Iraqi-Army-in-Anbar-Province>.

PREGENT, MICHAEL, and MICHAEL WEISS. “Exploiting the ISIS Vulnerabilities in Iraq: The Terrorists’ Heavy Military Equipment Is Hard to Maintain, Easy to Target from the Air.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 12 Aug. 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/articles/michael-pregent-and-michael-weiss-exploiting-the-isis-vulnerabilities-in-iraq-1407884145>.

Iran’s Qaher-313 Stealth Aircraft

This post is definitely off-topic; however the subject, Iran’s Qaher-313 single-seater stealth fighter jet is quite intriguing. Announced in February, little is known about this bird. A press announcement was made in front of the aircraft itself however this is all that has been seen of it. While some great photos exist of the plane, a number of people from around the world are skeptical that it represents what the Iranians claim.

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