The M1978 "Koksan" is a self-propelled gun (SPG) of North Korean origin, the tracked chassis believed to be based on the original Chinese Type 59 Main Battle Tank (MBT). The Type 59 itself was nothing more than a local Chinese copy of the original Soviet-era T-54A model series that entered service in the late 1940s. Initial Chinese versions became available in 1959 (hence their designation) and totaled approximately 9,500 vehicles in serial production. Due to the military and political ties exhibited between China and North Korea, it was only natural that the North Korean military would be influenced by its Chinese neighbor - hence the Type 59's reach within the North Korean Army structure. The M1978 was first identified by the West in 1978 (which supplied the rather generic Western designation of "M1978") and currently (2013) maintains a numerical presence in the inventory of the army of North Korea. Some of these vehicles saw action in the bloody Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) under Iranian Army control with good results against Iraqi forces. Production of the vehicle emerged from the Second Machine Industry Bureau while the "Koksan" name comes from the North Korean city of Kok'san. The M1978 was formally recognized in 1985 when it was observed during a state parade.
The Koksan features a 170mm main gun with corresponding recoil and breech system, all which sit atop the Type 59 hull superstructure and chassis. Due to its rather oversized gun fitting and undersized chassis, the gunner crew is forced to operate in an open-air environment exposed to the elements and dangers of the battlefield - the driver being the only crew protected within the armored hull. It is assumed that the gunnery portion of the system is managed by at least four to six personnel to include a commander, gunner and several ammunition handlers. As the vehicle lacks any onboard storage space, projectiles are carried on a separate mover vehicle or transport truck that is fielded alongside Koksan batteries.
Aside from its 170mm main gun armament, the M1978 retains the basic form of the Type 59 including the track system and running gear. There are five road wheels to a hull side with the drive sprocket at the rear and the idler at front. The engine remains at the rear of the hull while two retractable spades have been added here as well, lowered prior to firing (otherwise raised vertically for transport). The M1978 is better suited as a fixed artillery piece which negates "firing on-the-move" and severely limits its tactical value on a fluid front. However, they pose a viable threat when used in a defensive manner - as they would be by the North, buried behind earthen walls or within hardened structures and in support of frontline actions. Power is served through a diesel-fueled engine - perhaps the original Model 12150L V12 liquid-cooled 520 horsepower systems of the Type 59 family to help keep costs and logistics under control. Road speed is estimated at 40 kmh with an operational road range of approximately 300 kilometers. Cross country travel is assisted through a basic torsion suspension system retained from the original Type 59 MBT. The US military estimates the maximum range of the main gun at 40,000 meters (25 miles/ 40 km) with a rather pedestrian rate-of-fire of up to two rounds per every five minutes. A rocket-assisted projectile has been developed to help increased the effective range of the main gun out to 60,000 meters (37 miles / 60 km). Due to the length of the main gun, the barrel is fixed to the front of the hull by way of a heavy duty support which can be disconnected, allowing the gun to rotate on its platform as necessary. The main gun is capped by a large muzzle brake featuring pepper-shaker pattern perforation.
The M1989 is a further evolution of the M1978, the major difference being the inclusion of an onboard ammunition supply which allows up to 12 projectiles to be carried.
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