After the Armistice Agreement of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea found itself in need of much more modern equipment. Prior to the start of open hostilities, North Korea had acquired 379 T-34s from the Soviet Union. According to a report to the United States Congress in 2000, the North Korean military had up to 2,000 tanks garrisoned along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) alone. This means that between the years 1954 and 2000 the North Koreans were able to stockpile over 2,000 tanks, including Soviet T-55s and T-62s and Chinese Type 59s and Type 62s. A North Korean general who defected to South Korea also said that due to a lack of fuel military exercises are limited. It is also possible that many of the older vehicles used by the North Korean People's Army are not well maintained and have suffered from years of disuse. This still remains true even assuming good maintenance, and the North Korean army would not be the only military experiencing this.
Although not much is known about the North Korean military after the Korean War, it is known that they have many different types of tanks. These include the Type 59 and Type 62, as well as the T-54, T-62 and possibly the T-72. The T-54 was probably sold to North Korea between 1960 and 1970, while the T-62 was reportedly sold in the mid 1980s. Unconfirmed reports indicate a few T-72s may have been provided to North Korea in the early 1990s. It is known that the North Koreans still make limited use of vintage World War II T-34s as well as the Soviet-era PT-76/85 amphibious tanks. Up to 5,400 tanks are coupled with at least 12,000 self-propelled artillery pieces and thousands of other towed artillery pieces of unknown type and quantity. The North Koreans also have at least nine different types of armoured personnel carriers, including the BMP-1.
The Ch'ŏnma-ho has been issued to North Korea's premier armored formations, and would lead the initial attempts to break through South Korean defences. Other armour is relegated to a secondary role in this corps or to North Korea's four mechanized corps. To underscore North Korea's concept of combined arms and the importance of armour, and therefore the importance of the Ch'ŏnma-ho, North Korea's sole armour corps is directly grouped with two mechanized corps and a single artillery corps. However, this forms the second echelon of North Korea's deployment to the DMZ, with the first echelon composed of four infantry corps, and the rest in strategic reserve. This may also play a part in a defensive strategy, as the North Korean army is arrayed in depth, and the armour might be strategically placed to both provide offensive power and a second echelon composed of mobile defences to plug a South Korean breakthrough along the DMZ.
. The Ch'ŏnma-ho is a direct copy of the T-62 with several upgrades.
The Ch'ŏnma-ho is a product of North Korea's approach of Juche, or self-reliance, which also includes several indigenous self-propelled artillery pieces. The idea of juche comes from a North Korean sentiment of abandonment by their allies, China and Soviet Union/Russia. This accounts for their drive towards overproduction and for recent North Korean nuclear developments, as well as the production of long-range missiles which provide North Korea with its longer range striking power. This all manifests itself within the 'triangle' of North Korean military development – armour, artillery and missiles. In fact, this seems reminiscent from Soviet military theory, including the application of overwhelming artillery support and the use of large amounts of armour to create a breakthrough after the initial artillery disruption. In that sense, North Korean military strategy is very mobile, and the large numbers of tanks underscores this. The Ch'ŏnma-ho is an attempt to partially address the technology gap between its current dated tank forces and South Korean K1A1 and the US M1 Abrams tank.