K2 Black Panther

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K2 Black Panther
K2 black panther3.jpg
The K2 Black Panther on static display
TypeMain battle tank
Place of originSouth Korea
Service history
In service2014–present
Production history
DesignerAgency for Defense Development
ManufacturerHyundai Rotem
Unit cost7.8 billion (production batch 1)[1]
US$8.5 million (constant 2009 USD)
No. builtLot 1: 100
Lot 2: 106 (In production)
Lot 3: 54 (planned)
Total: 260
Mass55 t (54 long tons; 61 short tons)
LengthOverall: 10.8 m (35 ft 5 in)
Chassis : 7.5 metres (24 ft 7 in)
Width3.6 metres (11 ft 10 in)
Height2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in)
Crew3 (commander, gunner and driver)

ArmorPOSCO MIL-12560H armor steel and other classified plate along with ERA and NERA modular add-on armour in addition to soft-kill and hard-kill anti-missile defense systems
Hyundai WIA CN08 120 mm 55 caliber smoothbore gun (40 rounds)
12.7×99mm (.50 BMG) K6 heavy machine gun (3,200 rounds)
7.62×51mm NATO coaxial machine gun (12,000 rounds)
EngineLot 1: MTU MT-883 Ka-501 4-cycle, 12-cylinder water-cooled diesel (Dry Weight −1800 kg)
1,500 hp (1,103 kW)
Lot 2, 3: Doosan DV27K 4-cycle, 12-cylinder water-cooled diesel (Dry Weight – 2550 kg)
1,500 hp (1,110 kW)
Power/weight27.2 hp/tonne
TransmissionLot 1, 2: RENK HSWL 295 TM (five forward, three reverse) (Dry Weight – 2,450 kg)
Lot 3: S&T Dynamics EST15K (six forward, three reverse, in development) (Dry Weight – 2500 kg)
SuspensionIn-arm Suspension Unit
450 kilometres (280 mi)
Maximum speed Paved road: 70 km/h (43 mph)
Cross country: 50 km/h (31 mph)
Acceleration from 0–32 km/h (0–20 mph) in 7 seconds

The K2 Black Panther (Hangul: K2 '흑표'; Hanja: K2 '黑豹') is a next generation South Korean main battle tank designed by the South Korean Agency for Defense Development and manufactured by Hyundai Rotem. Developed as a modern main battle tank that will replace most of the remaining M48 Patton tanks and complement the K1 series of main battle tanks currently fielded by the South Korean military, the K2 Black Panther combines an auto-loaded 55 calibre 120 mm main gun, advanced composite armour along with hard and soft-kill active protection systems.

Mass production commenced in 2013 and the first K2s were deployed with the armed forces in June 2014. The K2 costs over US$8.5 million per unit, making it one of the most expensive main battle tanks in service, of any nation.[2][3]


In 1995, the South Korean Agency for Defense Development (Korean: 국방과학연구소, Hanja: 國防科學硏究所) was given the task of developing a modern armored fighting vehicle based upon state-of-the-art domestic technologies. The objective of this development program was to further modernize the South Korean army, despite the superior capability of existing K1 and K1A1 designs versus North Korean tanks, most of which are aging T-55s and Type 59s. Emphasis upon indigenous technologies would also allow the proposed vehicle to enter the export market without licensing difficulties.

Early design variants included a version with an unmanned turret, which was later scrapped in favor of manned turret designs. It was also planned for the vehicle to be equipped with Rheinmetall's experimental 140 mm smoothbore gun, though the K2 was subsequently reconfigured for the 120 mm/L55 when Rheinmetall ceased development of the new weapon, determining that the 120 mm/L55 would be more than capable of defeating prospective armored threats into the foreseeable future. The CN08 120 mm/L55 of K2 is equipped with a 6.6 m-length barrel that is 1.3 m (4.3 ft) longer than the KM256 120 mm main gun in the K1A1. This results in a higher muzzle velocity of 1,760 m/s (5,800 ft/s) for greater accuracy and armor penetration (compared to 1,700 m/s (5,600 ft/s) for the K1A1). The K2's autoloader also allows it to reload its main gun more quickly compared to its predecessor.

The K2 is capable of fording 4 m (13 ft)-deep rivers, is equipped with a posture control function that can tilt the chassis or lower its overall height by 40 cm (16 in) and deploys a laser warning system that can turn the turret towards the source of hostile fire almost instantaneously.[4]

Engines and powertrains[edit]

In March 2011, South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that mass production of the K2, which the Army was expecting to deploy in 2012, would not happen due to problems concerning its engine and transmission.[5] In April 2012, DAPA announced that due to ongoing issues with the reliability and durability of the domestically-produced powerpack, the first 100 production K2s would use German-made MTU powerpack and that service entry would be delayed until March 2014.[6]

The first 15 K2 Black Panther tanks were put into service in June 2014. Faulty indigenous engines and transmissions previously halted production, but the lowering of required acceleration performance allowed it to enter service. The powerpack will eventually be produced locally, but until that occurs the K2 employs German-made MTU power plants which makes possible the deployment of around 100 vehicles by 2017.[7][8] Tanks under the second contract, after the first 100 models, which were built with the domestic Doosan 1,500 hp engine and S&T Dynamics automatic transmission, began delivery in late 2016.[9]

Hyundai Rotem signed a contract from the second batch of 106 K2 tanks in December 2014, but the vehicles continued to have powerplant issues due to the S&T Dynamics transmission failing durability tests. In February 2018, DAPA announced the second batch would have a "hybrid" powerpack consisting of the locally developed engine with the German RENK transmission system, allowing them to start entering service in 2019. An additional contract for the production of a third batch of about 110 K2s is to follow within the next several years.[10]

Year Engine Transmission Total Notes
Batch-I 2014~2015 MTU MT-883 ka501 RENK HSWL 295 TM 100
Batch-II 2019~2020 Doosan DV27K RENK HSWL 295 TM 106 combine the domestic K2 engine with a German transmission system
Batch-III 2020~ Doosan DV27K S&T Dynamics EST15K (later changed to RENK HSWL 295 TM) 54 Because the homegrown transmission failed durability tests, the decision was made to keep the German-built one for the third batch[12]

Weapon systems[edit]

K2 Black Panther firing its cannon

The Black Panther is armed with a CN08 120 mm 55 caliber smoothbore gun indigenously developed by Hyundai Wia.[13][14] This is complemented by an autoloader, similar to that designed for the Leclerc tank, it can fire up to 10 rounds a minute.[15] The ammunition for the main gun is loaded in a 16-shell magazine. The tank has a total ammunition capacity of 40 rounds for its main armament.

Secondary weapons include a 12.7 mm K6 Machine Gun heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun.

Fire-control system and optics[edit]

The K2 is equipped with an advanced fire-control system linked to an Extremely High Frequency radar system deployed on the frontal arc of the turret, along with a traditional laser rangefinder and crosswind sensor.[16] The system is capable of a "lock-on" mode, which can acquire and track specific targets up to a range of 9.8 km (6.1 mi) using a thermographic camera.[17] This allows the crew to fire accurately while moving as well as engage low-flying aircraft.

The fire-control system is also linked to an advanced gun stabilizer and trigger-delay mechanism to optimise accuracy while moving in uneven terrain. If the trigger on the main gun is pulled at the same time the tank encounters an irregularity in the terrain, oscillation of the gun barrel will cause temporary misalignment between a laser emitter at the top of the barrel and a sensor at the base. This will delay the fire-control system from activating until the beam is re-aligned, improving the chances of hitting the intended target.[18]

The Korean Gunner's Primary Sight (KGPS) and the Korean Commander's Panoramic Sight (KCPS) are present in the Black Panther as in the original series of K1A1 tanks, though modified to utilise the more advanced sensors and armaments deployed on the K2.

The commander of the tank has the ability to override the command to take control of the turret and gun from the gunner. Moreover, unconfirmed reports state that, in the event of an emergency, the vehicle can be operated by only two crew members, or even a single one. It is speculated that the fire-control system can automatically spot and track visible targets, compare them using the data link established with other friendly vehicles to prevent redundant target engagements, and fire its main gun without manual input.

K-2 tank on display along with its K280 HEAT-MP-T munition rounds and K6 heavy machine gun rounds.


The K2's primary anti-tank munition is an indigenously developed improved tungsten K279 APFSDS. For attacking unhardened targets, the K2 can use a multi-purpose K280 HEAT chemical energy round, similar to the U.S. M830A1 HEAT MP-T, providing good offensive capabilities against personnel, unarmored and lightly armored vehicles on the ground as well as low-flying helicopters.

The Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition (KSTAM) is a fire-and-forget, top-attack anti-tank munition with an effective operating range of 2–8 km (1.2–5.0 mi), developed specifically for use with the K2. It is launched as a kinetic energy projectile, fired from the main gun in a high trajectory profile comparable to that of a mortar. Upon reaching its designated target area, a parachute deploys, giving on-board millimeter band radar, infrared and radiometer sensors time to seek and acquire stationary or moving targets. When a target is acquired, an explosively formed penetrator is fired from a top-down position, to exploit the weaker top armor of tanks. Target acquisition can also be directed manually by the tank crew via a remote link. These characteristics allow the launch vehicle to remain concealed behind cover while firing successive rounds towards the known location of an enemy, or provide effective indirect fire support against targets hidden behind obstacles and structures.[19]

Defensive capabilities[edit]

K-2 tanks deploy smoke grenades during maneuver drills.

Details of the composite armor of the Black Panther are classified. The frontal armor has been claimed to be effective against the 120 mm APFSDS round fired from the L55 gun.[20] Explosive Reactive Armor blocks are also present, with the addition of Non-Explosive Reactive Armor planned for the K2 PIP (Product Improvement Program) version.

Defense against incoming missiles is provided by a soft-kill anti-missile system.[21]

The millimeter band radar system mounted on the turret is capable of operating as a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS). The vehicle's computer in turn can triangulate incoming projectiles, immediately warn the vehicle crew and fire off Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke (VIRSS) grenades, which can effectively block optical, infrared and radar signatures.[22][23] Once the hard-kill AMS is installed, the radar system will also be responsible for tracking and targeting the incoming missiles for the AMS.

The K2 also has a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and radar jammer. Four all-bearing Laser warning receivers (LWR) are also present to alert the crew should the vehicle become "painted", and the computer can also deploy VIRSS grenades towards the direction of the beam.[24]

An automatic fire suppression system is programmed to detect and put out any internal fires that may occur, and atmospheric sensors alert the crew if the tank enters a hazardous environment.[25][26]

Mobility and maneuverability[edit]

K2 tank about to cross a water pool submerged with snorkel

The K2 can travel at speeds of up to 70 km/h on road surfaces, accelerate from 0 to 32 km/h within 8.7 seconds,[27][28][29] and maintain speeds of up to 52 km/h in off-road conditions. It can also climb 60-degree slopes and vertical obstacles 1.8 meters in height. Due to the relatively compact design of the engine, the designers were able to fit an additional Samsung Techwin gas-turbine engine into the remaining compartment space. This is capable of producing 100 horsepower (75 kW), and intended to act as an auxiliary power unit with which the tank may power its on-board systems when its main engines are turned off. It will also allow the tank to conserve fuel when idling and minimise the vehicle's thermal and acoustic signatures.

The vehicle can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters using a snorkel system, which also serves as a conning tower for the tank commander. The system takes approximately 20~30 minutes to prepare. The turret becomes watertight while fording, but the chassis can take in 500 gallons of water to prevent excessive buoyancy from air inside the vehicle and keep the tracks planted firmly on the ground. Furthermore, the tank can enter combat-ready status as soon as it resurfaces. It is said that K2's predecessor, K1, can cross a river of 2 meter depth after 2 hours of preparation, which also requires assistance from military engineers. However, a K2 tank does not require outside assistance for river crossing.

The Black Panther fields an advanced suspension system, called the In-arm Suspension Unit (ISU), which allows for individual control of every bogie on the tracks. This allows the K2 to "sit", "stand" and "kneel", as well as "lean" towards one side or a corner. "Sitting" gives the tank a lower profile and offers superior handling over roads. "Standing" gives the vehicle higher ground clearance for maneuverability over rough terrain.[30] "Kneeling" augments the angular range in which the tank's gun barrel can elevate and depress, allowing the vehicle to fire its main gun downhill as well as engage low-flying aircraft more effectively. The suspension unit also cushions the chassis from vibrations when travelling over uneven terrain, as the bogies can be adjusted individually on-the-fly.

Using the suspension system, K2 is able to elevate its main gun up to 24 degrees, which allows a curved trajectory attack at a hovering helicopter target 5 km (3.1 mi) away.[31]

The K2 also has advanced track system called Dynamic Track Tensioning System. Maintaining optimum tension through all maneuvers, it dramatically reduces the chance of throwing a track even in the most extreme situations.

Network-centric considerations[edit]

The K2 houses the following features which help to improve situational awareness for the crew:

  • C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) uplink.
  • GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) uplink.
  • IFF/SIF (Identification Friend or Foe/Selective Identification Feature) system compliant with STANAG 4579. Located on the main gun mantlet, just above the gun, the system fires a 38 GHz beam in the direction of the gun for a response from the targeted vehicle. If a proper response signal is shown by the target, the fire control system automatically identifies it as a friendly.[32] If the target fails to respond to the identification signal, it is then declared as a hostile.
  • Battle Management System (Similar to the Inter-Vehicular Information System used in the United States military) allows the vehicle to share its data with friendly units, including other armored vehicles and helicopters.

Work is also under way to integrate the experimental autonomous vehicle, unmanned wheeled reconnaissance drone into the Black Panther's systems, giving the tank's crew the ability to scout without disclosing its location.

K2 product improvement program[edit]

The K2 PIP is an improved version of the initial production model of the K2 that will be released within the next few years. Improvements will include:

  • Upgrading the Semi-Active In-arm Suspension Unit to an Active In-arm Suspension Unit
  • Integration of a high-resolution terrain-scanning system to the vehicle's suspension system. This is purported to allow the vehicle to "plan ahead" by scanning nearby terrain up to 50 meters away in all directions and calculate the optimal position of the bogies in order to improve vehicle handling over uneven terrain.
  • Integration of a hard-kill anti-missile system.
  • Addition of Non-Explosive Reactive Armor.
  • Potentially replacing the 120 mm / L55 gun with an electrothermal-chemical gun, which will significantly increase the vehicle's firepower and potential payload.[33]

Korean Active Protection System[edit]

The Korean Active Protection System is an indigenously developed hard-kill active protection system designed to protect the K2 from anti-tank threats. It uses a three-dimensional detection and tracking radar and a thermal imager to detect incoming threats. Warheads can be detected out to 150 meters from the tank, and a defensive rocket is fired to destroy them at 10–15 meters away. The system can neutralize rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. It may be installed on other platforms in the future like warships, helicopters, and buildings. Unit price per system is 670 million ($600,000).[34] Implementation of KSAP was cancelled in 2014 due to budgetary issues along price of K2 being at 8 billion won with addition of KSAP would increase procurement of K2 by 1 billion won to 9 billion won.[35]


  • Turkey: After competing against the Leclerc and Leopard 2, the K2 established its first export customer in Turkey. In June 2007, South Korea and Turkey successfully negotiated an arms deal contract worth ₩500 billion (approximately US$540 million) licensing the tank design of the K2, as well as exporting 40 (+15) KT-1 trainer planes to Turkey.[36] On July 30, 2008, South Korea's Hyundai Rotem and Turkey's Otokar signed a contract worth $400 million for technological transfer and design assistance. The technology is to be incorporated into Turkey's own indigenous future main battle tank, dubbed MİTÜP Altay.[37]

In late September 2013, South Korea entered the K2 Black Panther in the Peruvian Army's future tank competition.[38]

In January 2020 Poland announced negotiations with Hyundai for license production of the K2 Black Panther for the Polish Army.[39][40]

Variants and upgrades[edit]

  • XK2: Experimental model.
  • K2: First production variant. 206 units planned to be built starting in 2013.
    • K2 PIP (Product Improvement Program): Upgrading the semi-active in-arm suspension unit (ISU) to an active in-arm suspension unit, integration of a high-resolution terrain-scanning system to the vehicle's suspension system. This allow the vehicle to scanning nearby terrain up to 50 meters away in all directions and calculate the optimal position of the enemy in order to improve vehicle handling over rough terrain. The improvement also might include hard-kill anti-missile system and non-explosive reactive armour (NERA).[41]
  • K2PL: Proposed licensed version of K2 for Polish Armed Forces as a replacement for its aging fleet of T-72 and PT-91 tanks currently in service[39]
  • Altay (main battle tank) - Export variant based on K2 Black Panther, built under ToT by Otokar.[36]


Current operators[edit]

 South Korea

Potential operators[edit]

  • The Norwegian Army is evaluating K2 Black Panther or Leopard 2A7, for a decision in 2022.[43]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]