K9 Thunder

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K9 Thunder
K-9 자주포 (7445556056) (2).jpg
South Korean K9 Thunders in 2010
TypeSelf-propelled artillery
Place of origin South Korea
Service history
In serviceK9: 1999–present
K9A1: 2018–present
Used bySee Operators
WarsBombardment of Yeonpyeong
Production history
DesignerAgency for Defense Development
Samsung Aerospace Industries
Designed1989–1998
ManufacturerSamsung Aerospace Industries (1999–2000)
Samsung Techwin (2000–2015)
Hanwha Techwin (2015–2017)
Hanwha Land Systems (2017–2019)
Hanwha Defense (2019–present)
Turkey Turkish Land Forces (2001–present)
Poland Huta Stalowa Wola (2017–present)
India Larsen & Toubro (2018–present)
Australia Hanwha Defense Australia (2024)
Unit cost4 billion KRW (for the ROK Armed Forces)[1]
ProducedK9: 1999–2018
K9A1: 2018–present
No. built1,700 (2020)[2]
VariantsK10 ARV
T-155 Fırtına
AHS Krab
Specifications
Mass47 t (combat)[3]
Length12 m
Width3.4 m
Height2.73 m
Crew5 (Commander, Driver, Gunner, 2 Loaders)

Maximum firing range18 km (M107, HE)
30 km (M549A1, HE-RAP)
36 km (K310, BB/DP-ICM)
40 km (K307, BB/HE)
54 km (K315, HE-RAP)

ArmorPOSCO MIL-12560H armor steel
Main
armament
Hyundai WIA CN98 155 mm 52 caliber, 48 rounds
Secondary
armament
12.7 mm (.50 caliber) K6 HMG
EngineSTX Engine STX-MTU MT881Ka-500
8-cylinder water-cooled diesel engine
735 kW (1,000 hp) @ 2,700 rpm
Power/weight21.3 hp/t
TransmissionSNT Dynamics X1100-5A3
4 forward, 2 reverse
Suspensionhydropneumatic
Operational
range
360 km
Maximum speed 67 km/h

The K9 Thunder is a South Korean 155 mm self-propelled howitzer designed and developed by the Agency for Defense Development and Samsung Aerospace Industries for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and is now manufactured by Hanwha Defense.[3] K9 howitzers operate in groups with the K10 automatic ammunition resupply vehicle variant. The entire K9 fleet operated by the ROK Armed Forces is now undergoing upgrades to K9A1 standard, and a further development of a K9A2 variant is in process.

Development[edit]

In 1980s, the ROK Armed Forces came in need of new artillery system to contest North Korean equipment. The armed forces operated M107 self-propelled gun and K55 self-propelled howitzer; however, they had shorter firing range compared to M-1978 Koksan and were outnumbered by various North Korean artillery. With the success of designing and manufacturing KH178 105 mm and KH179 155 mm Towed Howitzer, and experience gained by license producing K55 (KM109A2), the Ministry of Defense ordered to develop new system that has longer firing range, faster firing rate, and high mobility. The development started in 1989 and was led by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Samsung Aerospace Industries (now Hanwha Defense).[4]

The ADD first offered upgrades on existing K55, inspired by the United States' M109 Howitzer Improvement Program (HIP), but was rejected by the Republic of Korea Army. As a result, the ADD determined to create new weapon system and worked on conceptual model till 1991. Early concept requested by the military includes river crossing capability and installation of M61 Vulcan as anti-air weapon, which were removed due to unnecessity for such long-range weapon.[4]

In 1992, the Ground System Division of United Defense LP (now BAE Systems Land and Armaments) invited members of the ADD for its first M109A6 Paladin release ceremony and expressed interest in participating Korea's self-propelled howitzer program by upgrading K55 to Paladin standard, which was rejected by South Korea.[5]

By late 1990s, internal review showed localization of 107 out of 235 (45.5%) technologies required to build the artillery. After the review, South Korea decided to continue developing domestic main system, main gun, 155 mm ammunition, fire control system, structure, and autoloader. On the other hand, engine, transmission, and INS (inertial navigation system) were chosen to be imported from foreign partners, and license produce hydropneumatic suspension to boost up localization by 70%. The engineers faced biggest challenge on designing main gun and suspension due to lack of experience; while licensing the K55, its main gun was brought as finished product and suspension was produced under knowledge base from the United States.[5]

The turret servo electrohydraulic system is derived from that of K1 MBT. Automatic fire control system enable rapid aiming, faster shooting, and improved accuracy.[6] Originally, Air-Log hydropneumatic suspension, which was being used for British AS-90, was chosen for test for license produce, but failed to absorb shock from much bigger 52 caliber gun. Later, South Korea developed domestic hydropneumatic suspension and sold to Britain.[7]

A total of two prototypes were built and performed first open trial in 1996. During the test, the prototypes succeeded to fire distance of 40 km and 6 rounds per minutes but failed to fire three rounds in 15 seconds.[8] On 5 December 1997, one of prototypes was damaged by fire after testing 18 rounds in 3 minutes due to failing complete combustion, which resulted death of one researcher among three wounded.[9] However, damaged prototype's internal system survived the fire, thus was repaired for further use. Two prototypes fired a total of 4,100 rounds and underwent 13,800 km mobility tests including extreme temperature conditions and various terrains such as ski courses during winter season.[1][6] The localization rate reached 87% by the end of the development.[10]

The contract for the K9 artillery system was awarded to Samsung Aerospace Industries on 22 December 1998.[11] The first vehicle was rolled out on 17 December 1999, and was fielded to the Republic of Korea Marine Corps in Yeonpyeongdo.[9][10][12]

General characteristics[edit]

K9 is welded with 20 t of MIL-12560H armor steel developed by POSCO for K2 Black Panther project,[13] which can withstand explosion pressure and fragments from 155 mm HE rounds, 14.5 mm armor piercing rounds, and anti-personnel mines all around. The vehicle can protect crews from CBRN warfare using air purification system.[3] The power pack consists 1,000 hp STX-MTU MT881Ka-500 MTU Friedrichshafen engine licensed by Ssangyong Heavy Industries (now STX Engine)[14] and Allison Transmission X1100-5A3 transmission licensed by Tongil Precision Machinery Industries (now SNT Dynamics),[15] and is installed on state of the art hydropneumatic suspension chassis. Driven by Firstec driving system,[16] the 47 t vehicle has max speed of 67 km/h, and is capable of operating in various terrain conditions including desert, snow, jungle, and mountains.

The main armament is CN98 155 mm 52 calibre artillery gun manufactured by Kia Heavy Industry (now Hyundai WIA),[17] and has a maximum firing range of 40 km using K307 base bleed ammunition. Assisted by semi-automatic feeding system, fire control system, and the Battalion Tactical Command System (BTCS), the vehicle can achieve the maximum rate of fire from burst of 3 rounds in 15 seconds, with a choice to land shells in multiple rounds simultaneous impact (MRSI) mode, followed by 6 to 8 rounds/min for the first 3 minutes, then 2 to 3 rounds/min for sustain fire. The vehicle can shoot-and-scoot by ready to fire in 30 seconds when stationary or 1 minute during move, then relocated to different position in 30 seconds to increase survivability from enemy counter-battery attacks.[3]

K10 ARV (Ammunition Resupply Vehicle)[edit]

K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle

The K10 ARV is an automatic resupply vehicle based on K9 platform, sharing most of the components and characteristics. Its concept study started in November 1998 by Samsung Aerospace Industries and Pusan National University. Its designing began on 14 February 2002 by Samsung Techwin (previously Samsung Aerospace Industries), the ADD, and the DTaQ (Defense Agency for Technology and Quality), and the army declared its completion on 4 October 2005. The first vehicle rolled out on 20 November 2006, with a price tag of 2.68 billion KRW, and was assigned to the 1st Artillery Brigade of the Republic of Korea Army. South Korea became the first nation to operate such type of military equipment.[18][19][20][21]

The vehicle has a combat weight of 47 t,[22] and can support a team of K9 by carrying and resupplying 104 shells of 155 mm artillery ammunition and 504 units of charges under heavy fire. Vehicle is operated by 3 crews, requiring only one loader by applying fully automated control system, and transfers ammunition at a maximum speed of 12 rounds/min. It takes 37 minutes to fully load, and 28 minutes to empty K10.[19]

The K10 AARV (Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicle) is an enhanced protection variant of K10 ARV. The first of its kind will be produced in Australia as AS10.[23]

Operational history[edit]

In October 2003, the K9 Thunder was evaluated by Spain at the military base located in Zaragoza.[24]

In 2004, the K9 was sent to Malaysia to test its operation capability in tropical rainforest environment.[24]

In the same year, KRCMI (Korea Research Center for Measuring Instruments) developed doppler radar calibration system, which gave significant increase in accuracy by lowering the impact error from 0.1% to 0.05%.[25][26] Using the new technology, the ADD and DST (Davit System Technology) launched joint project for domestic MVRS (muzzle velocity radar system). On 18 September 2007, DST announced the development of model MVRS-3000, increasing both performance and localization of the vehicle.[27][28]

In September 2010, a major issue regarding the engine was brought up by the defense committee. According to the report, a total of 38 K9 experienced engine cavitation since 2005. Initial investigation prior to the discussion suggested that the use of 3rd party manufactured antifreeze may caused the engine cavitation;[29] however, using the recommended TK-6-03-01012 antifreeze did not solve the problem, suggesting that the antifreeze is not the cause of the issue.[30] One of the defense committee mentioned that the Turkish T-155, which uses identical mobile system but has APU (auxiliary power unit) installed, never reported such case.[31] The military decided to go for further study by closely monitor how antifreeze affects the engine, and test the APU when the vehicle is in idle.[32] Installing APU on K9 was discussed during its development phase, but was not adapted for mass production.[33]

North Korean artillery attack near misses K9 Thunder, igniting fire on charges placed outside of the vehicle during training exercise.

The K9 Thunder saw its first combat during the bombardment of Yeonpyeong on 23 November 2010. The howitzers operated by the 7th Artillery Company of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps were tasked to counterattack after receiving surprise artillery bombardment from North Korea. Prior to the attack, four howitzers were on scheduled firing exercise, and two were remained in the fortified position. One of the vehicle experienced a shell stuck in the barrel due to misfire from faulty charge. After the firing exercise, some crews left the vehicle while remaining members opened all hatches while waiting for the disabled gun to be fixed.[34] Every vehicle always carries 20 shells of HE and flare combined for rapid response.[35] The marines on the island operate AN/TPQ-37 radar since mid 2010 due to increasing threats from North Korea.[36] However, the handful of radar was not suited to cover the long fortified North Korean coastline that marines are facing.[37]

Three out of four vehicles participated in the exercise received damages from initial surprise attack; shrapnel from near hit explosions damaged internal parts via open hatches, erupting fire on one vehicle by hitting the charge stored inside, but none of the vehicle suffered crew casualties. The attack also disabled main power station of the base, shutting off the radar temporally. After relocating to fortified position, the marines responded with three K9, including one damaged vehicle, to predesignated positions at Mudo as they were unable to locate North Korean artillery positions. K9s were able to employ counter-battery fire only after restored radar detected North Korean artillery positions at Kaemori from the second wave of incoming attack. Another K9 joined the fight after switching to manual firing mode, increasing the number to four.[34] Additional and different type of ammunitions were supplied by hands at the gun emplacements.[35]

On 19 May 2011, the K9 performed direct firing for the first time.[38][39]

On 9 February 2012, the DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) launched arms localization project, which includes K9's INS.[40] On 18 May 2012, Doosan DST was selected for the domestic INS development.[41] The plan to apply domestic INS on K9 was later changed to license produce in 2015 while domestic models are being used for K21 and K30.[42]

On 10 October 2013, Daeshin Metal became the major parts supplier for Allison Transmission in making X1100-5A3 as an offset trade, further increasing localization. Applicated transmission will be equipped starting on the 10th and the 5th batch production of K9 and K10 respectively.[43]

On 2 March 2015, South Korean military announced that Samsung Techwin is developing driver's safety system as a consequence of an accident resulted death of an operator on 24 January. Under the safety system, the turret rotation automatically stops if the driver's hatch remains open and is at the dangerous angle to the driver. The feature can be turned off if necessary.[44]

On 2 September 2015, another offset trade was signed between Honeywell Aerospace and Navcours. Under the agreement, Navcours will license produce and service TALIN (Tactical Advanced Land Inertial Navigator) 5000 INS, which is already being used in K9 and K55A1, for domestic use, and supply Honeywell Aerospace as well.[45]

In May 2016, K9 test fired JBMoU (Joint Ballistics Memorandum of Understanding) compliant HE-ER ammunition in Sweden successfully, reaching 43 km in distance.[24]

In August 2016, K9 was tested by the UAE military. The vehicle managed to drive on the desert at max speed for one hour nonstop without any malfunction.[1]

On 18 August 2017, a K9 operated by the 5th Artillery Brigade of the Republic of Korea Army was set ablaze during firing exercise, claiming 3 deaths and 4 wounds among crew members and instructors. After the investigation, it was found that the faulty spring caused the hammer to detonate prematurely, pushing the explosion into the vehicle before the breech is fully closed, and set fire on the additional charges, which was taken out from the rack for the next firing. Entire K9 operated by South Korea underwent inspection during the investigation. The Republic of Korea Armed Forces responded with installation of black box, AFSS (automatic fire suppression system), reinforced maintenance, and providing flame-resistance uniform to crew members.[46]

In May 2018, ABC (Automatic Bore Cleaner) model RB-155 by SDI (SooSung Defense Industries) was adapted for South Korean K9. The automatic cleaner provides efficiency in maintenance by requiring one person to operate 20 minutes to clean the barrel, with incomparable result compared to conventional cleaning.[47][48]

The production and the delivery of the K9 Thunder ended in June 2018. The factory will continue to produce the model as K9A1 variant. The first new variant was fielded to the 5th Artillery Brigade of the Republic of Korea Army on 22 August 2018.[49]

On 13 November 2020, the DAPA announced that entire K9 delivered to the Republic of Korea Armed Forces is now in full operational capability, ending the K9 Thunder program for the South Korean military.[50]

On May 7 2021, Hanwha Defense announced cooperation with Australian company HIFraser in supplying AFSS for AS9 and AS10 for Australia. HIFraser will start to assist Korean company DNB Co in delivery of AFSS to Korean operated K9 as well.[51]

On May 29, 2021, the K9 Vajra-T has been deployed to the Ladakh region as tensions grows between China and India on territorial dispute.[52]

K9A1[edit]

On 19 September 2011, the Defense Committee addressed issues regarding K9 Thunder's FCS (fire control system), noting that its computer and OS (operating system) are discontinued and outdated, thus increasing related logistics cost by 70% over past 3 years, which India expressed same concern. The first produced 24 K9s are equipped with i386 and rest are with i486; DOS is installed on both type. On the other hand, Samsung Techwin argued that both processor and OS are widely used in the military including newly produced weapons—older CPUs are more durable, and DOS has lower failure rate.[53] However, the military determined to launch FCS upgrade program starting in 2013 for both logistics and Australia's request.[54][55] On 11 October 2013, the DAPA announced future plan for K9 upgrade along with new extended range ammunition starting in 2014.[56] On 24 December, the DAPA awarded Samsung Techwin as a main provider for K9 upgrade program.[57] On 12 August 2014, Hanwha and Poongsan are selected as preferred bidder for new extended ammunition used for both K9 and K55A1. Two companies will compete to win the project.[58]

On 18 August 2017, the DAPA announced approval of mass production of upgraded K9. K9A1 upgrades include automatic FCS, combining GPS system to INS, improved driver's night periscope with thermal frontal camera, rear view camera, and driver's safety system. The 8 kW auxiliary power unit is provided by Tzen, in collaboration with German company Farymann Diesel.[59] A1 standard also allows to shoot new extended range ammunition.[3] Each vehicle will receive upgrades during its overhaul starting in 2018.[60] The first K9A1 joined the Republic of Korea Army on 22 August 2018.[61]

In July 2019, Hanwha was removed from new ammunition project due to unsatisfactory result, making Poongsan as a sole bidder.[62] In November 2020, new extended range ammunition by Poongsan was accepted for service after years of tests. New ammunition combines BB (base bleed) with RAP (rocket assisted propulsion), reaching 54 km with HE or 45 km with DP-ICM. The manufacturing will start in 2022, and will be operational by 2023.[63][64] Poongsan is also working on different types of ammunitions such as POM (PARA - Observation Munition) and GGAM (Gliding Guided Artillery Munition) since 2013 and 2014 respectively.[65]

Details of K9A1 upgrade:[66]

  • Installation of APU : APU allows vehicle to react and fire without running the main engine, thus reduces fuel consumption. Crew members can operate without being exposed to the engine noise. Since the engine no longer stays idle, the cost for engine maintenance was reduced.
  • Enhanced driver's system : Driver's night periscope is changed from image intensifier to FLIR, and can be viewed from the monitor. Rear view camera is also installed. Driver's safety system disables turret to rotate at a certain angle when driver's hatch is open; however, the feature can be turned off if necessary.
  • GPS : By combining INS and GPS, the vehicle can locate itself more precise and faster by complementing each other, which also results increase in accuracy.
  • Enhanced FCS : Computer and OS are upgraded, and additional software such as field manual is installed. FCS is fully automated by using electronic fuse setter and ammunition management system. New FCS also occupies less space, and programmed for new extended range ammunition (54 km).

K9A2[edit]

In May 2016, the DAPA announced the concept for a robotic howitzer at the international artillery conference held in the United Kingdom. The DAPA then launched several projects consisting insensitive charge, better rifling of the main gun, and fully automated loading system. The upgraded K9 will have longer range, faster firing rate, and reduced crew members—similar capabilities of the United States' XM2001 Crusader.[67]

On 15 September 2020, the DAPA launched a project for indigenous engine for the vehicle. The project is expected to cost ₩75 billion over period of 5 years.[68] On 31 May 2021, STX Engine was selected as the winner after competing against Doosan Infracore.[69] STX Engine will receive technology transfer and assistance from the British Ricardo plc in designing the new engine.[70]

In September 2021, the ADD and Hanwha Defense completed the development of high-response artillery automation system started in 2016. The new system is essential for future remote controlled variant, and will enable fully automated loading system including charges and fuse set—increasing the fire rate by 1.5 times.[71]

Details of K9A2 upgrade:

  • Enhanced main gun : New rifling will increase barrel life from 1,000 rounds to 1,500 rounds, longer range, and allow faster firing rate.
  • High-response artillery automation system : Key feature of A2 and future A3 upgrade. Reduces crew number from 5 to 3 by installing fully automated autoloading system, which increases firing rate from 6 to 8 rds/min to 9 to 10 rds/min.
  • Composite rubber track : Provides crew comfort by reducing vibration, noise, and lesser required maintenance. Reduced weight also improves vehicle's operational range. The material has lower fatality compared to metal to surrounding soldiers when receiving attack.
  • Enhanced armor : Anti-tank mine protection. Similar to AS9 Huntsman standard.

Exports[edit]

Turkey[edit]

Turkish variant T-155 Fırtına

On 19 May 1999, the Ministry of National Defense of South Korea ordered its military attaché in Turkey to arrange a presentation for K9 Thunder. On 29 April, Samsung dispatched its sales team, and had a meeting with high ranking Turkish officials including assistant secretary of defense and director of technology. Despite showing interest in K9 Thunder, there was no business deals made as Turkey was planning to produce German Panzerhaubitze 2000 at that time. Another meeting was held on 4 October between Atilla Ateş, commander of the Turkish Land Forces, and military attaché Colonel Go regarding K9 production in Turkey and solution for import restriction on MTU Friedrichshafen engines by German government. As Turkey's plan to build PzH2000 eventually became halted by Germany, South Korea and Turkey signed MOU to strengthen military and defense cooperation on 18th of November.[72][73]

On 12 December, Turkey sent a team of military general and engineers to Korea to inspect K9 Thunder. Satisfied with the performance, Turkey cancelled its plan to find replacement from Israel, and decided to manufacture K9 Thunder. On 19 February 2000, a technology evaluation team consisting members of the Agency of Defense Development and Samsung was sent to Turkey, and inspected various Turkish companies and facilities including Turkish 1010th Army Factory, MKEK, and Aselsan to optimize manufacturing process of K9 in Turkey. On 4 May 2000, the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea and Turkish Land Forces Command signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to supply 350 K9 systems till 2011.[10][72][74]

However on the same day the MOU was signed, Germany informed South Korea that Germany will not allow sales of license produced MTU engines to Turkey due to its political reasons, thus possibly cancelling the project. To solve the issue, Korea prepared for British Perkins Engines, which was already been examined for K9 during early designing phase, and negotiate with Germany in meantime. On 29 May 2000 during ministerial talks, South Korea asked Germany to permit sales of MTU engines, or it may experience hardship in purchasing German equipment for its future needs.[72]

On 20 June, Turkey transferred $3.35 million to build a prototype, and engineers were sent to Samsung Techwin for technical training. Between July to August, parts for the prototype were built and sent to Turkey, and the engineers returned and assembled the vehicle with assistance from Korean counterparts. On 15 December, Germany approved Korea in exporting maximum of 400 engines to Turkey after reaching an agreement with license producing German Type 214 submarine as a winner of the KSS-II program for the Republic of Korea Navy.[75] The prototype was finally equipped with engine, ending the assembly on 30 December 2000, and earned the nickname Fırtına (Storm).[72]

Winter test was held in January and February 2001 at Sarıkamış, and Fırtına was able to operate in snowy mountain terrain without issue. It also went thru firing test in 10 to 23 of March at Karapinar, and summer test at Diyarbakır between April and May. On 12 May, Fırtına took a major part of firepower demonstration, showing its capabilities live on-air as it was needed for military to earn support from people and politicians to manufacture Fırtına amid economic crisis.[72]

A formal contract was signed by Samsung Techwin (formerly Samsung Aerospace Industries) and the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Seoul on 20 July 2001. South Korean government will transfer the technologies belong to the ADD that are used for Turkish variant for free in exchange for Turkey to purchase 350 vehicles—280 for Turkish Land Forces and 70 for its future customer—by 2011, which the total is expected to be $1 billion. The first batch of 24 T-155 consists $65 million worth of Korean subsystems.[72][74][76][77] The Turkish model was named T-155 Fırtına. Hanwha Defense has generated more than $600 million from Turkey since then,[1] much lower than expectation from 2001 since Turkey only produced 280 units as well as its effort to increase localization gradually by indigenous research and from technology transfer.

Poland[edit]

Polish AHS Krab using K9 chassis at Arms and Security 2017 exhibition

In 1999, the same year Poland joined the NATO, it launched a military program named Regina Project to replace its Soviet-era gears with the NATO standard 155 mm artillery system. The British BAE Systems was chosen by Poland for technical cooperation to build a new design. Later, the plan was changed to use modified AS-90 turret and combine with UPG-NG chassis from domestic company Bumar to shorten the development schedule.[78]

However, the UPG-NG chassis experienced series of issues during trial. The chassis was unable to support its 20 t turret by failing the shock absorption from 155 mm 52 caliber weapon system, often breaking and cracking the parts. In addition, the factory that has been producing S-12U engine for the vehicle was closed down, causing major discrepancy in logistics even before the mass production stage. In 2008, after four years since the prototype was revealed, Polish Ministry of Defense warned Bumar to fix the issue by 2014, otherwise it will look for foreign partner instead. Bumar failed to meet the ROC (required operational capability), thus K9 Thunder platform was chosen for the weapon project.[78]

On 17 December 2014, Samsung Techwin signed a cooperation agreement with Huta Stalowa Wola to supply K9 Thunder chassis for AHS Krab self-propelled howitzer. The deal is worth $310 million for 120 chassis, which includes related technology transfer and the power pack. From 2015 to 2022, 24 units will be manufactured in South Korea, and 96 will be license produced in Poland.[79] First chassis rolled out on 26 June 2015, and all 24 vehicles produced in Korea left for Poland as of October 2016.[80] HSW will begin producing K9 chassis starting in 2017.[81]

Finland[edit]

K9 in Finnish Defence Forces' Flag Day parade

On 1 June 2016 at KDEC (Korea Defense Equipment & Component) industry fair, two nations signed a MOU for defense cooperation including export of used K9.[82] In July 2016, the Finnish Ministry of Defence announced that an undisclosed number of used K9s have been selected to be acquired from the Republic of Korea.[83] The acquisition is claimed to be biggest of the decade for the Land Forces, whose both mobile and towed artillery face mass outdating in the 2020s.[84] In September 2016, K9 was field tested in Finland, and Seppo Toivonen, the commander of the Finnish Army, visited South Korea to inspect operating units during 2016 DX Korea.[85] On 25 November 2016, two countries signed MOU to supply 48 used K9 for $200 million and match equal amount of free technology transfer related to vehicle maintenance.[86]

On 17 February 2017, the Ministry of Defense announced that Finland will acquire 48 used K9s over a period of seven years starting in 2018, with conscript training on the equipment commencing in 2019.[87] On 2 March 2017, final contract of value of €145 million ($160 million) was signed by two governments in Seoul, South Korea.[88]

On 21 October 2021, Finnish Ministry of Defense authorized exercising option to purchase 10 additional units including spare parts and supplies—5 in 2021 and another 5 in 2022—for €30 million, increasing the fleet size to 58 vehicles.[89][90][91]

The Finnish designation of the howitzer is K9FIN Moukari (Sledgehammer).

India[edit]

Indian K9 SPH at Ladakh during 2020–2021 China–India skirmishes

On 25 March 2012, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh signed MOU to strengthen the economy and military exchanges.[92] On 29 March 2012 at DEFEXPO, Samsung Techwin and Larsen & Toubro announced their partnership to produce the K9 Thunder in India. As per the agreement, Samsung Techwin will transfer key technologies, and the vehicle will be manufactured under license in India using 50 per cent of the domestic content such as FCS and communication system.[93]

Two units of K9 were sent to Thar Desert, Rajasthan for firing and mobility test, and competed against Russian 2S19. Operated by Indian military personnel, the K9 fired 587 Indian ammunitions including NUB round and drove a total distance of 1,000 km. Maintenance test was conducted at Pune, EMI (electromagnetic interference) test at Chennai, and technical environment test was held in Bengaluru until March 2014. K9 Thunder achieved all ROC set by Indian military while the Russian counterpart failed to do so.[1][24] Hanwha Techwin (previously Samsung Techwin) later told in an interview that the Russian engine performance dropped when the air density is low and in high temperature, the placement of the engine also resulted in the center of the mass located at the rear, making the vehicle difficult to climb high angles. On the other hand, K9 was benefitted from automatic control system of the engine, providing the optimum performance based on given condition automatically—this was one of the decisive reason why India selected K9 over 2S19.[94]

In September 2015, the Indian Ministry of Defense selected Hanwha Techwin and Larsen & Toubro as preferred bidder to supply 100 K9 Vajra-T to the Indian Army after K9 outperformed 2S19 Msta-S and passed two-year trial.[95] On 6 July 2016, India agreed in purchasing 100 K9 Vajra-T for $750 million.[96] On 29 March 2017, Indian government approved budget of $646 million for purchasing 100 K9 Vajra-T.[97] A formal contract of $310 million was signed between Hanwha Techwin and Larsen & Toubro at New Deli on 21 April. Hanwha Techwin will supply first 10 K9 Vajra-T, and 90 will be license produced in India by Larsen & Toubro.[98]

K9 Vajra-T consist 14 major Indian manufactured systems, 50 % of component by value, which include NUB ammunition capable FCS and its storage, communication system, and environment control and NBC protection system. Additional systems were installed such as GPS (Gunner's Primary Sight) for direct firing capability, and South African APU, which was proven for desert operation—Korean APU was under development phase during Indian trial. The vehicle's overall design was modified to suitable for operating in desert and high temperature condition, including the change of firing rate to 3 rounds in 30 seconds.[24][94][99][100][101]

The 100th vehicle was delivered to the Indian Army on 18 February 2021, completing the contract ahead the schedule.[102]

In May 2021, it was reported that India's Defence Research and Development Organisation is working with Larsen & Toubro on a light tank using the K9 chassis with 105mm or 120mm gun system to counter China's Type 15 tank. The light tank variant was opted out as the estimated vehicle weight exceeded 30 t, limiting the places to operate.[103][104]

The Indian Army is planning to order an additional 40 K-9 Vajra-T from Larsen & Toubro as of 2021 after completion of high altitude trials at Ladakh under cold climatic conditions.[105] India is also looking to export the K9 Vajra-T variant to third countries in collaboration with South Korea and industry partners.[106] After satisfactory performance at high altitude terrain, Ministry of Defence (MoD) is getting ready to place repeat order of 200 K9 Vajra-T worth ₹9,600 crore.[107]

Norway[edit]

In May 2015, Samsung Techwin joined Norwegian artillery upgrade program, competing against KMW Panzerhaubitze 2000, Nexter CAESAR 8x8, and RUAG M109 KAWEST to replace M109Gs with 24 new systems.[108] A single K9 was sent to Norway to join the competition. Operated by sales team, the vehicle went through tests between November 2015 to January 2016.[109] During January winter test, K9 was the only vehicle that managed to drive through meter-thick snow field and fire its weapon without any issue while competing vehicles experienced engine troubles or broken parts. In addition, K9's engine was able to maintain heat overnight by simply covering the area with tarpaulin, thus allowing the engine to ignite without failure next day at -40 °C. Also, the hydropneumatic suspension became a huge advantage for mobility as its mechanism melted snow on mobility parts much quicker. The test result also impacted Finland and Estonia, whom were invited to observe performances for their artillery replacement, to acquire K9.[1][110]

On 24 August 2016 the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency published their intention to continue negotiations with Hanwha Techwin and RUAG, while Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter Systems had been put "on hold". Unnamed sources in the Norwegian Army had previously stated that the K9 was a leading candidate in the competition.[111]

On 20 December 2017, a contract of $230 million was signed between Hanwha Land Systems and Norwegian Ministry of Defense for supplying 24 K9 Thunder and 6 K10 ARV by 2020. K9 outperformed competitors in various weather and terrain conditions according to Norwegian military officials during trials.[112]

Norwegian variant was named K9 VIDAR (Versatile InDirect ARtillery system), and is based on K9A1 configuration. It differs from K9A1 by changing the BTCS to Norwegian ODIN fire support system and radio communication systems for the NATO operation. It also mounts gunner's sight for direct firing, and installed spall liner for additional protection. [24][113][114] Norwegian company Kongsberg participated in upgrading K9 for Norway, Finland, and Estonia; the company will partner with Hanwha Defense again for Australia's AS9 program.[115]

Estonia[edit]

Estonia was invited by Finland in teaming up for the procurement of K9 to reduce the purchase cost for both nations. Benefitted by group buying, the test data of K9 was provided and shared to Estonia by Finland with approval from South Korea.[116] In February 2017, Estonian military officials visited South Korea for price negotiation; Estonia is expected to purchase 12 K9s for $50 million.[117]

On 26 June 2018, Rauno Sirk, the director of the Estonian military procurement agency, announced that Estonia will buy K9 Thunder howitzers. Hanwha Land Systems will supply 12 used K9s, parts, and training for €46 million, similar contract to that of Finland.[118][119] On 24 October 2019, Estonian Ministry of Defense announced that it will exercise the option to purchase 6 additional K9 from the previous contract, with an estimated value of €20 million.[120]

On 4 August 2021, Estonian Centre for Defense Investment (RKIK) signed €4.6 million contract with Hanwha Defense and GoCraft in modernizing 24 K9 Kõu, hinting 6 more purchase for its inventory. The upgrade involves communication system, FCS, painting, fire suppression system, and electronics.[121][122]

Australia[edit]

1 June 2005 in Australia, the defense ministers of the two nation held a meeting and discussed about trading opportunities involving K9 Thunder and Australian 5 inch naval gun ammunitions.[123] On 3 August 2009, it was reported that consortium of Samsung Techwin and Raytheon Australia was on upper hand for Australia's Land 17 artillery replacement program by becoming a sole bidder as Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the manufacturer of Panzerhaubitze 2000, did not respond in providing detailed offering proposal that Australia requested.[124] The vehicle was sent to Australia, and was evaluated by Australian military starting in April 2010. The test included firing M982 Excalibur, a requirement which the K9 satisfied. The Australian variant AS9 was expected featuring the NATO standard FCS, the BMS-F (Battlefield Management System - Fires), the RWS (Remote Weapon System), and anti-tank mine protection. The hydropneumatic suspension was also enhanced to support its increased weight.[24]

In June 2010, K9 became the preferred bidder for the LAND 17 program; however, the project budget was redirected for restoration due to the floods in Queensland in 2011, which led to the cancellation of the project in May 2012.[1][125][126]

On 14 May 2019, in the lead-up to the 2019 Federal Election, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, announced that 30 K9 howitzers and associated support equipment, including ten K10 ammunition resupply vehicles, would be acquired for the ADF. No time frame has been given for the purchase.[127]

On 3 September 2020, the Minister for Defence, Linda Reynolds, announced a request for tender to locally build 30 K9s under the Land 8116 Phase 1 Protected Mobility Fires requirement. The sole-source request for tender will be released to the preferred supplier, Hanwha Defence Australia, to build and maintain 30 K9s and 15 K10s, as well as their supporting systems. These will be built at Hanwha Defense Australia's Geelong facility. Australian variant AS9 Huntsman is based on Norwegian K9 VIDAR. It will retain the options offered in 2010 with up-to-date modifications.[128]

On 12 October 2021, Hanwha Defense approved the welding samples by an Australian company K-TIG. K-TIG will support in manufacturing AS9 and AS21 Redback in Australia.[129]

On 13 December 2021, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) of Australia and Hanwha Defense Australia signed a formal contract of producing 30 AS9s and 15 AS10s under license at Hanwha Defense Australia facility in Geelong, Victoria; the facility, which is included in the contract, will begin its construction in Q2 2022. The CASG and the DAPA also signed MOU for defense cooperation of two countries. The estimated value of the deal is $788 million, and the manufacturing is expected to start in Q4 2024.[130][131][132]

Ongoing sales[edit]

Egypt[edit]

In 2010, K9 was evaluated by Egyptian military to replace its aging artillery fleet. However, the deal was delayed as Egyptian government requested reduction on technology transfer fee, which the Korean government had the ownership not the company. The negotiation stopped as regional instability due to Arab Spring caused Egyptian government to postpone the project indefinitely.[1]

In April 2017, it was reported that Hanwha Techwin was in negotiations with Egypt to export its K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer.[133] A K9 howitzer was sent to Egypt in July, and performed test-firing at a range located at west of Cairo in August. K9 Thunder will be competing against four other artillery systems from France, Russia, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia.[134][135]

On 10 October 2021, two nations discussed the sales of K9 Thunder. The estimated value of the deal is $2 billion including training of technicians.[136] In the same month, the Egyptian minister of military production visited Hanwha Defense and Hyundai WIA facility to see the manufacturing process of K9 Thunder and K2 Black Panther respectively.[137] Two parties met again at the EDEX 2021 including the President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for discussion of export of the howitzer.[138] Egypt is looking for license producing the howitzer.[139]

United Kingdom[edit]

K9 will join Mobile Fires Platform (MFP) program starting in 2022 to replace Britain's AS90 with K9A2 variant.[140]

Failed bids[edit]

Denmark[edit]

K9 Thunder participated in a bid against Nexter Systems CAESAR 8x8 and Soltam Systems ATMOS 2000.[141] On 14 March 17, CAESAR 8x8 was chosen by Danish military.

Variants and upgrades[edit]

  • XK9: Experimental prototype. 2 built.
  • K9 Thunder: First-production variant.
    • T-155 Fırtına: Turkish self-propelled howitzer based on the K9. Manufactured and assembled by Turkish Land Forces using subsystems imported from South Korea. Turret is modified to store additional ammunition, but increasing combat weight in return. The vehicle has APU installed, but lacks commander's panoramic sight.
    • AS9 "Aussie Thunder": Offered Australian variant of the K9 in 2010. It featured enhanced FCS, BMS-F, RWS, and anti-tank mine protection capability. The suspension is also upgraded to support increased weight.
    • AHS Krab: Polish self-propelled howitzer, uses the K9 chassis and power pack. Chassis is license produced by Huta Stalowa Wola.
    • K9 PIP: K9 upgrade plan noticeably adding APU, upgraded FCS. The upgrade later evolved into K9A1 with additional modifications.
      • K9 Vajra-T (Lightning): Indian variant of the K9. Manufactured by Larsen & Toubro under license. Gunner's sight is installed specifically for direct fire capability. Customized for desert operation and alpine operation.[142]
      • K9FIN Moukari (Sledge-hammer): Finnish variant of the K9. Formerly used by the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and refurbished with upgrades.
      • K9 Kõu (Lightning): Estonian variant of the K9. Formerly used by the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and refurbished with upgrades.
  • K9A1: First enhanced variant for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Added APU, GPS navigator, driver's thermal periscope, rear surveillance camera, and improved fire control system. A1 upgrade also allows to use new extended range ammunition, increasing its firing range.[143] First K9A1 rolled out and is in service of the Republic of Korea Army since 2018. All K-9 operated by the ROK Armed Forces will be upgraded to A1 or future variant by 2030.
    • K9 VIDAR (Versatile InDirect ARtillery system): Norwegian variant of the K9A1 with Norwegian subsystems and better protection.
      • AS9 Huntsman: Australian variant of the K9. Its an upgraded version of K9 VIDAR standard with additional armor package and enhanced suspension. New chassis design resembles AS21 Redback in appearance.[144]
  • K9A2: Under development. A2 variant will be operated by three crews (two in emergency) with new turret design featuring full auto-loading system, increasing fire rate to 9-10 rounds/min. Mine protection capability is also increased, composite rubber track will replace the conventional, and optimize resupplying capability with K10. The vehicle can be remotely controlled from the BTCS (Battalion Tactical Command System). Expect to be released in 2022.[1][140] Also known as K9A2-1 to differentiate from 58 caliber variant.
    • K9A2-2: 155 mm 58 caliber variant of K9A2. Proposal stage only.
  • K9A3: Fully automated and unmanned K9A2 The development is scheduled to finish by 2025, and expect to be in service by 2027.[1]
  • K10 ARV (Ammunition Resupply Vehicle): Automatic resupplying vehicle for K9 Thunder using the same chassis.
    • K10 VIDAR (Versatile InDirect ARtillery system): Norwegian variant of the K10.
  • K10 AARV (Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicle): Enhanced protection variant of K10 ARV.
    • AS10: Australian variant of the K10 AARV. Similar configuration to AS9.[144]
    • AS10C2: Suggested protected Command & Control Post variant based on AS10.

Operators[edit]

Map with K9 operators in blue and parts or subsystems operators in cyan
 Australia

Australia will build 30 AS9 'Huntsman' self-propelled howitzers and 15 AS10 AARVs under license at Geelong.[145]

 Estonia

On 26 June 2018, Estonia signed an agreement with South Korea for the procurement of 12 used K9 self-propelled howitzers, with a reported option for 12 additional artillery systems. The agreement also includes training, maintenance and spare parts. Deliveries to start in 2020. The purchase of an additional 6 howitzers was announced in October 2019.[146][147][148]

 Finland

The Finnish Defence Forces announced on 17 February 2017 that they will buy 48 used K9s, with the deliveries starting in 2017.[149][150]

 India

10 units were bought from South Korea and assembled by L&T in India and were handed over to the Indian Army during Defexpo 2018. Remainder of the 100 were produced by Larsen & Toubro for the Indian Army as K9 Vajra-T.[151] As of February 2021, all 100 units have been delivered.[152] 200 more units also ordered.[153]

 Norway

Norway has selected the K9 Thunder to replace the M109A3GNM SPHs that have been in service since the 1960s. 24 K9 and 6 K10 have been purchased, with an option for another 24 K9 and additional K10. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2019.[154][155][156]

 Poland

120 K9 chassis will be produced as part of the AHS Krab program.[157][158] 24 were built in Korea, and 96 are produced under license in Poland.

 South Korea

Total of 1,136 K9s and 179 K10s were produced for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces from 1999 to 2017. Transferred vehicles for sales were compensated with newly produced batch between 2018 and 2019 as K9A1 configuration. On 13 November 2020, DAPA announced that K9 howitzer program for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces is officially completed; all vehicles are in full operational capability.[159] An estimated 1,300 K9/A1 and K10 are operated by the Army and the Marine Corps. All K9 are in process of upgrading to K9A1 or future variant by 2030.

 Turkey

Turkey originally planned to produce 350 T-155 Fırtına by 2011 under agreement with South Korea—280 for Turkish military and 70 for export.[72] Turkish Land Forces operates 280 T-155 Fırtına.

Future operators[edit]

 Egypt

It's reported on December 22, 2021 that Egypt could sign an agreement with South Korea to produce the K9 under license.[160]

Related developments[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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