K1A1 main battle tank
By Jung Sung-ki
The Ministry of National Defense is considering installing air conditioning systems in K1A1 battle tanks by 2012, ministry officials said Sunday.
The move comes after The Korea Times reported last Thursday that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had ignored a request by the Army and tank developer Hyundai Rotem in 2007 that the air conditioning system be installed in the tank.
The JCS argued at that time that the cooling system ``doesn't affect field operations much, and soldiers should overcome such a difficulty in the field.''
Criticism was growing about the military's attitude at a time when it is pursuing ``advanced'' armed forces with improved service conditions and weapons systems.
Tank operators said they sometimes suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke on extremely hot days.
``At that time, the military failed to consider the installation of air conditioning systems because of space and budgetary problems,'' a spokesman for the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) told The Korea Times. ``We'll review the plan through cost-effectiveness analysis and make a decision.''
The spokesman said a key task will be whether the size of air conditioning equipment can be reduced to fit in the tank.
``Hyundai, for its part, is said to be developing an air conditioning system for the K1A1, so we will cooperate with the company on this problem if needed,'' he added.
With the air conditioning system, the spokesman noted, the outside temperature of a tank would be lowered by 1 degree centigrade and the inside temperature by 5 degrees.
Tank experts say the temperature will be lowered much more, given air conditioning equipment usually reduces the humidity of the air too.
More importantly, air conditioning equipment can be used as NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) protection systems, so soldiers will not have to wear the heavy MOPP (mission oriented protective posture) gear in NBC warfare training exercises.
Most high-end tanks in service are equipped with air conditioning equipment, a basic operational requirement. The indigenous K2 Black Panther tank, which will begin service by 2012, will also have the system.
The air conditioning system is also a key consideration in hot-weather Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern nations showing interest in the upgraded K1A1 and K2.
Delegates from Thailand, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia expressed interest in the K1A1 upgrade plans during the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition in October, according to the DAPA and Hyundai Rotem.
The upgrades will focus on equipping the tank with the C4I (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence) network-centric battlefield management systems already applied to the indigenous K2 tank.
The digital command-and-control system allows the vehicle to share data with friendly units, including other armored vehicles and helicopters, on a real-time basis.
The modification work is scheduled to start in 2012 after the production of the K1A1s has been completed.
The K1A1, which entered service in the South Korean Army in 2001, has a crew of four, comprising of a commander, gunner, loader and driver.
Powered by a turbocharged 1,200 horsepower, the K1A1 is armed with a 120-millimeter smoothbore gun. It has twice the penetration power of the previous 105-millimeter weapon and is loaded manually.
It has an improved gun/turret drive system and a ballistic computer for accuracy.
The tank is also fitted with a 7.62-millimeter coaxial machine gun, and two more machine guns are mounted on top of the turret roof.
In high gear, the K1A1 can attain a maximum road speed of about 65 kilometers per hour and travel 500 kilometers without refueling.
It also has day/night hunter-killer capability. A hybrid of hydropneumatic and torsion-bar suspension allows the vehicle to ``kneel'' and increases the main gun depression angle.
This feature is particularly useful in mountainous terrain. The tank can ford water obstacles of up to 2.2-meters after being equipped with a deep wading kit. A mine-clearing roller can also be fitted to the vehicle.