Korean Tanks Rolling Into Global Market
Hyundai Rotem Set to Produce K2s, Upgrade K1A1s
For those countries hoping to deploy state-of-the-art "luxury" battle tanks but wary of high prices, Hyundai Rotem, a South Korean rolling stock and defense manufacturer, is the bearer of good news ― an upgrade of the K1A1 tank.
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 Black Panther new main battle tank, Park Ju-Hee, a general manager of Rotem's Defense System., told The Korea Times.
The digital command-and-control system allows the vehicle to share its data with friendly units, including other armored vehicles and helicopters, on a real-time basis, he said.
Park Kyung-deuk at the firm's overseas export bureau said, "The envisaged K1A1 upgrades will attract much attention from those nations that want to have up-to-date digital battle tanks but have difficulties doing so due to budgetary restraints.
The upgraded version will perform better than the exiting K1A1 but lower than the K2, he said, adding, "That is, customers will have another option to buy a network-centric advanced tank with economical price."
"Such a lineup of South Korean tanks, in accordance with requirements, is expected to help boost the K-series tanks' exports to a great extent," the official noted.
A few Southeast Asian and South American nations have already shown keen interest in the new variant of the K1A1, Park said.
Works to improve the performance of the K1A1, a modified variant of the K1 tank, will start after the production of the K1A1 for the South Korean Army is completed soon, he said.
"When the K1A1 tanks' depot maintenance begins, upgrade works will be implemented in connection with maintenance," said Park. "Once the new K1A1 derivatives are deployed in the field, the Army's combat power will increase significantly through joint operations with the K2."
Other improvements will include an identification friend or foe (IFF) system that fires a Ka band beam for a response from the target. If a proper response signal is shown by the target, the fire control system automatically identifies it as friendly. Otherwise, it is declared as hostile.
An air conditioning system was not included in the original upgrade requirements, but Hyundai Rotem, for its part, is investing money to develop an air conditioning system for the K1A1, Park Ju-hee noted, with hopes nations in hot regions will buy the vehicle.
The firm hopes that a recent opening of an inter-agency center to help facilitate defense sales overseas could help the export of K1A1 tanks in the coming years.
Member agencies of the center are the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the Ministry of National Defense, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).
The company was created in July 1999 in the merger of the railcar divisions of Daewoo Heavy Industries & Construction and Hyundai Mobis, the rail systems manufacturer widely known as Rotem.
In 2001, the merged company became an affiliate of Hyundai Motor Group after Hyundai took over Daewoo's share.
Before the deal, Hyundai Group's defense manufacturing was handled by another subsidiary, Hyundai Precision, established in 1964.
K2 Black Panther
The K2, unveiled in 2007 with the rollout of three prototypes, is one of the most advanced main battle tanks in the world.
Field trails began in July after fitting the vehicle with a domestically-developed "power pack" comprised of a 1,500-horsepower, 12-cylinder diesel engine and transmission. The power pack was developed and manufactured by Doosan Infracore and S&T Heavy Industries.
Following more tests until next June, Hyundai Rotem will produce 390 units for the South Korean Army beginning in 2011 to replace K1 and aging M48 Patton tanks.
The K2 carries a three-person crew supported by an autoloading system and a locally developed 120-millimeter/55-caliber stabilized smoothbore gun. The fully digitalized vehicle has an electric gun/turret driving system, automatic sensor input and power monitoring & control system.
The K2 also provides a function of real time data communication between inter and intra vehicle personnel under the C4I digital command-and-control system. With the driver's front and rear view camera, any obstacle can be easily detected in front or back.
It is equipped with an active protection system against anti-tank guided missiles as well as composite armor and explosive reactive armor to maximize its survivability.
Its 1,500-horsepower engine can power the tank to 70 kilometers per hour on paved roads and 50 kilometers per hour off-road. It can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters, a considerable improvement over the K1 and K1A1, and fire as soon as it resurfaces.
It can climb 60-degree slopes and vertical obstacles as high as 1.3 meters. The K2 is able to "sit," "stand," "kneel" and even "lean" sideways using in-arm suspension units.
The K2 product improvement programs 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; integration of a hard-kill anti-missile system; and the addition of non-explosive reactive armor.
Among Hyundai Rotem's other defense systems are 8x8- and 6x6-wheeled armored vehicles, the K1 armored recovery vehicle, a military heavy equipment transporter and combat robot systems.
The K1A1, which entered service with the South Korean Army in 2001, has a crew of four, including 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 rifled gun, and is loaded manually.
It has an improved gun/turret drive system and a ballistic computer for 120-millimeter ammunitions.
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 useful in mountainous terrain. The tank can ford water obstacles up to 2.2-meters deep after being equipped with a deep wading kit. A mine-clearing roller also can be fitted with the vehicle.