K2 Black Panther (Hangul: K2 '흑표', hanja: K2 '黒豹') is a Korean main battle tank that will replace the M48A5K Patton tanks and complement the K1 series of main battle tanks currently fielded by the Republic of Korea. Full-scale mass-production is currently under way.
Although the K1 and K1A1 were considered more than adequate to counter opposing North Korean tanks, most of which are obsolete and aging Soviet-era equipment such as the T-34 and the T-54/55, development was started in 1995 to create and field a new main battle tank with heavy emphasis on using domestic technologies. The intent was to further modernize the South Korean military and allow the vehicle to enter the export market without pressure from foreign nations due to licensing issues.
The Agency for Defense Development (Hangul: 국방과학연구소), or ADD, was given the task of developing a modern armored fighting vehicle with state-of-the-art technology. The design was finally deemed production-ready in 2006, following 11 years in development and a research budget expenditure of approximately US$230M.
Two major designs were under consideration during development: one fitted with a manned turret, and another fitted with an unmanned turret. The latter was scrapped in favour of the former at the early design stage. It was also originally planned for the K2 to field the experimental 140 mm smoothbore gun developed by German arm manufacturer Rheinmetall. This plan failed to materialize following Rheinmetall's decision to stop development due to the lack of foreseeable threats that their latest gun, the 120 mm / L55, could not defeat. The K2's gun was subsequently reconfigured to the L55, along with necessary modifications for ammunition capacity. The vehicle is, however, capable of mounting the 140 mm gun with minimum modifications should the need arise. The gun's autoloader is similar to the French Leclerc.
The Black Panther reached its production phase on March 2, 2007, when the first of the three production models rolled out of the assembly line in Changwon, South Korea. At that time, several media sources speculated that the K2's main gun was a L52 (6.24 m) main gun similar to the one used on the Leclerc. This was incorrect as the K2 uses a L55 (6.6 m) main gun.
The following agencies and companies are known to have participated in the development and manufacturing process of the K2 Black Panther:
- Agency for Defense Development (Hangul: 국방과학연구소): Main development of the project.
- Doosan Infracore Corporation (Hangul: 두산인프라코어): Developing and manufacturing the main engine for the vehicle.
- Doosan Mottrol (Hangul: 두산모트롤): Electric Gun/Turret Drive (EG/TD), oil pressure system, etc.
- Hanwha (Hangul: 한화): Combustible cartridge cases for main gun ammunitions.
- Hyundai Rotem (Hangul: 현대로템): Main supplier of the vehicle.
- LS Mtron (Hangul: LS엠트론): T-156 tracks.
- Poongsan (Hangul: 풍산): Ammunitions such as the K276 (APFSDS-T), K277 (HEAT-MP-T) and so on.
- S&T Heavy Industries (Hangul: S&T대우): Developing and manufacturing the transmission for the vehicle.
- Samsung Techwin (Hangul: 삼성테크윈): Providing vetronics and other components, including the gas-turbine auxiliary power unit.
- Samsung Thales (Hangul: 삼성탈레스): Responsible for the vehicle's IFF system, Driver's Thermal Periscope (DTP), Gunner's Primary Sight (KGPS), Commander's Panoramic Sight (KCPS), Fire Control System, etc.
- World Industries Ace (Hangul: 위아): Manufacturing the armaments of the vehicle, notably the 120 mm / L55 gun.
Mobility and maneuverabilityEdit
The Black Panther features a 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW) 12 cylinder diesel engine (more powerful than the 1,200 horsepower (890 kW) engines of the K1 series of tanks), developed and manufactured by Doosan Infracore Corporation. Transmission was developed and manufactured by S&T Heavy Industries. The powerpack was not ready for service during early stages of prototype testing, and the MTU-890 was used as a temporary measure until the domestic powerpack could be manufactured. The new engine will be similar to the MTU-890.
The K2 can travel at speeds of up to 70 km/h on road surfaces, and maintain speeds of up to 52 km/h in off-road conditions. It can accelerate from 0 to 32 km/h within 7 seconds. It can also climb 60 degree slopes and vertical obstacles 1.3 meters in height. Due to the relatively compact design of the engine, the designers were able to fit an additional gas-turbine engine, developed by Samsung Techwin, which also provided many of the electronic components for the vehicle, into the remaining compartment space. It is capable of producing 100 horsepower (75 kW), and intended to act as an auxiliary power unit with which the tank may power its onboard systems, even when its main engines are turned off. It will also allow the tank to conserve fuel when idling and reduce the vehicle's overall 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 30 minutes to prepare. The turret becomes watertight while fording, but the chassis can take in 440 liters (116 gallons) of water to prevent excessive buoyancy from air inside the vehicle and keep the tracks planted firmly on the ground. This is a considerable improvement over the K1 and K1A1, as those vehicles were only able to cross rivers up to 2.2 meters deep. Furthermore, the tank can enter combat-ready status as soon as it resurfaces.
The Black Panther fields an advanced suspension system, called the In-arm Suspension Unit (ISU). The K1 series currently uses a hybrid package of torsion bars in conjunction with a Hydropneumatic Suspension Unit (HSU). The ISU, which is installed on every bogie on the tracks, allows them to be individually controlled. Thus, the K2 will be able not only to "sit", "stand" and "kneel", but to "lean" towards a side or a corner as well. "Sitting" gives the tank a lower profile and offers better handling over roads. "Standing" gives the vehicle higher ground clearance and allows it to have better maneuverability over rough terrain. "Kneeling" increases the amount of angle that the tank's gun barrel can elevate and depress, which allows the tank to fire its main gun downhill and give it greater ability to engage low-flying aircraft. The new suspension unit also gives the tank an advantage when traveling on uneven terrain as the bogies can be adjusted on-the-fly to lessen vibration, as well as being lighter and simpler to maintain than the HSU.
The K2's main armament is an indigenous L55 120 mm smoothbore gun, developed under license by ADD and manufactured by World Industries Ace Corporation. It also deploys a 12.7 mm K-6 heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. The ammunition for the main gun is loaded in a 16-shell magazine, with a total ammunition capacity of 40.
The autoloader enables the tank to fire up to 15 rounds per minute, or one round every four seconds, without being affected by the gun's angle. It has recently been confirmed by GIAT that the K2 autoloader's design is derived from that of GIAT's Leclerc. Despite the similarity of the two autoloaders, many of the components of the two designs are not interchangeable.
The K2's primary anti-tank munition is an indigenously developed and improved tungsten APFSDS kinetic energy penetrator. This new munition offers significantly greater penetration than the current generation of tungsten rounds through better heat treatment of the tungsten alloy and a technique referred to as the "self-sharpening process". The latter works by making the tungsten core sharpen rather than deform during the penetration of armor. For attacking unhardened targets, the K2 can use a newly designed multi-purpose HEAT chemical energy round, which is 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 KSTAM (Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition) is a top-attack anti-tank munition designed specifically for use with the Black Panther. This projectile is fired in a high trajectory profile comparable to that of a mortar or that of long-range artillery. It should be emphasized that this is not an anti-tank missile—it does not contain any rocket propellant or motors, and travels through the air solely with the kinetic energy applied to it during the initial propulsion from the main cannon. The KSTAM round does, however, house internal guidance and obstacle-avoidance systems, in the form of a small millimeter band radar, IR and radiometer sensors. Should the need arise, it also has a limited ability to be manually controlled via live data link with the launch vehicle. Upon reaching its designated target area, a parachute deploys, giving the onboard radar system and sensors enough time to seek and acquire stationary or moving targets and fire its explosively formed penetrator from a top-down position, offering excellent anti-tank capabilities due to less protection present at top armor of turrets and hulls of tanks. Due to the fire-and-forget nature of these rounds, the launch vehicle can remain concealed behind cover while firing successive rounds towards the known location of an enemy. It can also provide effective indirect fire support against targets hidden behind obstacles and structures. The minimum range of the munition is 2 km, while the maximum range is 8 km.
Fire Control System and OpticsEdit
The K2 will be equipped with a millimeter band radar system, located at the frontal arc of the turret, along with the traditional laser range-finder and crosswind sensor. This will be complemented by an advanced Fire Control System (FCS), that will allow it to track and engage low-flying aircraft with the main gun quickly and accurately, as well as detect incoming projectiles fired at the tank. The FCS is capable of a "lock-on" mode to maintain acquisition of a specific target, with the system calculating, adjusting and updating the target's information constantly, and allowing the tank to fire while moving without significant loss of accuracy. The lock-on mode can acquire and track its target using thermal optics integrated to the FCS up to 9.8 km away.
Another subtle, but significant, feature of the Black Panther's FCS is a built-in trigger-delay mechanism. Other main battle tanks, including the French Leclerc (the closest counterpart to the Black Panther in terms of electronics, sensors and fire control system) can miss their target while moving;, if they open fire at the very moment they hit an uneven terrain feature. The designers foresaw this and compensated by installing a simple mechanism consisting of a tiny laser emitter and receiver linked to the FCS. The laser emitter is installed near the top of the gun barrel, with the receiver being placed at the base. The gun can only be fired when the receiver is precisely aligned with the emitting laser. An example of the mechanism's usage is when the gunner presses the trigger, which is linked directly to the FCS, and the tank comes upon an irregularity on the terrain at the same moment, the laser will find itself off the mark by the sudden shaking and the FCS will delay the round from being fired until the very moment when the laser beam is re-aligned to the receiver again as the barrel shakes up and down repeatedly, where the FCS will automatically fire the gun by itself. This system, combined with an advanced gun stabilizer and fire control system, will significantly improve the tank's ability to hit its target while moving on uneven terrain.
The KGPS (Korean Gunner's Primary Sight) and the KCPS (Korean Commander's Panoramic Sight) are present in the Black Panther as in the original series of K1A1 tanks. The optics system on the Black Panther, however, will be further modified to utilize the advantages of the sensors and armaments offered on the new vehicle.
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, or even a single, crew member. It is speculated that the FCS 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.
Details on the composite armor of the Black Panther are unknown. The frontal armor has been proven to be effective at defeating the 120 mm APFSDS round fired from the L55 gun. Explosive Reactive Armor blocks are also present, with the addition of Non-Explosive Reactive Armor planned for the K2 PIP version (See below).
Defense against incoming missiles is currently provided by a soft-kill anti-missile system. The K2 PIP will likely deploy a hard-kill anti-missile defense system when it is released within the next few years.
The vehicle's millimeter band radar system can double 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. 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 fire off VIRSS grenades in the direction that the beam is coming from.
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.
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. 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 XAV unmanned wheeled reconnaissance vehicle into the Black Panther's systems, giving the tank's crew the ability to remotely scout an area without exposing its position.
K2 product improvement programEdit
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 (NERA).
- Potentially replacing the 120 mm / L55 gun with an electrothermal-chemical gun, which will significantly increase the vehicle's firepower and potential payload.
The prospective cost of a single K2 unit currently stands at approximately ₩8.3 billion Korean won, or around US$6.9 million per unit, as of third quarter of 2010. This is almost twice the current cost of a K1A1, the last batch of which is priced at ₩4.5bn per unit, or around US$3.8M in today's production.
However, it should be noted that manufacturing costs for the K2 will likely decrease once the tank enters mass production and is offered for sale internationally.
After competing against the Leclerc and Leopard 2, the K2 finally 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 design of the K2, as well as exporting 40(+15) KT-1 trainer planes, to Turkey.
On July 30, 2008, South Korea's Rotem and Turkey's Otokar signed a contract worth $540 million for technological and design assistance, also technology transfer of some of the parts of the K2. The technology is to be incorporated to Turkey's own indigenous future main battle tank, dubbed MİTÜP Altay. As of May, 2009, no design details of the Altay tank have been made public. Despite sharing many subsystems with the K2, such as protective armor and main gun, it is expected to feature a different look and have different performance characteristics.
- South Korea- At least 3 prototypes made. The ROK Army is planning to field at least 390 Black Panthers after full-scale mass-production starts in 2010 or 2011.
- ↑ "Korea in Huge Arms Export Deal to Turkey". The Chosun Ilbo. 2007-06-22. http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200706/200706220024.html. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
- KBS news video coverage of K2
- Yonhap News article covering ADD, Doosan and S&T's development of K2's engine
- Defense Technology International - June 2008 - Contains two-page article featuring the Type 10 of the Japan Self-Defense Force and the K2 Black Panther of the Republic of Korea military.
- Korea Defense Acquisition Program Administration Blog - K2 Explanation
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