July 9, 2012: The South Korean Poongsan Corporation, which has long made 120mm tank ammunition for the South Korean Army, is now entering the international market. There are already about ten firms from France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, the U.S., China, and Russia in that market. Russia, China, and some Western firms also make some of their designs available in 125mm (the caliber found in most Russian and Chinese designed tanks).
Poongsan is offering two types of 120mm ammo. One is APDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot). The armor piercing element of discarding sabot rounds is less than half the diameter of the shell and made of very expensive, high density metal. Its smaller size enables it to hit the target at very high speed, up to 1,600 meters a second. This is the most common shell used in modern tanks. An American design, using a penetrator of depleted (nonradioactive) uranium is considered the most powerful available. Composite armor was developed to defeat APDS but is not always successful.
Poongsan is also offering a HEAT (High Explosive AntiTank) round. These have fallen from favor because their success depends on hitting a flat surface on the tank. Modern tanks have few flat surfaces. On the plus side, HEAT shells must be fired at lower speeds, are good at any range, and many are now built with a fragmentation capability to make them useful for anti-personnel work. The Poongsan HEAT shell has the anti-personnel capability.
A third type of shell, multi-purpose (for hurting people, destroying structures as well as penetrating armor) is becoming more popular. But for most armies, APDS is still the most frequently used shell. A lot of Cold War era stuff has reached its shelf life and must be replaced. Poongsan is looking for some of that business by offering high quality and low prices. This is part of a larger effort by South Korean defense manufacturers to build up a larger export business.