Armor: South Korean Tank of Tomorrow


July 3, 2023: South Korean firm Hyundai Rotem has designed a new main battle tank called the K3. Current K2 tanks used by South Korea are based on the American M1. The K3 is more similar to the Russian T-14, which the Russians promoted as the tank of the future. The T-14 did not work. Its engine had persistent problems as did many electronic systems essential to the T-14’soperation. Hyundai is aware of this and taking its time to get things right. The first working K3 prototype won’t be available until 2030.

The K3 design is similar in many ways to the T-14. K3 is a 55-ton tank with a three-man crew (commander, gunner and driver) operating from inside a heavily protected capsule underneath the turret, which is unmanned and uses an auto-loader. The K3 turret is designed to also handle the 130mm gun proposed as a replacement for the current NATO-standard 120mmm smoothbore cannon. The turret also contains a 12.7mm machine-gun that is usually operated by the gunner but can also be operated by the tank commander. There is an APS (active protection system) to defend against anti-tank rockets and missiles. There is supposed to be a system for detecting anti-tank mines and roadside bombs which have been a major source of tank losses for nearly a century.

The K3 will have numerous video cameras and other sensors installed on the external hull. The armor itself is to be an improvement on the current composite design. The external sensors give the crew a 360 degree view of what’s outside the tank day or night. The crew may use special visors for their helmets that display the outside view on the visor. This sort of thing is already in use. Communications systems also use the latest tech, which may include anti-jamming capabilities. The K3 has a top road sped of 70 kilometers an hour and up to 50 kilometers off-road. On roads, K3 range is 500 kilometers. There will also be a smaller auxiliary power generator to enable the main engine to be shut down while there is still sufficient power to keep all the electronics and air-conditioning operating.

There was a similar, in some ways, new 35-ton PL-01 light tank developed by Poland and Britain back in 2013. The PL-01 worked but was not competitive with the Leopard 2 or M1.

K3 developers learned much from the flawed development of the similar Russian T-14 design, which was meant to be a major improvement on the current T-72. T-14 development began over a decade ago and was supposed to be ready for combat by 2020 at the latest. That did not happen because of a growing list of problems. The worst was an unreliable engine and many of the electronic systems still have significant problems. Costs also increased to the point where it was no longer affordable. T-14 has not been in combat and is too expensive to purchase in large quantities.

The 48-ton T-14 is a radical new design that appeared quite impressive but has so far proved too complex and too expensive to mass produce. Mass production was supposed to have started in 2015 but technical problems and shrinking defense budgets halted that until 2020 when covid19 restrictions again delayed production until 2022. The war in Ukraine meant further delays. Russia has fewer than thirty development and pre-production T-14s which have been undergoing field tests with tank units since 2016. The T-14 has a three-man crew and a fully automated turret with the three crew all in an armored capsule under the turret.

The T-14 relies on a lot of new techs, some more advanced than any other Western tank has installed. Getting all that tech to work reliably has been a major problem. Getting all these problems fixed has made the T-14 more expensive, at about $4 million each. That’s twice what the reliable T-72B3 costs and Russian combat commanders and crews will have to be convinced that the T-14 works and is not just as reliable as the T-72B3, but also better at surviving in combat. Mass production to build less than two hundred more T-14s was supposed to begin in 2022. The Russians considered sending some T-14s to Ukraine but the list of known and potential defects made it obvious that T-14s in combat would be an embarrassment. There are major problems with the engine and electronics and now Russia can’t afford the money needed to deal with those problems.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close