Armor: K2 Tanks For Everyone


March 24, 2024: As a result of the Ukraine War, Poland, which borders Ukraine, decided to expand its armed forces and that included purchasing a thousand new South Korean K2 tanks. Most of these tanks will be produced in Poland under license, in cooperation with the South Korean manufacturer that continues to supply some components. This will make Poland the largest user of K2s because the South Korean only have a few hundred of them. Poland will also become the European country with the largest force of modern tanks. This is mainly to deter any Russian attacks on Poland or the neighboring Baltic States.

South Korea’s 400 K2s are enough to deal with any threat from North Korea, which has a tank force consisting of ancient Russian T-62 tanks modified but not much improved by North Korea. North Korea has designed and manufactured a more modern T-2020 tank but could only afford to build nine of them. Whether it is any good or not remains to be seen. During military parades in North Korea, the nine T-2020s are always present.

South Korea is not only much wealthier than North Korea but also a major manufacturer and exporter of industrial goods. That includes modern, South Korean designed weapons. One of the best examples is the K2 Black Panther tank, which compares favorably with the latest version of the American M1. Unlike earlier South Korea designed tanks, the K2 contains no American technology and is a completely South Korean creation. That means the K2 can be freely exported and that has led to over a thousand K2s in production or on order, most of them for export customers. The high quality of the K2 carries with it a high price of over $8 million each. That makes the K2 the most expensive tank in the world.

In 2023 South Korea approved the production of the fourth batch of K2s, giving South Korea a total of 410 K2s. That’s less than the 980 K2s Poland is getting. Poland has a more formidable threat in Russia than South Korea faces from North Korea. While the K2 was a significant investment in South Korea’s defense capabilities against the persistent threat posed by North Korea, it was also a very profitable export item. Poland receives its first 180 K2s in 2025 and begins producing the other 820 in Poland under a manufacturing license.

The K2 was developed by the South Korean Agency for Defense Development and manufactured by Hyundai Rotem. The K2 was introduced in 2014, after over two decades of development. The first model was a 56-ton tank armed with a 120mm NATO compatible main gun, with 40 shells on board. The main gun has an autoloader, which allowed the crew size to be reduced from four to three. The autoloader enabled the K2 to fire ten or more aimed shells a minute. Tank-to-tank combat is usually short and intense. That tank that can fire first and fire the most well aimed shells will win, even against several opponents.

K2 armor includes metal and ERA armor in addition to an APS (Active Protections System) to intercept anti-tank guided missiles 9r ATGMs as well as rocket propelled anti-tank grenades or RPGs. The 12.7mm machine-guns on top of the turret can be operated from inside the tank using RWS (Remote Weapons System) technology. The K2 also includes NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) protection.

The K2’s armament is equally impressive. Its main armament is a domestically produced Rheinmetall 120mm L/55 smoothbore gun equipped with an automatic loader. This gun, compatible with all standard NATO tank rounds, can also launch the advanced KSTAM (Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition) – an intelligent, fire-and-forget projectile.

Secondary armament includes a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. The tank is further enhanced by a domestically developed auto-target detection and tracking system, incorporating hunter-killer functionality. The K2’s electric gun and turret driving system and the stabilization of its gunner’s primary sight and commander’s panoramic sight, enable effective day and night operations.

The K2 also showcases an advanced suspension system that offers multiple positioning options to maximize its combat effectiveness across varying terrains. It has a top speed of 68 kilometers an hour on roads and 40 kilometers an hour cross-country. The tank’s auxiliary power unit enables the tank to remain stationary, waiting for something to happen without keeping the main engine running.

The success of the K2 has attracted other foreign customers like Norway and Egypt. While Norway is purchasing a small number, Egypt is negotiating a co-production deal similar to what Poland has. Egypt has been manufacturing American M1A1 tanks since 992 and 1,340 are in service. The M1A1s are getting old and the K2 appears to be an excellent successor.




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