Artillery: Thunder In The East

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March 28, 2018: South Korea continues to obtain export sales for its K9 “Thunder” 155mm self-propelled howitzers. At the end of 2017 Norway ordered 24 K9s. The $215 million order includes six K10 armored resupply vehicles, tech support, some spares and an option to buy 24 more K9s on the same terms. The first K9s will arrive in 2019 and will replace Cold War era U.S. M109A3 vehicles.

This is one of several recent K9 export sales. In 2017 Finland ordered 48 used (by South Korea) K9s and Estonia later ordered twelve. The largest recent K9 sale was to India, but that one came with a catch. In 2016 South Korea agreed to partner with an Indian firm (L&T) to build a hundred of its South Korean designed K9s for the Indian Army. The K9s will cost about $7 million each and half the work will be done in South Korea while the rest will be done in India by L&T. The Indian Army wanted 100-150 more K-9s but budget problems limit the current deal to 100. Egypt is currently testing the K9 and is inclined to order some in 2018. South Korea also made deals to provide major components of the K9 (mainly the chassis) to Poland and Turkey so they could build a local self-propelled howitzer around it. The Turkish deal included the South Korean turret and gun.

The k9 entered service in 1999 and the South Korean military has ordered over 1,100 K9s since then and is even replacing some of the earlier ones with newly manufactured ones. South Korea also bought 179 of the K10 ammunition resupply vehicles.

While superficially similar to the American M109 the K9 is a heaver (46 tons versus 28 for the M109), carries more ammo and has twice the range (up to 56 kilometers in part because of a barrel that is a third longer). There is more automation on the K9, so it has a crew of five versus six on the M-109. With the K9 South Korea joins Germany in their effort to build a suitable replacement for the elderly M109 design. The chief competitor for the Indian contract was Russia which offered its similar 42 ton 2S19. The K9 won on the basis of technical capabilities, field tests and a South Korean reputation for quality and reliability.

This is all the result of South Korea deciding to become a major weapons developer and exporter. This began in the 1990s after South Korea had become a major economic power and exporter. South Korea has been successful at this although the largest customer remains the South Korean military, which has to deal with the threat from North Korea.

 


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