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This South Korean APC Is A Winner

July 1, 2021
Via South Korean media.

Ten years since its development commenced the ROK Army’s K808 has settled into its role as a dependable wheeled transport for the country’s vast ground forces. This puts it should-to-shoulder with the new generation of Asian wheeled APCs that includes China’s very successful ZBL family and its immediate rival the CM-32/34 from Taiwan. Japan’s own army was ahead of the competition in the 1990s with the Type 96, a model that’s now outdated due to space constraints. This has spurred a fresh attempt at fielding another wheeled 8×8 APC that can fit into the JGSDF’s current emphasis on territorial defense. Refusing to be left behind, North Korea continued pouring resources into wheeled combat vehicles, and the previous year saw the first public appearance of a tank destroyer armed with missiles.

The same trend is apparent in Southeast Asia where Singapore’s own military-industrial sector has succeeded in developing the superior Terrex while Thailand appears to be on the same path. Meanwhile, the rest of ASEAN are adopting wheeled APCs in either 6×6 or 8×8 variants by either acquiring foreign models or the means to assemble them locally. This is the case with Indonesia and Myanmar. The appeal of wheeled APCs are their reliance on widely available automotive parts and the many subsystems they are able to employ. Furthermore, their firepower and protection levels have increased to match those of tracked vehicles.

As for the K808 manufactured by Hyundai Rotem, whose “defense” portfolio includes the impressive K2 MBT and the K21 IFV, its overall characteristics ranks it superior to the US Army’s Stryker. As an 8×8 APC it subscribes to a common layout found among similar models from NATO armies where the engine is located up front next to the driver’s compartment. Its mobility relative to its size and heft is impressive thanks to a 420 horsepower diesel engine (also supplied by Hyundai) and a gross weight of less than 20 tons. This gives it a top speed over smooth roads of 100 kilometers per hour. By comparison, the German-made Rheinmetall Boxer runs on a 700 hp MTU engine and has nearly the same top speed, albeit with a gross weight of 33 tons. The K808, however, is amphibious and a folding trim vane is installed on front of its hull right above the headlamps and two propellers are fitted at the back. When moving across bodies of water it manages 8 km/h.

The choice of armament for the K808, being a single .50 caliber machine gun supplied by S&T Motiv, seems meager considering how the ROK Army is supposed to match North Korea’s KPA. But this was likely done to provide sufficient room for seating nine soldiers who enter and exit from a hydraulic ramp. It’s certainly possible to mount a larger weapon station on the K808 although this negates its role as an APC. Another South Korean manufacturer, Hanwha Defense, can supply an anti-aircraft system with tandem 30mm cannons to create the AAGW Vehicle System. Meanwhile, North Korea’s military-industrial sector have rolled out BTR-series APCs with twin 14.5mm heavy machine guns that are still very potent against soft-skinned vehicles and low-flying aircraft. North Korean wheeled APCs are armed with missiles too and it’s perplexing how come the well-funded South Korean military-indusrial sector overlooked this capability for the K808 when the munitions are readily available.

Other than supplying a turret, Hanwha Defense is also a competitor to Hyundai Rotem with the Tigon–a modular wheeled APC available in either 6×6 or 8×8 variants. The Tigon is recognizable for the sloping glacis at the front of the hull, which is a feature to give the driver a wide enough field of vision. The same is found on many APCs developed in the 2010s such as the aforementioned Rheinmetall Boxer and the Arquus VBCI. This isn’t so evident in the K808 where the front of the hull looms above the ground and is covered in large bolted on armor panels. It seems the Tigon and the K808 won’t serve alongside each other since the ROK Army is comfortable with its choice–variants of the K808 are in production, including a mobile command post.

The K808 and its lighter sibling, the 6×6 K806, are approved for export but no sales abroad have materialized yet. From 2016 onward an undisclosed number of K808’s have joined the ROK Army. Not knowing how many are operational today is surprising given how transparent South Korea’s government is. Besides, wheeled APCs represents a fraction of the branch’s combat transports that includes more than 2,500 tracked APCs (the M113’s and K200) and several hundred IFVs (K21). How many K808’s are in service by 2030 is anyone’s guess but the armed forces’ growing annual budget, which grew from $36.5 billion in 2017 to $45.7 billion in 2020, ensures so much of its inventory is brand new by then.

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