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The South Korean K9 Is Dangerously Evolving

March 23, 2022
Via Hanwha Defence.

In February the manufacturer Hanwha Defense announced it landed one of the biggest arms deals for its premier weapon system–the K9 self-propelled howitzer. The Egyptian Army (along with unspecified naval units) are now scheduled to receive K9A1EGY 155mm self-propelled howitzers from late 2024 onward as part of a $1.7 billion contract. The amount is supposed to cover localized assembly in a state-owned enterprise that spans the K9 and its supporting equipment the K10 loader and the K11 mobile fire direction vehicles. The designation of “K9A1EGY” carries an important detail–Egypt is paying for the most advanced variant of the K9 yet.

The original K9 self-propelled howitzer, which is armed with a 52 caliber 155mm gun, was developed 30 years ago to augment the ROK Army’s M109A2/K55 howitzers. An estimated 1,200 are now fielded and they guarantee a long-term deterrent against North Korea’s incursions along the DMZ. (Although North Korea’s KPA did receive a self-propelled howitzer that’s a worthy nemesis to the K9.) From 2001 onward the K9 slowly emerged as a popular alternative for legacy self-propelled howitzers manufactured by NATO allies. Hanwha Defense also beat the competition through generosity; the end user was allowed to assemble the K9’s at a local manufacturing site. In Turkey this led to the Firtina while India assembles it as the Vajra and production lines for both remain active. K9’s have a sizable presence in Europe today with the armies of Estonia, Finland, Norway, and Poland among its operators. More K9’s are going to be assembled in Australia as the “AS9 Huntsman” and another potential operator is the British Army.

The K9A1EGY in particular looks like a superior variant compared to the original. According to Hanwha Defense the K9A1 is a comprehensive upgrade of the weapon system with an emphasis on situational awareness and fully digitized fire controls. A small ruggedized camera mounted on the hull is supposed to improve mobility and navigation while the gun crew have touchscreen displays to monitor their performance and better sights for observing from inside the turret. The K9A1’s turret was also redesigned. Once the ROK Army’s K9’s are rebuilt to the new variant Hanwha Defense will complete the development of the K9A2 that fits a complicated autoloader inside the turret and boasts an improved 52 caliber gun that can strike targets as far as 54 kilometers away.

Hanwha Defense isn’t stopping there. If its promotional media is correct the K9A3 will soon emerge as the world’s most sophisticated artillery weapon. It’s armed with a new 58 caliber gun that fires extended range ammunition that reaches targets within a 100 kilometer envelope. This type of ammunition, vague as it is, seems to be using rocket assisted propulsion integrated with a guidance system for each round. China and Russia are already exporting artillery ammunition with these characteristics but with standard ranges for their calibers. Another bleeding edge feature of the K9A3 is driverless teaming where a single command vehicle directs the movements of a full battery. The K9A3 is supposed to be in production and online by 2030.

Breaking down the Egyptian arms deal worth $1.7 billion for the K9A1EGY is impossible for now. It’s safe to assume at least a hundred vehicles are covered by the stated amount and the majority of them are delivered in kits for assembly. Their adoption by the Egyptian Army in particular will give the branch a slight edge over their neighbors but a serious logistical burden since it maintains more than 4,000 artillery pieces, including US-made M109A5’s, Soviet vintage models in at least five calibers, and a few local innovations on trucks and even tracked chassis. Hanwha Defense’s success in Egypt can portend to other clients in the greater Middle East and North Africa who want best-in-class artillery that isn’t made in the West. If another Arab country orders the K9 it’s quite a feat given the competition from other suppliers who have superb artillery for export.

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