Back in June, Seoul approved the production of additional K2 Black Panther main battle tanks.
For roughly $1.5 billion, the new fleet of armored vehicles will join the 260 K2s South Korea has already ordered and received in recent years.
Seoul’s Defense Projection Promotion Committee noted that, “By acquiring additional K2 tanks through this project, [we] expect them to greatly contribute to enhancing the maneuver corps’ capabilities to carry out offensive maneuver warfare.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put an emphasis on the role tanks play in modern warfare.
South Korea’s K2 Black Panther may be the most expensive tank in the world, but it is also perhaps one of the most lethal and capable on the battlefield - some even say it is the best tank on Earth.
Origins of the K2 Black Panther
Seoul’s next-generation MBT evolved from the XK2 program in the early 1990s. South Korea before that time had relied heavily on foreign acquisitions to fulfill its defense needs. In the 1970s, Seoul used upgraded American-made M48 Patton tanks.
Seoul eventually acquired the K1 MBT, which was the American-made M1 Abrams delivered to South Korea, but the South Korean government wanted to increase its indigenous defense manufacturing capabilities. Seoul-based engineers began developing a new operational K1 variant, and they simultaneously began work on a completely new and homegrown prototype. Hyundai Rotem, a Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary, developed the K2 Black Panther for the Republic of Korea Army.
Specs and Capabilities
All of the K2’s design and production processes were localized to South Korea in an effort to reduce dependence on foreign allies and safeguard production in times of war. Armament-wise, the K2 sports a German Rheinmetall CN08 120mm/L55 smoothbore gun that is license-produced in South Korea. Similar to France’s Leclerc MBT, the Black Panther is fitted with an automatic loader, mounted in the turret bustle.
This sophisticated system can instantaneously detect, select, and load the needed type and amount of ammunition. According to Military Today, the maximum rate of fire is 15 rounds per minute, although it is significantly lower in real combat conditions. Sixteen rounds are stored in the autoloader, and the remaining 24 rounds are stored inside the hull.
The Black Panther’s armor design is derived from the tank’s K1 predecessor. As a modular system, engineers can quickly and effectively replace damaged sections, as well as incorporate updated technology as it becomes available. The K2 features explosive reactive armor to supplement its sophisticated armor plating.
The Black Panther is capable of traveling at speeds up to 70 kilometers per hour in good conditions and can maintain speeds of around 52 kph in off-road conditions. As detailed by Defense News, the K2 can climb 60-degree slopes and can surpass vertical obstacles up to 1.8 meters in height.
New units produced in 2023 will “be fitted with a ‘hybrid powerpack’ consisting of the RENK transmission and an engine developed by Doosan Infracore, as the homegrown automatic transmission developed by S&T Dynamics has failed in durability tests,” according to a report released by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
Considering Pyongyang’s increasingly hostile behavior, Seoul’s formidable fleet of Black Panthers may need to be mobilized in the future.
Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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