K2 Black Panther is the Republic of Korea's recently revealed prototype for a next-generation main battle tank. The vehicle was developed by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) of South Korea using foreign and indigenous technology with budget of over $230 million U.S. dollars for the past eleven years since 1995, and will be the successor to the K1 series main battle tanks.
The ROK Army is planning to field approximately 680 Black Panthers when the full-scale mass-production starts in 2011.
Although K1 and K1A1 were more than adequate to counter opposing North Korean tanks, work was started in 1995 to develop and field a newer main battle tank with heavy emphasis on domestic technique to further modernize the South Korean military and allow the vehicle to enter export market without pressure from outside.
ADD was given the task of developing a new main battle tank with state-of-the-art technologies. Over the course of next 11 years and spending approximately USD$230m, the design was finally branded as production-ready. More than 90% of the vehicle's design is domestic. The vehicle is manufactured by Rotem, with Samsung Techwin and World Industries Ace Corporation manufacturing and supplying various parts and equipment of the vehicle.
There were two major designs that were underway, one being fitted with manned turret and another being fitted with unmanned turret. The unmanned turret design was scrapped during the design phase, and the manned turret version completely took over.
The original requirement for the K2's main gun was the experimental 140 mm smoothbore gun from Rheinmetall. This plan, however, fell apart when Rheinmetall halted the research due to the lack of foreseeable threats that their latest gun, the 120 mm / L55, could not defeat for several years into the future, which also led to the K2's gun being changed to the L55 along with the considerations for ammunition capacity. The vehicle is, however, capable of mounting the 140 mm gun with minimum modifications should the need arise.
A few images and videos have been released by the ADD in 2003, providing some insights to what the new tank might be equipped with.
The Black Panther reached its production phase on March 2nd, 2007, when the first of the three production models rolled out the assembly line in Changwon, South Korea.
Upon reaching its production phase, several media sources have mistaken K2's main gun with a 52 caliber (6.24 m) main gun similar to the one used on Leclerc. This is not the case since the K2 uses a 55 caliber (6.6 m) main gun.
Maneuverability and offensive features
The Black Panther features new 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW) engines (up from the 1,200 horsepower (890 kW) of the K1 series), developed and manufactured by Doosan Infracore Corporation and STX Engine Corporation. The engine was not ready for service during early- and mid-stages of prototype tests, and MTU-890 was used as a temporary measure until the domestic engine could be manufactured. The vehicle can travel at speeds up to 70 km/h on surface roads, while being able to maintain speeds up to 48 km/h on off-road conditions. It can accelerate from 0 to 32 km/h within 7 seconds. The engine, being smaller than many other types of engine that generate similar amounts of power, allowed the designers to fit a small gas-turbine engine, produced by Samsung Techwin and capable of outputting 100 horsepower (75 kW), into the space that was left over, which will act as an auxiliary power unit for the tank to power its onboard systems even when its main engines are turned off. It will allow the tank to conserve fuel when idling and reduce the vehicle's overall thermal and acoustic signatures.
The vehicle can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters using a snorkel, which is a considerable improvement over the K1 and K1A1, as those vehicles were only able to cross rivers up to 2.2 meters deep. The tank can enter combat-ready status as soon as it resurfaces. It can also climb 60 degree slopes and vertical obstacles 1.3 meters in height.
Armaments include an indigenous 120 mm smoothbore gun, 55 caliber in barrel length, developed under license by ADD and manufactured by World Industries Ace Corporation (formerly known as Kia Heavy Industries), a 12.7 mm K-6 heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. The ammunition for the main gun is loaded in a 16-shell magazine, with a total ammunition capacity of 40.
The new autoloader enables the tank to fire up to 15 rounds per minute, or one round every four seconds, without being affected by the gun's angle. The autoloader's design is, apparently, taken from GIAT's Leclerc, and was later confirmed by GIAT officials after the vehicle's introduction. However, many of the parts of the two autoloaders, despite having similar exterior looks, are not interchangeable.
The vehicle can fire a variety of munitions using its main gun including, but not limited to, an indigenously developed and improved tungsten APFSDS kinetic energy penetrators, which offer significantly better penetration than the previous generation tungsten rounds, and multi-purpose HEAT chemical energy rounds similar to the American M830A1 HEAT MP-T that can be used against personnel, unarmored and lightly armored vehicles on the ground as well as low-flying helicopters.
Another munition for the tank's main gun is the KSTAM (Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition) rounds, designed specifically for use with the Black Panther. It is basically a top-attack anti-tank munition that is launched from the tank's main gun, launched in similar fashion that one expects from a mortar or long-range artillery with curved trajectory. It should not to be confused with an anti-tank missile—it does not contain any rocket propellants or motors, and travels through the air solely with the energy applied to it during the firing from the main gun. The munition has its own guidance and obstacle-avoidance systems, small millimeter band RADAR, IR, radiometer sensors and EFP. After being fired, the munition will follow its firing trajectory, aided by four fins to stabilize its flight, and travel over to its designated target area, whereupon a parachute will deploy to slow its fall, giving the onboard RADAR system and sensors enough time to seek and acquire stationary or moving targets and fire away its EFP at the top of the target. During the whole time, the launch vehicle does not need to reveal itself at all and can attack its targets while hiding behind cover while firing off multiple munitions, as they are fire-and-forget and attack targets completely independent of input, providing an effective indirect-fire support or countermeasures against targets hidden behind obstacles and structures. The munition can also be manually controlled in a limited fashion by live data link connection with the launch vehicle. The minimum range of the munition is 2 km, while the maximum range is 8 km.
The turret is driven by electrical motors.
The Black Panther will apparently inherit an even more advanced type of the extensive suspension system that the K1 series has, which can "sit", "stand" and "kneel" by adjusting its front, middle and rear bogies. The K1 series currently uses hybrid package of torsion bars and HSU, or Hydropneumatic Suspension Unit. The K2, however, will utilize an ISU, or In-arm Suspension Unit, which is also developed for the up-and-coming XK21 KNIFV, installed on every bogie on the tracks, with every one of them being able to be individually controlled. The new ISU is also lighter and simpler to maintain than the HSU. Thus, the K2 will be able not only to "sit", "stand" and "kneel", but to "lean" towards a side or a corner as well. "Sitting" gives the tank lower profile and offer better handling over roads. "Standing" gives the vehicle higher ground clearance and allows it to have better maneuverability over rough terrain. "Kneeling" increases the amount of angle that the tank's gun barrel can elevate and depress, which allows the tank to fire its main gun downhill—something that very few tanks, if there are any others at all, can do—and give it better ability to engage low-flying aircraft. The new suspension unit also gives the tank an advantage when traveling on uneven terrain as they can be adjusted on-the-fly automatically to lessen the vibration.
The tank will also be equipped with a millimeter band RADAR system, along with the traditional LASER range-finder and crosswind sensor, combined with next-generation FCS, that will allow it to track and engage low-flying aircraft with the main gun quickly and accurately as well as detect incoming projectiles fired at the tank. A "lock-on" mode will be available for the tank's FCS to keep its target locked on to the targeting system, with the system calculating, adjusting and updating the target's information constantly, allowing the tank to fire while moving without any loss of accuracy. The lock-on mode can acquire and track its target using thermal optics wired to the FCS up to 9.8 km away.
Another feature of the Black Panther's FCS is a built-in trigger-delay mechanism. Other main battle tanks, including the French Leclerc, the closest counterpart to the Black Panther in terms of electronics, sensors and fire control system, can miss their target when they fire their gun and hit a slight bump at the same time. The designers foresaw this and compensated it by installing a simple mechanism consisting of a tiny LASER emitter and receiver linked to the FCS. The LASER emitter is installed near the top of the gun barrel, with the receiver being placed at the base. The gun can only be fired when the receiver is precisely aligned with the emitting LASER. An example of the mechanism's usage is when the gunner presses the trigger, which is linked directly to the FCS, and the tank comes upon an irregularity on the terrain at the same moment, the LASER will find itself off the mark by the sudden shaking and the FCS will delay the round from being fired until the very moment when the LASER beam is re-aligned to the receiver again as the barrel shakes up and down repeatedly, where the FCS will automatically fire off the gun by itself. This system, combined with an advanced gun stabilizer, will significantly improve the tank's ability to hit its target while moving on uneven terrain.
The KGPS (Korean Gunner's Primary Sight) and the KCPS (Korean Commander's Panoramic Sight) are also present in the Black Panther, as they have been in the K1A1 tanks. The optics system on the Black Panther, however, will be further improved to utilize the advantages of the sensors and armaments offered on the new vehicle.
The commander of the tank also has the ability to override the command to take control of the turret and gun from the gunner.
An onboard GPS uplink allows the crew to be highly aware of its surroundings. Also included in the package is an environmental sensor that can detect if the tank has entered a hazardous environment.
The tank also has the ability to link up with C4I. No current tanks except Black Panther have the ability to link up with C4I. It also features an IFF/SIF system compliant with STANAG 4579.
Armor and defensive features
Defense against incoming missiles include soft-kill anti-missile systems. The Black Panther is equipped with three all-bearing LASER detection pods, also produced by Samsung Techwin, that indicates from which direction the enemy is illuminating the tank from, as well as LASER and RADAR warning receivers and jammers.
As for the initial version of the K2, it will not contain any hard-kill anti-missile defense system. However, the K2 PIP, which is an improved version of the initial version, is slated to be released within the next few years, and will contain either a pair of anti-missile systems.
The armor on the Black Panther consist of an unknown type of composite armor and an Active Defense System utilizing Explosive Reactive Armor blocks. Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke (VIRSS) grenade launchers also complement the defensive layer of the Black Panther. The K2 also has a Chaff/Flare system for defense in addition to the RADAR Warning Receiver (RWR) and RADAR jammer.
Using the vehicle's millimeter band RADAR system, which can double as Missile Approach Warning System, (MAWS) the vehicle's computer can automatically detect any incoming projectiles, immediately warn the vehicle crews and fire off VIRSS grenades, which can effectively block visual, RADAR and thermal sights, in the direction of the incoming projectile, causing the missile to lose its target and miss while the crews move the vehicle to a safer position. Once the hard-kill AMS is installed, the RADAR system will be responsible for tracking and targeting the incoming missiles for the AMS.
Automatic fire-suppression system is also available to detect and put out any internal fires that might erupt.
The tank is also fitted with Inter-Vehicular Information System, or IVIS for short, for rapid coordination and increased situational awareness between friendly forces.
Work is under way to integrate the XAV unmanned wheeled reconnaissance vehicle into the Black Panther's systems, giving the tank's crew the ability to remotely scout an area without exposing itself.
Unconfirmed report states that, in case of an emergency, the vehicle can be operated by only two, or even a single, crew member. The FCS can automatically spot and track visible targets, compare them using the data link established with other friendly vehicles to prevent redundant target engagements, and fire its main gun without needing any input from a human operator.