Tuesday, December 8, 2009

South Korea’s K21 KNIFV

South Korea is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with in the global defense market. Its world-leading shipyards are successfully building and and delivering vessels that include KDX-III AEGIS destroyers and Dokdo Class LHD amphibious assault ships. Its aerospace firms are beginning to see orders from the ROKAF and beyond for trainer (KT-1, T-50) aircraft, are partnering with Eurocopter to create a new medium helicopter (KHP), and will soon offer a compelling lightweight fighter (F/A-50). On land, the indigenous K1A1 tank was followed by the XK-2 “Black Panther,” which was exported to Turkey as the Altay. The K9/K10 mobile howitzer offering is expected to grab a significant chunk of that global market over the next decade. Now, a modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle looks set to round out those offerings.

Doosan is a large Korean conglomerate, whose best known brand is probably Bobcat construction equipment. Other offerings range the gamut, including South Korea’s Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, Doosan Feed agricultural supplies, franchised “Donga” private schools; and the new Doosan DST subsidiary, which manufactures the K21 KNIFV. October 2008 saw the first major order placed, and now the first deliveries have taken place.

K21 KNIFV: Characteristics

The K21 leans toward the light end of the IFV spectrum, at 26 tonnes (about 28.67 tons), thanks in part to a chassis that will reportedly be built out of fiberglass. In addition to weight savings, this may avoid some of the mine lethality problems experienced by vehicles that use aluminum, which quickly becomes molten and creates additional hazards. As a point of comparison, the Bradley M2A3 and its aluminum chassis weigh about 33.5 tons, before reactive armor tiles are added. Doosan states that the K21 can travel at speeds of up to 70 km/h (about 42 mph) on land and 7 km/h (about 4-5 mph) in water, about the same as BAE’s M2 Bradley.

The vehicle is expected to share some systems with its companion, the new K2 Black Panther tank. An improved version of the K21’s D2840LXE V-10 turbocharged diesel engine is expected to equip the K2, and the vehicles are expected to share a semi-active in-arm suspension. Other expected commonalities, aside from standardized C4I equipment like Korea’s chosen battle management system, include an “active defense” system against incoming rockets ad anti-armor missiles. An unspecified armoring system that is expected to use a layered composite made of multiple different materials, but little is known except the fact that Doosan’s goal was a vehicle that could match the survivability of America’s M2 Bradleys and Russia’s BMP-3s. The fuel tanks are reportedly soft and self-sealing, in order to help absorb the impact of a projectile or blast. Automatic fire suppressors and other standard equipment will also be fitted.

Armament will include a stabilized 40mm cannon and coaxial 7.62mm machine gun for fire-on-the-move accuracy, along with the ability to mount 2 anti-tank missiles in a side box launcher. Doosan, which also plans to make missiles, refers to a “third generation Korean-made tank-to-tank missile in the future, which will allow it to attack tanks and helicopters.” That armament will be controlled by a “hunter/killer” arrangement that uses independent sensors and sights for the commander and the gunner, similar to Germany’s Puma IFV and the M2A3/M3A3 Bradley.

Wikipedia reports the current estimated cost of the vehicle at approximately KRW 3.2 billion. Exchange rates fluctuate, but if true, and if that price remains stable, it would be about $2.3 million per vehicle at March 2009 rates.

The firm intends to seek exports around the globe, which means it will compete with BAE’s powerhouse M2/M3 Bradley and CV90 offerings, Russia’s BMP-3, Singapore’s Bionix, and to some extent with Germany’s Puma at the high end of the tracked IFV market. It will also compete indirectly with wheeled APC/IFV options like General Dynamics MOWAG’s Piranha/LAV family, General Dynamics Steyr’s Pandur II, Patria of Finland’s popular AMV, France’s VBCI, and the German-Dutch Boxer MRAV.

Defense Industry Daily


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