February 8, 2011; South Korea has resumed production of its new K2 tank, after a year's delay because of problems with the engine. These problems were first discovered in 2008, but proved more difficult to fix than anticipated. The prototype began testing five years ago, but there were lots of other problems, and delays. Three prototypes have been built, and the numerous delays led to a reduction of the production order from 500 to 380.
The K-2 will replace older American M-48 tanks, and complete the transformation of the South Korean tank force. Two decades ago, South Korea developed, and built, its own K1 tank. The 51 ton K1 is based on the American M1 design, but is somewhat smaller and equipped with the same 105mm gun used by the U.S. M60 tank. The K1 has a 1,200 horsepower diesel, instead of a 1,500 horsepower gas turbine engine in the M1. Production of the K1 ended in 1997, with about a thousand built. There have since been some upgrades to the fire control and communications systems, as well as the development of the K1A1, which has the same 120mm gun as the M1, along with other equipment used by the M1, but not the K1. The K1A1 is apparently part of the K2 development project, as only two K1A1 prototypes were built, and successfully tested.
There were plans to build 300 K1A1s by 2010, but this appears to have changed. The new K2 has an improved 120mm gun, capable of firing an anti-tank missile, as well as the usual gun munitions. The K2 weighs 55 tons and outclasses anything North Korea, Japan or China has. The K2 has a number of new electronic defenses. It will have a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser range finder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This will make the K2 easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men.
South Korea hopes to get a lot of export orders for the K2, and has already signed a deal with Turkey to sell $400 million worth of K2 technology to be used in a new Turkish tank.