Artillery: The Other K-Pop Does Europe


October 24, 2019: South Korea has been very successful finding export customers for its K9 “Thunder” 155mm self-propelled howitzers. In late 2019 one of those customers, Estonia, ordered nine more K9s. Estonia had already placed an order for twelve but had saved some money in other procurement programs and decided the best use of this extra cash was to buy more K9s. The K9s already ordered in 2018 won’t arrive until 2020. Estonia paid $51 million for the 2018 order. This included training and logistic support while the additional six just ordered will cost about $22 million. Estonian troops have already seen the K9 in action because neighbor Finland bought 48 K9s in 2017 and already has many of them in service. Poland and Norway, two other nations in the region, have also ordered K9s. When Norway originally ordered 24 K9s and six K10 armored resupply vehicles, tech support, some spares they also got an option to buy 24 more K9s on the same terms. The first K9s arrived in 2019 and replaced Cold War era U.S. M109A3 vehicles.

The largest recent K9 sale was to India, but that one came with a catch. In 2016 South Korea agreed to partner with an Indian firm (L&T) to build a hundred of its South Korean designed K9s for the Indian Army. The K9s will cost about $7 million each and half the work will be done in South Korea while the rest will be done in India by L&T. The Indian Army wanted 100-150 more K-9s but budget problems limit the current deal to 100. Egypt is currently testing the K9. South Korea also made deals to provide major components of the K9 (mainly the chassis) to Poland and Turkey so they could build a local self-propelled howitzer around it. The Turkish deal included the South Korean turret and gun.

The K9 entered service in 1999 after ten years of development.  The South Korean military has ordered over 1,100 K9s since then and is even replacing some of the earlier ones with newly manufactured ones. South Korea also bought 179 of the K10 ammunition resupply vehicles. While superficially similar to the American M109, the K9 is a heaver (46 tons versus 28 for the M109), carries more ammo and has twice the range at up to 56 kilometers. This is largely because of a barrel that is a third longer. There is more automation on the K9, so it has a crew of five versus six on the M-109. With the K9 South Korea joins Germany in their effort to build a suitable replacement for the elderly M109 design. The chief competitor for the Indian contract was Russia which offered its similar 42 ton 2S19. The K9 won on the basis of technical capabilities, field tests and a South Korean reputation for quality and reliability.

The K9 and several other exportable weapons systems are the results of South Korea deciding to become a major weapons developer and exporter. This began in the 1990s after South Korea had become a major economic power and manufacturer of its own weapons. South Korea has been successful at this although the largest customer remains the South Korean military, which has to deal with the threat from North Korea.

The  K9 is a  a replacement for the K55, which was a licensed variant of M109. The South Korea design has gained some international interest also in Turkey, and its chassis is used in the Polish AHS Krab howitzer. --- Przemysław Juraszek


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