South Korea has finally found a likely export customer for its new K21 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). Australia is holding a competition for a new IFV and the finalists are the K21 variant, the 42 ton AS-21 Redback and the German Lynx. Both vehicles are similar tracked IFVs. Both are heavily armed and armored. Both weigh about the same (42- tons) and carry a crew of three and eight infantrymen. Both are armed with 30mm autocannon and one or two 12.7mm machine-guns. Three AS-21s and three Lynx will spend several months being tested by Australian troops. The winner of the $15 billion contract to deliver 400 vehicles won’t be announced until 2022. It will be an interesting competition.
Both Lynx and AS-21 are recent designs. In 2009 South Korean troops began receiving the new K21. It was hoped this would be a big export item, but that didn’t happen, yet. The K21 was cheaper (at $3.5 million) than the competition (especially the American M2 and European CV90.) Undeterred, South Korean manufacturers took another look at what potential customers wanted. This is the attitude that made South Korea such a huge success in automobiles, consumer electronics and much else. South Korea has been developing a domestic weapons industry since the 1990s with the intention of meeting their own needs and gaining a lot of export sales.
South Korea found the arms export market different, difficult but not impossible to get into. Progress has been slow and manufacturers have had to adapt. For example, the K21 manufacturer found that the market wanted even cheaper, and less capable (as in “complex”) IFVs. The K21 is a 26-ton vehicle, similar to the 33-ton U.S. M-2. The K-21 has a crew of three and carries up to nine troops in the back. The two-man turret carries a 40mm autocannon, with 200 rounds, as well as two ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) launchers and a coaxial (with the 40mm) 7.62mm machine-gun. Top speed is 70 kilometers an hour.
The big difference between the K21 and M2 is weight, and that is mainly because the chassis of the K-21 is made of fiberglass. This material is as strong as metal, but much lighter. Armor protection of the two vehicles is equal. The K21 armor can stop 14.5mm bullets and most artillery fragments. It is vulnerable to 152mm shells exploding closer than 10 meters, but at that distance, the blast effect alone would do serious damage. Like the M-2, the K21 carries an extensive load of electronics, for fire control, navigation and diagnostics. The K21 designers learned from other recent IFV designs and attempted to improve on their best characteristics. The K21 costs less than $4 million each. But the K21 is not expected to have much more protection from roadside bombs than the M2. This may prove to be an intractable problem, given that the MRAP gets its protection from its V shaped underside, specific design elements that cannot be incorporated in a vehicle like the K21.
In response to the lack of export sales the K21 manufacturer (Doosan) realized that it also made cheaper IFVs which it exported for peacekeeping and internal security duties. These were doing quite well in the export market. One Doosan model, the 18 ton, 8x8 Black Fox was even modified to carry the turret from the K21. This, in effect, creates a wheeled armored vehicle carrying light artillery (a 40mm autoloading cannon). This weapon fires up to 300 rounds per minute, at speeds of 1,000 meters per second (3,100 fps). The anti-tank round can penetrate up to 220mm of armor. The 40mm can also fire a multipurpose shell, where the gunner can select proximity (exploding close to a target), air burst (exploding above the ground), as well as armor-piercing or fragmentation effect. The Black Fox has a crew of three and carries nine passengers. Fox was built in the hopes of snagging domestic or foreign sales and it, and similar Doosan wheeled armored vehicles, have done just that. But Doosan found that cheaper was always an easier sell so vehicles like Black Fox also come in cheaper (and lighter) 6x6 versions.
The German firm Rheinmetall builds the new Puma IFV for the German Army and some export customers. Rheinmetall privately developed (without government support as with the Puma) the similar, but more exportable, Lynx. What makes the Lynx different is a more flexible design that can appeal to a wider number of export customers. All the features of the Puma, and much more besides, are available for Lynx. Unlike the Puma, the Lynx is available in two chassis sizes. The smaller KF31 can carry three crew and six passengers while the KF41 has a more powerful engine and carries eight passengers. Each has a turret which can be equipped with 30mm or 35mm autocannon plus a 7.62mm machine-gun. The KF31 has a top speed of 65 kilometers an hour and the KF41 is 70 kilometers an hour. Each model can be equipped with a wide variety of electronics and different degrees of armor protection. The weight of these vehicles can range from 30 to 44 tons. The lighter models are based on the slightly smaller KF31 chassis. Both models can be configured as IFVs, recon vehicles, command vehicles, ambulances or vehicle recovery (tow and repair).
The idea behind Lynx was that the popularity of the Puma among its German units would not always translate to many foreign customers. The first of 350 Pumas was delivered to the German Army in 2015 and all will be delivered by 2020 or 2021. Puma replaces 2,000 Cold War era (1970s) Marder IFVs. Puma contains lots of innovations, many of them suggested by Marder users. The basic model has a remote (from inside the vehicle) control turret equipped with a new 30mm automatic cannon. This type of system has worked well in Iraq, where it was widely used in American vehicles. The Puma armor protection comes in three levels. The basic level results in a 29.4-ton vehicle that protects against artillery, heavy machine guns (up to 14.5mm) and RPG rounds. There's a 31.5 ton and 43-ton version. The Germans have settled on the 31.5-ton version as the standard. This one gives all round protection from 14.5mm machine-guns, and some protection from 30mm rounds.
The Puma's 30mm cannon can fire computer-controlled shells that will detonate inside of buildings or over troops taking cover behind a wall or in a trench. The 30mm cannon can fire up to 200 rounds a minute, and has a range of 3,000 meters. The vehicle carries 400 rounds of 30mm ammo, and over two thousand rounds for its 7.62mm machine-gun. Optional weapons include a guided missile launcher or automatic grenade launcher. The 30mm gun also has an armor piercing round that is also effective against personnel (FAPIDS-T, or Frangible Armor Piercing Incendiary Discarding Sabot - Tracer). The Puma has a crew of three (commander, gunner and driver) and carries up to eight infantrymen (or cargo) in the rear troop compartment. The Puma is also "digital." Noting the success, the U.S. Army has had with equipping their armored vehicles with "battlefield Internet" communications equipment, the Germans did the same with Puma. The Puma is 7.4 meters (24 feet) long and air conditioned. Top road speed is 70 kilometers an hour.