South Korea’s defense authorities on Monday endorsed a plan to upgrade the homegrown K9 self-propelled howitzer to bolster its strike capabilities. The Defense Project Promotion Committee gave the nod to the 2.36 trillion-won (US$1.81 billion) basic plan for the second upgrade project of the K9 scheduled to run through 2027, according to the South Korea Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). The “Block-I” upgrade project seeks to automate the ammunition loading process of the K9’s main gun to reinforce its swift strike capabilities and enhance combat efficiency. DAPA added that the automation is expected to reduce the number of personnel required to operate the self-propelled howitzer and improve the crew members’ safety.
In 2020, the DAPA announced the K9A3 upgrade plan will apply unmanned technology and achieve 100 km shooting distance using gliding ammunition. The DAPA talked about the development of a super long-range cannon and a railgun to be mounted on the next generation of self-propelled howitzers. In September 2022, the ADD began research into increasing the firing range of the howitzer. The new variant is expected to equip a 58 caliber gun, similar to the US Army’s M1299 howitzer and ramjet munitions to achieve a maximum range greater than 80 km. The project is scheduled to be 60 months long, completing in August 2027. In November 2022, the DAPA Committee approved 440 billion KRW between FY2024 and FY2036 to develop and acquire precision guided munitions for the K9 platform.
The K9 Thunder is a South Korean 155 mm self-propelled howitzer designed and developed by the Agency for Defense Development and civil contractors including Dongmyeong Heavy Industries, Kia Heavy Industry, Poongsan Corporation, and Samsung Aerospace Industries for the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and is now manufactured by Hanwha Defense. K9 howitzers operate in groups with the K10 automatic ammunition resupply vehicle variant. The entire K9 fleet operated by the ROK Armed Forces is now undergoing upgrades to K9A1, and a further upgrade variant K9A2 is being tested for production. As of 2022, the K9 series has had a 52% share of the global self-propelled howitzer market, including wheeled vehicles, since the year 2000.
The K9 is of welded construction, using 20,000 kilograms (44,000 lb) of MIL-12560H armor steel developed by POSCO for K2 Black Panther project, which can withstand explosion pressure and fragments from 155 mm HE rounds, 14.5 mm armor piercing rounds, and anti-personnel mines all around. The main armament is a CN98 155 mm, 52-calibre artillery gun manufactured by Kia Heavy Industry (now Hyundai WIA), with a maximum firing range of 40 km (25 mi) with K307 rounds. Or 54 km (34 mi) with K315 rounds fired from the upgraded K9A1 variant. The K9 stores 24 rounds in the bustle rack while an additional 24 rounds are located at the rear of the hull. The vehicle can burst fire three rounds in 15 seconds, with the ability to land shells in multiple rounds simultaneous impact (MRSI) mode.