Tests of Australian Army’s incoming AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer (SPH), with its three-round burst and automated loading capabilities, are nearing completion in South Korea. Australian Army will first receive two AS9s, modelled off the South Korean K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer (SPH), and an AS10 ammunition resupply vehicle (ARV) imported from South Korea. Construction of a new Hanwha Defense Australia factory is underway near Avalon, Victoria, where the remaining 42 armoured vehicles will begin production in Australia late next year. Hanwha has been working with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to integrate Australian 155mm shells, including the new Rheinmetall Assegai munitions.
Major Brendan Kelleher, of the project team under Land 8116 said,“The tests ensured the combination of Australian ammunition and a Korean cannon were safe for service. While we know in isolation the K9’s cannon is safe, and in isolation the ammunition is safe, this testing makes sure they are compatible. Once that is established, subsequent tests will collect ballistics data required to use the AS9 with the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems, used to calculate and coordinate firing. A coupon [metal sample] from the steel, of which the vehicle is built, is placed in a vice and a slug is shot into it.”
Further testing will be conducted in Australia focused on protection of the vehicle from small arms fire and shrapnel. Blast testing was also recently conducted in Israel involving a full size AS9 hull fitted with crash test dummies, cameras and sensors inside. An explosive charge was detonated at the base of the vehicle to imitate the effects of a land mine. The results will inform design changes to ensure the vehicles provide the required protection and survivability for soldiers. Elphinstone, a company on the north coast of Tasmania, will manufacture the hulls and turrets. The first AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer to be completed in Australia is expected to roll out the door by the end of 2025.
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. In September 2020, the Minister for Defense, Linda Reynolds, announced a request for tender to locally build 30 K9s under the Land 8116 Phase 1 Protected Mobility Fires requirement. The sole-source request for tender will be released to the preferred supplier, Hanwha Defense Australia, to build and maintain 30 K9s and 15 K10s, as well as their supporting systems. These will be built at Hanwha Defense Australia’s Geelong facility. Australian variant AS9 Huntsman is based on Norwegian K9 VIDAR.