Industry deal moves Poland closer to acquiring South Korean artillery system

SEOUL — Polish Armaments Group has signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korean firm Hyundai Rotem to develop and manufacture the K2PL tank for Poland’s military, during the Eurosatory defense expo in Paris this week.

Amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Poland is accelerating efforts to acquire South Korean defense equipment, looking to take advantage of the Asian nation’s mass production capacity and lenient policy toward technology transfers. The NATO member shares a border with Ukraine as well as the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

In addition to the K2PL, which is a Polish version of the Black Panther main battle tank in service with the South Korean Army, Poland is in talks with Hyundai Rotem to buy hundreds of K2 Black Panther tanks for its Army, according to to government and industry sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak discussed during a June 13 meeting with military leadership his weapons wish list, which includes Korean main battle tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry fighting vehicles. The minister had visited the Asian nation in late May to discuss the supply of South Korean combat vehicles and fighter jets.

“Why is Korean equipment proven? Because Korea has the challenge of its northern neighbour, who also conducts aggressive policy, so our task is to equip the Polish Armed Forces with modern equipment,” Blaszczak said in a news release posted online by his ministry.

Armed with a 120mm/55-caliber smoothbore gun and an autoloader, the 56-ton K2 Black Panther can fire up to 10 rounds per minute and features active protection systems. The tank is powered by a 1,500-horsepower diesel engine and a fully automatic transmission, and it can reach speeds of 70 kph (44 mph) and can maintain speeds up to 53 kph (33 mph) in off-road conditions.

Hyundai Rotem displayed a scale model of the K2PL at Eurosatory. Photos of the model show the Polish variant has a larger chassis than the Black Panther and features an additional seventh roadwheel.

The K9 self-propelled howitzer, developed by Hanwha Defense, is also a part of Warsaw’s arms wish list. Poland signed a contract earlier this month to export more than 50 155mm Krab howitzers to Ukraine, following the delivery of 18 secondhand Krabs to the war-torn country. Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reported the deal covers about 60 howitzers and is valued at about 3 billion zlotys (U.S. $700 million).

In 2016, Poland ordered 120 Krabs, which are based on the K9 Thunder chassis. Polish Armaments Group subsidiary Huta Stalowa Wola manufactures the Krab by putting the British AS-90M Braveheart turret onto the K9 chassis.

A Polish Army delegation visited the K9 manufacturing plant as well as a South Korean Army unit operating the artillery systems earlier this month to discuss the purchase of the K9 to fill the gap left by the Krab export.

Multiple options are on the table, including providing the entire K9 system, just delivering the K9 chassis, or exporting a package of K9 howitzers and K10 automatic ammunition resupply vehicles.

“Hanwha Defense has a strong partnership with the Polish defense industry on the successful Krab project,” Jeff Sung, a spokesman for Hanwha Defense, told Defense News. He would not comment on the details of discussions between Seoul and Warsaw regarding the emergency supply of K9 howitzers.

The spokesman noted that nine countries — South Korea, Turkey, Poland, India, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Australia and Egypt — have ordered the K9 howitzer.

The NATO-compatible platform has a firing range exceeding 40 kilometers (25 miles) with conventional 155mm ammunition. Equipped with an automatic fire control system, the howitzer can fire six rounds per minute continuously for three minutes.

Powered by a 1,000-horsepower diesel engine, the 47-ton vehicle can move as fast as 67 kph. The gun was primarily designed to meet the tactical concept of “shoot and scoot” — or firing at a target, then quickly moving to another location to avoid responsive fire.

As for the infantry fighting vehicle, Poland is pondering options to buy Hanwha Defense’s K21, which is in service with the South Korean Army.

The 25-ton amphibious armored fighting vehicle is equipped with a 40mm cannon and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, as well as anti-tank guided missiles. It also features cross-country maneuverability with an in-arm suspension unit and an advanced battlefield management system for sharing real-time battlefield information.

Poland is also eyeing the next-generation Redback, which is competing for Australia’s LAND 400 Phase 3 program.

Hanwha Defense displayed the Redback heavy infantry fighting vehicle at Eurosatory this week. “In Europe, the Redback has drawn keen attention in the wake of the ongoing conflict in some part of the region, as many European armed forces are seeking to acquire combat vehicles fitted with state-of-the-art armored protection capabilities against anti-tank weapons, and all-terrain manoeuvrability,” the company said in a June 13 news release.

The 42-ton Redback employs several protection and situational awareness technologies, such as the Iron Fist hard-kill active protection system; the Iron Vision helmet-mounted display; and the Solar Sigma Shield according to the news release. The Redback has also adopted a composite rubber track to mitigate noise and vibration.

Brian Kim is the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.

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