South Korea unleashes $1.81 billion to supercharge K9 self-propelled howitzer's might

The Korean Defense Project Promotion Committee has given the green light to a comprehensive upgrade plan for the K9 self-propelled howitzer. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced in Seoul on June 26, 2023, that the approved plan, valued at 2.36 trillion won ($1.81 billion), will be implemented over the next four years, concluding in 2027.
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K9 self-propelled howitzer at Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition 2009. (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The armament and armor of this self-propelled howitzer include a 155 mm gun and a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. It offers protection against 14.5 mm caliber armor-piercing shells and 152 mm artillery shell fragments.

This self-propelled howitzer is equipped with several combat equipment. These include a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) protection system, heater, internal and external communications system, manual fire suppression system, and automatic fire control system. The crew consists of five members.

The K9 artillery system is powered by a German MTU MT 881 Ka-500 diesel engine, developing 1,000 horsepower, coupled with an Allison X1100-5A3 automatic transmission with 4 forward speeds and 2 reverse speeds.

The K9 features a hydropneumatic suspension with six double rubber road wheels on each side, with the drive sprocket at the front, the idler at the rear, and three return rollers. The track is of the double-pin type with replaceable rubber pads. It can travel at a maximum speed of 67 km/h and has a maximum range of 360 km.

Dubbed the "Block-I" upgrade project, the primary objective is to enhance the strike capabilities of the K9 through the automation of the ammunition loading process. By streamlining this critical function, the self-propelled howitzer's swift strike capabilities will be reinforced, leading to improved combat efficiency.

DAPA emphasized that the introduction of automation will reduce the number of personnel required to operate the K9 self-propelled howitzer, while enhancing crew safety.

The K9 is a well-regarded self-propelled howitzer worldwide, as evidenced by Poland's recent purchase mentioned on Army Recognition on March 24, 2023.

The automation of the loading system for the K9 self-propelled howitzer by South Korea is an interesting development. While the reduction in crew size is a definite advantage, questions may arise about the reliability of this loading system. It will be important to monitor the progress of this program in the coming years.