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BSDA 2024: Hyundai Rotem Presents K2 Black Panther Tank Ahead of Potential Purchase by Romania.

South Korean company Hyundai Rotem showcases its K2 Black Panther main battle tank at the Black Sea Defense and Aerospace 2024 exhibition in Bucharest, Romania, held from May 22 to 24. A demonstration took place the previous week at the military training range near Galați. The Romanian Ministry of National Defence plans to acquire new main battle tanks for up to six battalions, totaling more than 300 tanks, to replace the aging Soviet-era TR-85 and T-55 tanks.
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The K2 Black Panther MBT presented by Hyundai Rotem at Black Sea Defense & Aerospace 2024  (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Hyundai Rotem’s proposal includes technology transfer and collaboration with the local industry, potentially involving partial participation of the Romanian defense industry in the production, maintenance, and lifecycle services of the tanks. Specific details of the South Korean offer have not been publicly disclosed.

The K2 Black Panther is a high-tech, third-generation tank that has seen significant interest and recent acquisitions both domestically and internationally. Developed by Hyundai Rotem, the K2 Black Panther has been part of South Korea's armored forces since 2014, designed to replace older tanks like the M48 Patton in the Republic of Korea Army (RoKA). It features advanced armament, including a 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, 12 turret-mounted smoke grenade launchers, and a roof-mounted 12.7 mm machine gun. This tank is noted for its firepower, mobility, and protection technologies.

Recent developments include the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) approval for the mass production of a fourth batch of K2 MBTs. This project, spanning from 2024 to 2028, is allocated a budget of approximately USD 1.46 billion. While the exact number of tanks to be produced in this batch wasn't disclosed, the additional units are expected to enhance the mobile corps' ability to perform offensive maneuvers. Historically, South Korea has ordered around 260 K2 tanks across the initial three production batches, with a potential total requirement that could reach about 600 units.

The K2 Black Panther's main armament consists of a German-made Rheinmetall 120-mm L/55 smoothbore gun produced under license in South Korea. The gun is fitted with an automatic loader that ensures the loading of projectiles on the move, even on uneven surfaces. The 120mm gun can fire about 10 rounds per minute, and with a total supply of 40 various rounds, the Black Panther can sustain fire for nearly three minutes before needing resupply. A total of 16 rounds are stored in the autoloader and 24 rounds are stored inside the hull. The K2 can fire a wide range of munitions, including indigenously developed and improved tungsten APFSDS kinetic energy penetrators and multi-purpose HEAT chemical energy rounds similar to the American M830A1 HEAT MP-T, effective against personnel, unarmored and lightly armored vehicles, and low-flying helicopters. A 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun is mounted to the left side of the main armament, and a 12.7 mm K-6 heavy machine gun is mounted on the top right of the turret. Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke (VIRSS) grenade launchers mounted on each side at the front of the turret complement the defensive capabilities of the Black Panther.

The layout of the K2 MBT is conventional, with the driver's compartment at the front, fighting compartment in the center, and engine and transmission at the rear. The armor on the Black Panther consists of an unknown type of composite armor and an Active Defense System utilizing Explosive Reactive Armor blocks. The K2 has a crew of three with a driver at the front center of the hull and the commander and gunner in the turret. Systems protection of the K2 includes a millimeter band radar system mounted on the turret, used as a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS). The tank's computer can triangulate incoming projectiles, immediately warn the vehicle crew, and fire off VIRSS grenades, effectively blocking optical, infrared, and radar signatures. Once the hard-kill AMS is installed, the radar system will also track and target incoming missiles for the AMS. The K2 also has a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and radar jammer. Four all-bearing Laser Warning Receivers (LWR) alert the crew if the vehicle is targeted, and the computer can fire off VIRSS grenades in the direction of the beam.

The K2 Black Panther is powered by a license-built German MTU 883 diesel engine and a Renk transmission system. The engine generates 1,500 hp and provides a power-to-weight ratio of 27.3 hp/t. The fully automatic transmission includes five forward and three reverse gears. The K2 can reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h on surface roads and maintain speeds up to 48 km/h off-road. It can accelerate from 0 to 32 km/h in 7 seconds and can climb 60-degree slopes and vertical obstacles 1.3 meters in height. The suspension system, called the In-arm Suspension Unit (ISU), allows individual control of every bogie on the tracks, enabling the tank to kneel so the main armament can be depressed to -10º.

The K2 Black Panther is equipped with an advanced fire-control system (FCS) linked to a millimeter band radar system deployed on the frontal arc of the turret, along with a traditional laser range-finder and crosswind sensor. The system is capable of a "lock-on" mode, acquiring and tracking specific targets up to 9.8 km using thermal optics. This allows the crew to fire accurately while moving and effectively engage low-flying aircraft. The gunner sight includes the Gunner's Primary Sight (KGPS), and the commander is equipped with the Korean Commander's Panoramic Sight (KCPS), allowing the commander to override the gunner's controls. The K2 Black Panther is fitted with a collective nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection system. The ammunition compartment has a blow-off panel to protect the crew against ammunition explosions, and an automatic fire suppression system detects and extinguishes internal fires. Atmospheric sensors alert the crew if the tank enters a hazardous environment. The K2 can cross rivers as deep as 5 meters using a snorkel system, which also serves as a conning tower for the tank commander. The system takes approximately 30 minutes to prepare. The turret becomes watertight while fording, and the chassis can take in 500 gallons of water to prevent excessive buoyancy, keeping the tracks planted firmly on the ground. The tank can enter combat-ready status as soon as it resurfaces.

The K2 Black Panther, developed by Hyundai Rotem, is designed to offer superior performance with advanced features such as an improved suspension system, advanced fire-control systems, and a series of modern defensive measures. This tank is considered among the most advanced in the world, with various versions tailored for specific operational needs and environments. The proliferation of the K2 across different countries underscores Hyundai Rotem's strategic approach to expanding its market presence and influence within the global defense industry.

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