When the South Korean military started work on a new tank in 1994, it is unlikely that they planned to earn the title of "most expensive". However, domestic engineers rejected the idea of using foreign components and decided that the planned MBT (Main Battle Tank) will be developed at home.
This allowed South Korea to not only secure its armoured shield, but avoid problems with licensing on the world arms market. However, the project would have to be started from scratch. This turned the design process into a national undertaking. The South Korean Agency for Defense Development teamed up with Hyundai, a known car manufacturer, on this project.
The tank was indexed K2黒豹 (Black Panther). Its mass production began in June of 2013, and K2s started reaching the army in 2014. The vehicle has yet to see combat. Today, it is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive tank at $8.8 million.
The layout of the K2 is classical: driver's compartment in the front, fighting compartment in the center, engine and transmission in the rear. The Koreans designed a new engine for the Black Panther, a 1500 hp diesel, and an automatic gearbox. Both components are domestically produced. A fundamentally new suspension provides each road wheel with an independent control system. As a result, the tank can lean in any direction and make itself taller or shorter, stretching its clearance between 150 and 550 mm.
The K2 weighs 55 tons, but retains good mobility. It can reach 70 kph on a highway or 52 off-road. The designers claim that the tank can be ready to cross a 4 meter deep water hazard in as little as half an hour.
The tank has a crew of three. The driver controls the tank from the driver's compartment, while the gunner and commander are placed in the turret.
Turret and Armament
South Korean specialists rejected the German Krupp-designed NPz K-140 prototype gun. In order to keep the tank domestic, they designed a new gun based on the German 120/L55 design. The tank's ammunition rack holds 40 shells, some of which are kept in an automatic loading mechanism. It allows the Black Panther to fire every 4 seconds, but once it is emptied, the crew will have to load rounds manually.
The ammunition for the K2 was also developed in South Korea. A subcaliber shell with a tungsten core is used to fight enemy tanks. A HEAT-fragmentation shell is used against lesser targets. The K2's trump card is a highly precise self-aiming multi-stage shell. While it is expensive, the tank can fire effectively from up to 8 kilometers away, even without a line of sight on the target.
The K2's unique suspension is not only used to increase the tank's off-road performance, but to tilt the tank in order to increase the gun's depression or elevation.
The tank also has a coaxial 7.62 mm machinegun and a 12.7 mm AA gun.
Fire Control System and Sights
The K2's fire control system is a collection of the most modern sensors and systems. Aside from night vision devices and a laser rangefinder, it includes a radar system. Antennae on the turret allow the tank to detect incoming shells or low-flying drones, and aim the gun at them. Ground targets can't hide from the tank: it can discover them from as far away as 10 kilometers.
The delayed firing system does not allow the gun to fire if the barrel is vibrating or the gun deviated from its target. This further increases accuracy when shooting at moving targets.
There are two sights on the Korean tank: the main one, for the gunner, and a panoramic sight for the commander that provides 360 degree vision. Both are equipped with a thermal camera and laser rangefinger. According to the Black Panther's designers, these sights will be further improved in the future.
The tank's composite armour is a closely guarded secret, as is common for any military vehicle. According to the tank's designers, its front armour can withstand a hit from its 120 mm gun without damage, albeit from an unspecified distance.
The Black Panther is also equipped with an active protection system. If the tank's radar detects an incoming ATGM, it will alert the crew and deploy smoke. The cloud that forms impedes the aim of the missile. A similar action can be taken if an enemy points its laser rangefinder at the tank. Special sensors can even determine where the beam is coming from.
In order to maximally remove human factors from performance in battle, the designers included a special system to automate communications, reconnaissance, and controls of the tank.
The Black Panther is equipped with a modern "friend or foe" system. A device on the gun mantlet can determine if a target is friendly or an enemy. In the first case, the gun will not fire, in the second case, permission is given automatically.
Fire suppression and radiation detectors also work automatically. Overall, the Black Panther tank is one of the most technologically advanced tanks today.
Article author: Yuri Bakhurin.
Original article available here.