Essential point: These huge guns can shoot far and can result in a lot of harm.
In December 2017, Norway announced it would obtain twenty-4 K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers from South Korean firm Hanhwa for $215 million, with an selection for up to twenty-4 extra in the future. The K9 edged out an upgraded M109 howitzer presented by the Swiss firm RUAG and the German Panzerhaubitze 2000, which has a comparable key gun and efficiency profile, but a slightly more quickly speedy-fire price compared to the K9. Having said that, the PzH 2000 is significantly extra highly-priced.
This marks just the most up-to-date achievement of the South Korean howitzer program, which is currently serving with Turkey and will quickly enter service with 3 other NATO nations, as effectively as India and Finland. South Korea itself will have extra than 1,200 of these guns deployed by 2019, to face down their intimidating North Korean counterparts along the mountainous demilitarized zones that separate the two states.
The turret on the fifty-two-ton K9 mounts a large 155-millimeter howitzer with a lengthy fifty-two-caliber barrel that can strike targets up to twenty-six miles away—or as far as thirty-5 miles working with rocket-assisted projectiles. The vehicle’s 5-man crew is completely enclosed with protection from ambient nuclear, biological and chemical hazards, and protected by nineteen millimeters of steel armor—just adequate to deflect heavy machine-gun rounds and shrapnel, but not something heavier. A .50 caliber machine gun on the turret delivers a modicum of air- and close-defense capability.
South Korea developed the K9 to operate on the rugged mountains of the demilitarized zone with North Korea, and accordingly gave it sophisticated hydropneumatics suspension to overcome the rocky terrain. In spite of weighing extra than the U.S.-constructed M109 Paladin, which has been in widespread use across the globe because the 1960s, the K9 is more quickly (at forty-1 miles per hour), has a greater energy-to-weight ratio thanks to its thousand-horsepower engine, and has a practically 40 % higher operational variety of 3 hundred miles just before requiring refueling. Even though the gun is not steady adequate to be fired on the move, it can be deployed for firing in just 1 minute.
The gun makes use of an automatic feed mechanism to decrease the burden on the two loaders in the crew. It is capable of speedy-firing 3 rounds in just fifteen seconds working with its A number of-Round Simultaneous Effect mode, permitting a modernized version of a Planet War II tactic identified as Time on Target. Operational analysis has shown that artillery is deadliest throughout the opening moments of barrage, when the targets are probably out in the open and unaware of the incoming attack, then declines steeply in effectiveness as adversaries hunker down into cover. By timing the shells in an opening salvo to land simultaneously just before the enemy is conscious they are incoming, they are probably to inflict far higher harm.
The Thunder can carry up to forty-eight shells, and is resupplied by K10 ammunition resupply automobiles, which can transfer up to 104 extra rounds through an automated bridge that does not need the crew to expose themselves to fire. The K10 makes use of the exact same hull as the K9 for upkeep commonality.
The Thunder’s mobility, rapidly deployment time and MRSI capability make it effectively suited for delivering short but deadly fires and then quickly redeploying to new firing positions to stay clear of retaliatory counterbattery fire.
The K9 truly initial saw action with the Turkish army, in the kind of a license-constructed variant referred to as the T155 Firtina (“Storm”). The Firtinas have been initial employed in a cross-border incursion targeting Iraqi Kurdish PKK forces in 2007, and later have been heavily engaged in attacks on Kurdish and ISIS forces across Turkey’s border with Syria. Having said that, ISIS fighters filmed themselves knocking out 3 Firtinas at Gaziantep working with Metis wire-guided antitank missiles in April 2016. Turkey presently possesses at least 3 hundred T155s, and has exported thirty-six to Azerbaijan, exactly where they might see use in its on-and-off once again war with Armenia.
South Korea’s K9s saw their personal baptism by fire below significantly less than auspicious situations on the afternoon of November 23, 2010, at Yeonpyeong Island, at the intense western tip of the North-South border. Apparently feeling provoked by a South Korean naval exercising earlier in the morning, North Korean artillery primarily based in the Kaemori Peninsula and on the tiny island of Mudo started an indiscriminate hour-lengthy bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, killing two civilians and two Korean marines, and wounding twenty-two extra.
The battery of six Thunders situated on the island at some point responded, but two had their fire-handle systems broken by the attack and could not fire, although a third was temporarily jammed but was brought into action. The active K9s fired eighty shells targeting the barracks on Mudo Island. Due to the fact the howitzers had exhausted most of their onboard ammunition throughout an earlier exercising, Korean Marines have been quickly forced to manually reload them. South Korean intelligence estimated the counterbattery fire resulted in thirty-5 to forty killed or wounded, although North Korea denied sustaining any losses.
The Korean DMZ bears the danger of erupting into an intense artillery war, and South Korea is presently functioning on generating a new version of the K9 with an automatic turret, decreasing the crew size to only two.
Nations in northern and eastern Europe are also searching for to increase their artillery capabilities due to Russia’s extra aggressive posture in the area. Even Estonia, with its tiny population of 1.two million, is organizing to obtain twelve Thunders by 2021 to boost the fees of a hypothetical Russian invasion. Poland, meanwhile, is even developing a domestic version of the K9 referred to as the AHS Krab, which makes use of the turret of a British AS90M Braveheart howitzer. Warsaw plans to have 5 regiments totaling 120 Krabs, of which 1 is currently operational. Additional north, Finland announced in February 2017 that it was acquiring forty-eight made use of Thunders.
And far away in India, 1 hundred K9 VAJRA-Ts optimized for desert environments will be domestically manufactured with an selection for fifty extra, replacing outdated and smaller sized-caliber Abbot and 2S1 self-propelled howitzers. The VAJRAs are the initial modern day addition to India’s undersized self-propelled artillery force.
The U.S. military has placed decreasing value on artillery till lately, as armored howitzer systems are heavy and challenging to deploy and resupply across the globe into an active theater. But for nations facing possible adversaries on their borders, artillery can respond significantly extra quickly, sustainably and cheaply than airpower. Improvements in technologies now permit higher variety and accuracy than just before. This, combined with reasonably economical cost, might clarify why the sophisticated Korean howitzer is experiencing a surge in reputation.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He presently writes on safety and military history for War Is Boring. This initial appeared in January 2019.