Meeting with Korean Representatives: Chance for the K2 Tank in Slovakia?

 12. 03. 2021      category: Military vehicles

At the end of January this year, a meeting took place at the premises of the Ministry of Defence of the Slovak Republic between the State Secretary of the MoD of the Slovak Republic Marian Majer and the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea Chung Byung Hwan. The meeting focused on several topics, including modernization projects of the ground and air forces of the Slovak Republic. In terms of the ground forces modernization projects, what may have been discussed was the possible cooperation in the field of tank army modernization, where South Korea could offer the K2 Black Panther tank. 

Black.Panther.3.ROKAF.CC BY-SA.2.0
Picture: Serial Tanks K2 Black Panther of the South Korean Army | Ministry of Defence of South Korea / CC BY-SA 2.0   

According to the Ministry of Defence of the Slovak Republic, the January meeting touched on several topics. According to information from the report of the MoD of the SR, Secretary of State Marian Majer briefed Ambassador of the Republic of Korea Chung Byung Hwan on Slovakia’s defence and security priorities and plans. The officials also discussed cooperation between the two countries in the field of armaments, cyber security and support for the domestic defence industry. According to the Ministry of Defence, one of the subjects of the meeting was also a discussion on modernization projects of the ground and air forces of the Slovak Republic and the forthcoming memorandum of understanding between the two countries, which would form the backbone of mutual cooperation. 

Looking at the priorities in the modernization of ground equipment of the Slovak army, one of the possible projects on which both countries could cooperate seems to be the acquisition of South Korean K2 Black Panther tanks. The topic of tank army modernization does not only appear in strategic documents, such as the “White Paper on the Defence of the Slovak Republic”, but has been mentioned also at various conferences, such as the Meeting with Industry of the Slovak Republic 2020 from last September. In addition, the previous management of the Ministry of Defence, led by Peter Gajdoš, declared several times the effort to modernize the current T-72M1 tanks. However, there is also the Comprehensive Evaluation of the Defence of the Slovak Republic for 2019, which states that the tank technology on the T-72 and T-55 chassis is morally and physically obsolete. This can prompt us to give some thought to whether the modernization of the T-72 platform makes sense.

K2 Black Panther 

The K2 Black Panther is a relatively new type of tank manufactured by Hyundai Rotem, part of the Hyundai Motor Group. The K2 Black Panther tank weighs approximately 55 tons, which is much lighter compared to tanks such as the Leopard 2 or M1A2 Abrams. Serial production of this tank began in 2013. In many ways, the Korean tank is not significantly different from the others. Its main weapon is a 120mm cannon corresponding to NATO standards and the tank also has an active protection system. As one of the differences compared to other tanks, we can mention, for example, the ammunition that K2 Black Panther uses. In addition to the classic high-explosive ammunition and anti-armour missiles, it also uses smart ammunition KSTAM II. 

This ammunition is not designed for direct fire against the front or side armour of armoured vehicles, where they are usually best protected, but uses the trajectory of the upper groups of angles similar to artillery ammunition and hits targets from above. This ammunition is equipped with its own navigation system and warning system, an infra-red sensor for localizing the target and an explosively formed penetrator. Generally speaking, KSTAM II ammunition hits a target from a direction that is out of the field of vision of the enemy’s armoured vehicles. The KSTAM II ammunition is designed for the 120 mm L55 cannon, which is used in the K2 Black Panther tank.

Another interesting feature of the K2 tank is the hydropneumatic suspension, which is specially adapted to the terrain of the Korean peninsula. As the terrain of the Korean Peninsula is predominantly mountainous, the K2 Black Panther is also a suitable tank for mountain terrain, because the specific system of hydropneumatic suspension allows the tank to tilt the chassis forward and backward, which increases the elevation and depression of the cannon. 

The main battle tank K2 Black Panther is currently introduced only in the South Korean army. Through the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a contract was signed in December 2020 with Hyundai Rotem for the third supply of K2 Black Panther tanks for the South Korean military. According to the Janes portal, this delivery should consist of 54 tanks and should be completed by 2023. The first series of 100 tanks ordered in 2010 was delivered in 2015 and the delivery of the second batch (a total of 106 tanks) is to be completed soon. 

Tank K2 Black Panther has also scored a few export successes. One of them is for example Turkey: Hyundai Rotem provided the Turkish Altay tanks with design solutions and technology from the K2 Black Panther tank. Another, from the Slovak point of view more interesting success of Hyundai Rotem are the company’s activities in Poland. The company offered Poland the opportunity to work together with Polish industry on the development and production of a Polish-adapted version of the K2 Black Panther tank. 

The new tank would be called K2PL and about 800 pieces could be produced. Poland would replace the old T-72 and PT-91 platforms with these new tanks. In connection with this offer by the South Korean party, it should be mentioned that this is not the only effort of Hyundai Rotem in Central Europe. Hyundai Rotem representative Lee Han-Soo said at the MSPO trade fair in Poland that the company is ready to offer its tank also to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries.

In the event that Slovakia really shows interest in the K2 Black Panther tank, there are several factors that need to be taken into account. From the technological point of view, it is a modern platform that offers options such as KSTAM II missiles or hydropneumatic suspension.  The K2 Black Panther is also lighter than many other current Western tanks. The truth is that the tank is adapted especially for the geographical conditions of the Republic of Korea, but this would not be a problem in the case of Slovakia, as a large part of Slovakia is mountainous. 

The problematic factor may be the price of the tank, which is around 8.5 million US dollars per piece. In case of a possible interest in this tank, it is necessary to take into account the number of required pieces. A reduction in price could be achieved by acquiring a larger number of tanks. In this regard, a suitable solution would be cooperation with, for example, the Czech Republic, where both countries could negotiate with the South Korean supplier together.  What would also be an interesting option would be the cooperation with Poland, which is interested in the Korean-Polish version of the K2PL tank. Cooperation with the Czech Republic, Poland or both countries would partially solve the issue of service, as a larger number of local companies could be involved in the project. What can be a disadvantage for the K2 tank is the low number of references from abroad. The truth is that so far no one operates K2 tanks except the Republic of Korea.

Whether the K2 Black Panther tank was one of the topics of the meeting between the State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of the Slovak Republic and the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea is not exactly clear. However, the K2 tank as such can be considered as a possible replacement for the obsolete T-72 tanks. 

 Author: Otto Dóka