DSEI 2021: Korean Know-How Brings the Thunder for MFP
K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer. (Photo: Hanwha Defense)
Hanwha Defense establishes a UK industrial partnership for the K9 self-propelled howitzer, as the South Korean company looks to the future of artillery systems with autonomous technologies.
In a bid to secure the UK MoD’s Mobile Fires Platform (MFP) programme while also alleviating any potential fears over its foreign credentials, Hanwha Defense has formed an industrial partnership with various UK-based firms under the moniker ‘Team Thunder’.
The animating force behind the move is to manufacture a UK-variant of the tried-and-tested K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer (SPH).
Hanwha announced a flurry of MoUs during DSEI on 14-17 September with Leonardo UK, Pearson Engineering, Horstman Engineering and Soucy Defense.
Pasi Pasivirta, European business development director for the South Korean company, also told Shephard the company was in advanced discussions with Lockheed Martin. ‘UK-made will mean it’s actually manufactured here,’ he added.
Pasivirta claimed the Team Thunder package ‘is superior because it has been battle-proven, it’s in service with eight nations and more than 1,800 guns are in service… it is not an immature platform.’
Usability is another factor, as the rugged K9 was designed for use by Republic of Korea Army conscripts stationed in mountainous terrain near the Korean demilitarised zone.
As fears grow among general staffs over the continued utility of armoured fighting vehicles in the face of proliferating and cheap UAVs or anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), Pasivirta admitted the best way around this was to keep refining ‘shoot and scoot’ tactics.
K9 is already well-suited for this purpose with its hydro-pneumatic suspension, he added.
Some customers — such as Australia where the K9 is designated the AS9 Huntsman — had requested the installation of an active protection system (APS) against RPG fire and UAVs, so ‘those kinds of solutions can be integrated if someone wants [them]’, Pasivirta confirmed.
As for the increasing reliance armies place on exploiting data and connecting ‘sensors to shooters’, Pasivirta admitted ‘we are in discussions with UK industry to add all requirements that new digitised battlefield demands’.
Hanwha intends to offer the K9A2 for the MFP programme as its most advanced variant of the K9 SPH. Utilising a fully automated turret instead of a semi-automatic ammunition loading system, the K9A2 will be capable of firing nine or more rounds per minute in a stable fashion. The number of crew can be reduced from five to three, further slashing training costs.
The K9A2 can also be upgraded to meet the demands of future battlefields, with a future K9A3 variant envisaged to conduct manned/unmanned operations. Indeed, Hanwha hopes that the SPH will evolve into a fully unmanned artillery system powered by AI.
‘This has proved to be an efficient way of fighting obsolescence. All new features will be available for all K9 users,’ noted Pasivirta.
Pasivirta was unperturbed when pressed by Shephard on how Hanwha intends to meet a potentially dizzying culture clash between UK industry, the UK government and Korean corporate culture. He insisted that ‘we are all gunner-minded people. We are very straightforward, and we say what we need to say. We understand each other very well.’