Note: A Republic of Korea Type 88 K1 Main Battle Tank // //
History and overview
In the 1970s, the Republic of Korea was desperately in need of additional main battle tanks. The M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant of Sherman tanks, dating back to World War II, had been retired from service by the Republic of Korea Army, and the backbone of the South Korean armor was formed up of M47 and M48 Patton tanks. Meanwhile, North Koreans had both numerical and technological advantages over the South Korean armor with their T-62 main battle tanks.
At first, attempts were made to obtain the United States' M60A1 Pattons, but they ended in failure. It was deemed that, even if the M60A1s were obtainable, there would not be enough of them to give the South Korean forces a significant advantage over existing North Korean tanks. A number of other plans were also devised, such as upgrading the existing M48 Pattons to the M48A3 and A5 standard, as well as obtaining the license to domestically produce Germany's Leopard 1 main battle tank. Only the upgrades to the Pattons were carried out, with the results being the M48A3K and M48A5K, while producing Leopard 1s was deemed counterproductive, as a newer generation of main battle tanks were already being developed and tested in both the U.S. and Germany, namely the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2.
In light of this, the Park Chung-hee administration announced plans to domestically produce main battle tanks that were comparable to the newer generation of main battle tanks. However, having absolutely no experience in the design, development and manufacture of main battle tanks to speak of, the task assigned to the South Korean industry was all but impossible. Upon realization of this, foreign designs were considered and evaluated, on condition that the winning design be licensed and produced domestically. The winning design was based on the XM1, the prototype of M1 Abrams, by Chrysler Defense, the company which was later sold to General Dynamics and renamed General Dynamics Land Systems. Soon afterwards, South Korean officials were dispatched to General Dynamics Land Systems for supervision of the design, which would spawn the XK1.
With its design being based on XM1, the XK1 shared various similarities with it. However, upon closer inspection, numerous differences can be found. The differences included the weight (55-ton XM1 versus 51-ton XK1), height (2.37 m versus 2.25 m), engine (1,500 hp Honeywell AGT1500C for XM1 versus 1,200 hp Teledyne Continental AVCR-1790, also used on Merkava 3, for XK1, although the XK1's engine will later be replaced with MTU MB Ka-501, a compact version of the 1,500 hp MB-873 Ka-503 used on Leopard 2), transmission (Allison DDA X-1100-3B for XM1 versus ZF LSG 3000 for XK1), and several other components used in the vehicles.
The XK1 retained the XM1's M68E1 105 mm rifled main gun, which would also be domestically produced under license with the designation KM68, as well as a fire control system by Hughes Aircraft Company and the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder. One of the major differences was the addition of tank commander's independent panoramic sights on the XK1, which was missing on XM1, giving the XK1 the capability to utilize the FCS more effectively, notably by engaging in hunter-killer tactics, which the M1 series could not do until the introduction of the M1A2. The tank commander's panoramic sights were not, however, equipped with light amplification or thermal optics, which led to the tank commander having to rely on personal night vision goggles to operate his sights, while the gunner's sights were equipped with a thermal observation device, which meant that the XK1 had superior sensors until the introduction of the M1A2.
XK1 tanks are also equipped with a hybrid suspension system consisting of hydropneumatic system on road wheels 1, 2 and 6, while 3, 4 and 5 are equipped with torsion bars, a feature not present on the XM1, granting the XK1 greater stability and ability to elevate and depress the main gun nearly twice as much as tanks equipped with torsion bars alone (+20 to -9.7 degrees for the XK1 versus +10 to -5 for the XM1).
The development of the vehicle was completed in 1983, with a prototype being delivered to the South Korean government in the same year. As mentioned above, however, the AVCR-1790 used for the design was replaced by MTU MB Ka-501 just prior to mass production, which resulted in the K1's engine deck and exhaust grilles becoming cosmetically similar to the Leopard 2's.
Hyundai Precision, now known as Hyundai Rotem, took responsibility for manufacturing the tanks, and the mass production began in 1985, with deployment lasting until 1987. The vehicle was not, however, unveiled until 1987 for security purposes. Foreign journalists were invited to the unveiling ceremony, and a massive training exercise using the new tanks took place during the event for publicity.
After the production of approximately 450 K1s, the Gunner's Primary Sights (GPS) designed by Hughes was replaced by the Gunner's Primary Tank Thermal Sights (GPTTS) by Texas Instruments. The new system also replaced the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder used in the Hughes unit with a CO2-based one, which has proven to be safer to the users' eyes, although having less effective range than the former in foul weather.
While the exact composition of the armor has still not been released, it has been confirmed that K1 is equipped with composite armor similar to Chobham. The vehicle is also equipped with an automatic fire extinguishing system. The engine compartment detector is thermocouple wire, and the crew compartment detector is an optical sensor. The extinguishant used is Halon1301, commonly used by western main battle tanks. While the air conditioning system is installed to aid in crew comfort, the vehicle lacks an overpressure system for CBRN defense, and is not protected from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks, requiring the crew to don protective gear while operating in a contaminated environment.
Production remained at approximately 100 units per year at its peak.
On August 6, 2010, during a live firing exercise at Paju, a round exploded in the barrel of a K1's 105mm gun, destroying the gun, but leaving crew uninjured. This was reported to be the latest in a series of such accidents since the K1 entered service.
Development of K1A1
The K1A1 was accepted into Korean service on October 13, 2001, after the first one was produced on April 3, 1996 and is an upgraded version of the K1 MBT. The KM68 main gun has been replaced with the KM256 120 mm main gun (a licensed production model of the U.S. M256 which, in turn, is a licensed production model of the Rheinmetall L44) which nearly doubled the penetration power of the original vehicle. In addition, its fire control system, thermal sights, LASER rangefinder, turret and gun stabilization and armor have been improved, giving the vehicle greater survivability and lethality. The improved armor is called 'Korean Special Armour Plate (KSAP)'. The weight of the vehicle has increased along with the upgrade, and has slightly lowered its power-to-weight ratio and speed, the former of which was considered already too low for the rough Korean terrain by some critics.
The KCPS specifications for K1A1 is as follows;
- Zoom: 3× / 10× (day & night)
- Vertical scan angle (the amount of angle which the optics can move up and down): +/- 35˚
- Horizontal scan angle (the amount of angle which the optics can turn): 360˚
- Gunner's alternate sight zoom: 8×
The carbon dioxide laser rangefinder's specification is as follows;
- Range: 200 ~ 7,990 m
- Daytime magnification: 1× / 10×
- Nighttime magnification: 3× / 10×
The K1A1 can easily be distinguished from the K1 by the shape of the gun, location of the co-axial machinegun, shape of the commander's panoramic sight, and overall angular shape of the turret. (The K1A1 has more curved surfaces than the K1.) The 120 mm smoothbore gun of K1A1 is thicker than the K1's 105 mm rifled gun and has a thicker thermal sleeve a third of the way from the base of the gun. The co-axial machinegun on K1A1 is located at a much higher point compared to the K1. The K1A1 also features a somewhat cone-shaped day/night KGPS compared to day-only sight of the K1, which has a plain, tube-like appearance to it.
Variants and upgrades
- XK1: Experimental model under the ROKIT (Republic of Korea Indigenous Tank) project.
- K1: First production variant. 1,027 units built between 1985 and 1998. To be upgraded to K1E1 by 2026.
- K1M: Proposed export variant for Malaysia. In 1997, Malaysia expressed great interest in obtaining the K1, and the ROK responded by showing them the concept for K1M, which had several features not present in the baseline K1, including a LASER warning system and an air conditioning unit. It was to weigh 49.7 tons, while the total ammunition capacity would have been reduced to 41 rounds. The ROK offered a contract for 210 K1M's, but Malaysia responded that it was too many, and chose to go with Polish PT-91M in 2003.
- K1 PIP: Upgraded K1. PIP includes changes in SAP to KSAP, GPS to GPTTS, and Nd-Yag to CO2 rangefinder.
- K1E1: Further upgraded K1. Production began in December 2013, and the first K1E1 rolled out on July 7, 2014. The upgrade will be similar to that of K1A2. All K1 will be upgraded to K1E1 by 2026. The name was inherited from the K1A1 prototype, the K1E1.
- K1A1: First major enhanced variant. 484 units built between 1999 and 2010. To be upgraded to K1A2 by 2022.
- K1A2: Upgraded K1A1. Originally named as K1A1 PIP. Developed from 2008 to 2010, and mass-production started in 2012. First upgraded vehicle was rolled out on December 20, 2013. Technology benefit from K2 Black Panther has been applied to this model. Upgrades include buoyancy tubes, automatic commanding control with identification friend or foe, GPS and INS position recognition, and digital wireless communications and displays. It also has air conditioning and a soft-kill active protection system to defend against missiles and rockets. The K1A2 project provides upgrade kits for South Korean Army and Marines Corps K1 and K1A1 tanks. All K1A1 will be upgraded to K1A2 by 2022.
- K1 ARV: The K1 Armored Recovery Vehicle is based on the K1 tank. It has a crane, winch and dozer system built on the vehicle. It was developed with assistance from Krupp MaK Maschinenbau GmbH (now Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH) between 1988 and 1992, with first deployment in 1993.
- K1 AVLB: The K1 Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge variant uses a scissor-type bridge system mounted on the chassis. It was developed from 1988 to 1992 with help from Vickers Defense Systems.
- K1 CEV: The K1 Combat Engineer Vehicle is based on the K1A1/A2 chassis, mounting a mine plough, an excavator arm on the right side, and a lane marking system. Development is expected to be completed in June 2018 and begin production in 2019.
- Republic of Korea Armed Forces – 1,027 K1/E1 & 484 K1A1/A2