South Korean Defense Industry


South Korea is sandwiched between hostile and militant North Korea and one time domineering Japan. So Republic of Korea (ROK) had a somewhat difficult time during the last century especially during the height of the Japanese militarism and the Northern incursion into South Korea which was stopped once for all with the US cooperation and military assistance. Strangely enough US had to come to the rescue of Japan also, and currently there is an adequate US troop presence both in ROK (some 37,000 troops), and a little larger contingent in Japan. So during the last century South Korea has had a somewhat chequered political existence, which surely was not very conducive for industrial development. Under such conditions the current industrial and economic development of ROK surely is confidence giving and miraculous.

Considering the turbulent conditions under which the South Korean industry had to operate should be an eye opener to developing countries.

No doubt, ROK is largely equipped by defence hardware supplied by USA, but these equipment are currently manufactured by the giant ROK firms like the Daewoo, Hyundai, Samsung et al, and a highly developed, and centrally controlled vendor operations whose work is coordinated by Korea Defence Industry Association. I have seen an elaborate catalogue produced by this outfit depicting the various items of defence hardware produced in Korea. This clearly indicates the well-known Korean economic miracle and the related industrial technologies evolved during the last three decades which have laid firm foundations of the Korean defence industries.

Two items in the catalogue which have impressed me most are the Korean MBT, the K-I and its variants and the Ground Surveillance Radar System, TPS 224KE in which Samsung and Thales (French) have collaborated. Characteristics of the K-I MBT (Main Battle Tank) are shown in the presentation that follows.

Republic of Korea is a fast burgeoning economy which stands at number eleven in the world ranking currently. It is no wonder that South Korea has produced a tank of their own. South Korea has a number of multinationals and Hyundai is one of the better known of these. K-I MBT (Main Battle Tank) and family of this tank vehicles have been produced by this outfit. The improved version of the K-I (105mm tank gun) is the KIAI tank which is equipped with more powerful 120mm tank gun to bring the tank in line with other advanced countries’ tanks.

This state of the art equipment is produced by Hyundai Precision & Ind. Co. Ltd. (HDPIC) which was established in 1977, and which continues to “face the challenge of creating new and meaningful products by constant commitment to research and development with the needs of valuable customers in mind and with a sense of mission for promoting the welfare of mankind.”

This short presentation provides a brief profile of the K-I MBT which is a product of HDPIC, a world leader in the design and integration of land weapon system and development of advanced armoured systems. While enhancing the capabilities of the Korean Armed Forces, HDPIC has developed K-I, & KIAI MBTs and the K-I Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) and the K-I Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB).

“The K-I MBT is designed to be a highly reliable system having superior fire power, excellent crew protection and impressive mobility … The K-I MBT is unsurpassed worldwide for its first round hit capability as well as its fire on the move ability. The K-I is designed with optimum configuration to minimize the ballistic surface … The unique hunter-killer function allows the commander to independently observe the targets in all directions while the tank gunner is engaging primary target….”

The K-I AI is an improvement with a 120mm smooth bore tank gun and is, therefore, even more lethal.

The K-I tank family shares the same hull configuration and components, which keeps logistic support costs low and increases the ease of tactical operation. Powered by a highly efficient 1200 HP diesel engine with a fully automatic transmission, the K-I family vehicles can quickly accelerate to a road speed of 65 Km/h. “The combination of efficient hydro pneumatic suspension units and improved torsion bars ensures excellent agility and maneuverability.”

It has a crew of four; a commander, a gunner and a loader are seated in the turret while the driver is positioned in the front section of the hull. The tank can ford rivers and water channels upto 1.2 meters deep, and with additional kit fording depth can be increased to 2.2 meters.

The main characteristics of the tanks are as below:

More outstanding characteristics of the K-I AI are shown in the inset:

Finally, the parameters of the MBT being what these are, the ROK has produced an indigenous MBT with superior protection, easy operation and excellent mobility and performance in any combat environment. I could not get the cost of the MBT, but knowing the Korean products, the MBT must be cost effective. And with worldwide logistic support at hand, the MBT is versatile and has a comparable performance with the best in the world today.


Combat 51.1 tonnes 49.7t for export versions
Unloaded 48.3 47.0 “
Length of gun 9.67m
Ground pressure 0.87 Kg/cm3 0.84 Kg/cm3 for export
Power to weight ratio 23.5 HP ton 24.1 Hp ton for export.
Width 3.59m 3.50m for export.
Road speed maximum 65 Km/h
Cruising Range 500 Km
Engine 1200 hp MB871ka-501
Transmission LSG – 3000
Ballistic Computer 16 bit digital

Characteristics KI AI

Combat Weight 54.5 tonnes
Road Speed Max 65 Km/h
Cross Country Speed Max 40 Km/h
Engine 1200 hp water cooled
Transmission Fully Automatic
Forward – 4, Reverse 2
Electro hydraulic
Hybrid Suspension Hydro pneumatic Suspension unit +
Torsion bars
Gunner Sight Thermal Imaging System (Night)
Commander’s Sight Hunter Killer capability – 360 deg panoramic
Ballistic Computer 32 Bit Digital computer
Main Gun 120mm M256, 32 RDS
Fire Suppression System Thermocouple wire/Optical Sensor