Correction: In an earlier version of this story, remote-controlled autocannons were incorrectly assigned to the upcoming K9A2. This feature applies to another updated variant.
According to the artillery manufacturer, SEOUL – Hanwha Defense is working on an unmanned version of the self-propelled howitzer K9 Thunder, built in South Korea.
The 52-caliber 155mm K9 was developed in 1998 by the state defense development agency and Samsung Aerospace Industries, later renamed Samsung Techwin and acquired by Hanwha in 2017.
Approximately 1,100 units were deployed with the South Korean Army and Marine Corps to counter the threat posed by North Korean artillery pieces deployed along the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.
A Hanwha Defense spokesman told Defense News that the K9A1, a modified variant of the original K9, has been shipping to the services since 2018 to replace aging K9 howitzers. One of the key improvements to the K9A1 standard is the update of an automatic fire control system. the addition of inertial navigation / global positioning systems; an additional thermal periscope for the driver; a fresh auxiliary unit; and a rear view camera.
“The K9A1 offers improved survivability and maneuverability. Further upgrades are planned to add more advanced technology to the artillery,” said Jeff Jeong, senior manager of communications for Hanwha Defense, on November 19.
The next upgrade to what’s called the K9A2 will include an unmanned turret with a fully automated ammunition loading and handling system that will increase the rate of fire and reduce the number of crew members required on board, he added.
The K9A2 is expected to compete for the British Army’s Mobile Fires program. The service is keen to acquire newer self-propelled howitzers in place of its aging AS90 fleet.
Another upgrade for unmanned maneuvers and remote-controlled auto cannons is expected by 2040.
State research into the development of the unmanned variant is slated to begin this year in order to deliver a completed study by the mid-2020s.
The K9 and its core technology have been exported to several countries including Turkey, Poland, India, Finland, Norway and Estonia. The artillery was selected as the preferred supplier for the Australian Army’s Land 8116 program in September ahead of a definitive contract in 2021.
The thunder has a maximum rate of fire of six rounds per minute and can fire several rounds at the same time. The maximum range of fire with its rocket-assisted projectile is about 40 kilometers. The K9 is powered by a German MTU MT 881 Ka-500 diesel engine which, in conjunction with an Allison automatic transmission, produces 1,000 hp.