After India & Poland, Vietnam To Be The Next Customer For South Korean K9 ‘Thunder’ Self-Propelled Howitzer

After India and Poland, Vietnam has now indicated it is planning to procure the South Korean Hanwha K9 self-propelled howitzer (SPH) for the People’s Army of Vietnam. India acquired the artillery system following the 2020 standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. Poland became the next customer in July 2022. 

As China Unleashes 80,000-Ton Fujian, India’s Ex-Naval Chief Wants France’s Help To Construct Nuke-Powered Aircraft Carrier

Vietnam’s decision to induct the system is significant given its long-running maritime border dispute with China over the South China Sea (SCS). It is often courted by the US as it ramps up an alliance with Beijing.

Poland, meanwhile, is a frontline anti-Russia state that donated some of its MiG-29s and German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine and has been boosting its armory recently with US-made Abrams tanks and AH-64 Apache helicopters. 

Vietnam Considers K9 SPH

Quoting a statement by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND), the Vietnamese Vice-Minister of National Defence, Hoang Xuan Chien, “expressed an intention to procure the K9” at the ‘11th Korea-Vietnam Defense Strategy Dialogue’ held in Hanoi on April 23. The guns will be used by the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA).

“Chien evaluated Korea’s weapons systems and expressed his intention to expand defense industry cooperation, including the introduction of Korean weapon systems such as the K9 SPH [into the People’s Army of Vietnam] and requested cooperation from the Korean government for this purpose,” the MND said. South Korea’s defense minister, Lt Gen (retd) Kim Seon-ho, was in attendance during the event.

The South Korean MND separately stated that Snr Lt Gen Hoang had “evaluated Korean weapons systems and expressed his intention to expand defense industry cooperation, including the introduction of Korean weapon systems such as the K9 SPH and requested cooperation from the Korean government.”

The announcement follows a February 2023 high-level Vietnamese MND visit led by Minister of National Defense, General Phan Van Giang, to South Korea.

Official photographs showed Gen Phan and his entourage touring a Republic of Korea Army (RoKA) VII Maneuver Corps base and inspecting various weapons and equipment, including the K9 SPH.

According to the Asian Military Review (AMR), the VPA intends to maintain and replace its large inventories of Chinese and Soviet-made legacy combat vehicles and equipment, particularly after losing foreign assistance following its conflict with China and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The VPA’s inventory includes captured US-made 105mm M101 and 155mm M1 and M114 howitzers, as well as Soviet-vintage 152mm M1955/D-20 field guns.

It also has main battle tanks (MBTs) from the 1970s, such as the Chinese-made Type 59 and Soviet T-54/55 and T-62. However, these MBTs are increasingly outmatched by modern vehicles and anti-tank weaponry now in service with regional military forces and China. The VPA recently took delivery of 64 T-90S/SKs main battle tanks from Russia.

Used by India

The K9 is a 155-mm, 52-calibre tracked SPH manufactured in India by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) deal.

The 100th gun was delivered to the Army in February 2021, the contract for which was signed in May 2017. The deal also involved maintenance and ToT to an Army base workshop to support the howitzers throughout their service.

File Image: K-9 Thunder used in India as K-9 Vajra

Following tension with China in eastern Ladakh in 2020, the Army deployed a regiment of K9 SPHs — rechristened Vajra — to aid long-range fires on the heavy buildup by the PLA on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The gun would assist in bringing the PLA’s rear logistical, supply lines, and command and control centers within range, affecting its maneuvers in the front.

Although they were mainly bought for use in deserts, the standoff prompted them to be deployed in high-altitude (HA) areas as well.

The Army also purchased specialized winter kits for the guns to perform well in cold mountainous terrain. The kits help to insulate items like batteries, oils, and lubricants from extreme temperatures and don’t freeze at -20 degrees Celsius.

By December 2023, reports said India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to L&T for buying an additional 100 Vajras. An official said “contract negotiations would begin” once L&T “responded.”

Poland Deal

Poland first signed a “framework agreement” in July 2022 to buy 672 K9 howitzers in two different versions. Then, in December 2023, Reuters said Warsaw inked a $2.6 billion deal to buy more than 150 more South Korean self-propelled guns. As per the agreement with Hanwha Defence, Poland will acquire another six self-propelled K9 howitzers in 2025 and 146 self-propelled howitzers of the K9PL version in 2026-2027.

The contract also includes a training and logistics package and delivery of tens of thousands of 155-mm ammunition.

Poland will also receive the guns’ technical documentation and assistance to set up maintenance, renovation, and modernization infrastructure, while selected howitzer parts will be produced by the Polish defense industry.