K9 Thunder: Deployed By Indian Army Near China, S.Korea Develops New Extended-Range Shell For SPH

During the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2023, Poongsan, a South Korean ammunition manufacturer, announced it had developed a new extended-range version of its 155 mm ammunition for the Hanwha Land Systems’ K9 self-propelled howitzer (SPH).

The K9 Thunder, a self-propelled howitzer developed by Hanwha Techwin (formerly Samsung Techwin), is a 155 mm, 52 caliber artillery system that can utilize standard NATO 155 mm ammunition. 

A Poongsan spokesperson said the newly developed 155 mm extended range munition (ERM) offers a 50% increase in range compared to the company’s previous K307 base burn/high explosive (BB/HE) shell. 

The representative explained that the 155 mm ERM achieves a range of 60 km through the combination of a reduced TNT charge when compared to the K307 munition and the utilization of a robust solid-fuel propellant. 

The KM107, the company’s standard ammunition for the K9 howitzer, weighs 41.86 kg and can reach a maximum range of 18.8 km when used with the K677 charge.

K9 Thunder - Wikipedia
K9 Thunder – Wikipedia

Poongsan’s upgraded follow-on projectile, the K307, weighs 46.4 kg and can reach an impressive maximum range of 41 km when paired with the K677 charge. 

The company also mentioned that details regarding the weight, TNT quantity, and charge composition of the 155 mm extended-range munition (ERM) couldn’t be disclosed for security reasons. 

The company first disclosed the information about its extended-range shell development in August 2023. At the time, the company confirmed that it had successfully met Korean defense specifications, a significant milestone within the state’s acquisition process. 

While the decrease in TNT charge in the 155 mm ERM results in reduced explosive power, the South Korean ammunition manufacturer could explore alternative explosives, such as High Melting Explosives (HMX), to improve the effectiveness of the 155 mm munitions.

Why An Extended-Range Shell For K-9 Thunder? 

The newly developed projectile is compatible with the K9 self-propelled howitzer utilized by the Korean military, and it is anticipated to bolster the Korean military’s firepower capabilities. 

The impetus behind the development of the extended-range shell is said to be the necessity to surpass North Korea’s 170mm Koksan. 

This heightened artillery range will empower the South Korean military to effectively target and engage threats situated deeper within enemy territory, enhancing survivability and enabling a broader spectrum of long-range strike operations.

The K9 self-propelled howitzer stands out as one of the South Korean defense industry’s most triumphant products, gaining the attention of multiple nations. Various countries, including NATO members like Finland, Estonia, Poland, and Turkey, and nations like Egypt, India, and Australia have adopted it.

The international sales expansion for this platform is truly remarkable, with over 1,800 K9 artillery systems currently in service, constituting more than 50% of the global market share for self-propelled howitzer (SPH) platforms. 

K9 Thunder howitzer
K9 Thunder howitzer. Image: Hanwha Defense

Additionally, various accounts noted that the Indian Defense Ministry had initiated the procurement process for an additional 100 K9-Vajra-tracked self-propelled howitzers. 

Larsen & Toubro (L&T) manufactured these howitzers in India, incorporating technology from the South Korean defense firm Hanwha Defense. 

The newly developed ammunition holds the potential to significantly enhance the Indian Army’s capabilities by extending the range of their South Korean-origin weapon system. 

However, this new ammunition’s mass production and deployment are anticipated to commence in 2024. 

Yet, the introduction of the new extended-range projectile is anticipated to serve as a pivotal factor in advancing the defense capabilities of the South Korean military.

Furthermore, it is poised to serve as a significant driver for the exports of the K-9 self-propelled howitzer, further bolstering South Korea’s defense industry.

Poongsan, with manufacturing facilities in Gyeongju and Busan, has a diverse production portfolio encompassing ammunition and shells spanning from 5.56 mm rifle bullets to 155 mm artillery projectiles, anti-aircraft projectiles, mortar shells, tank shells, and ship shells.

These shells play a crucial role in the weaponry utilized in the K9 self-propelled howitzers produced by Hanwha Aerospace and K2 tanks by Hyundai Robotics. Consequently, an increase in the export activities of these defense companies directly contributes to Poongsan’s sales growth.

With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine predominantly featuring conventional weaponry rather than cutting-edge technology, there is a surge in global demand for ammunition and shells. Poongsan’s new 155 mm rounds exports are expected to gain significant momentum in this context.