Korean Howitzers ‘Thunder’ Near Russia & China; Poland Signs Another Multi-Billion Deal For K9 Units

South Korea is fast rising on the ladder of the global arms trade, with its K9 Howitzers inspiring confidence with international customers, including nations that surround China and Russia.

South Korean defense contractor Hanwha Aerospace Co. announced earlier this week that it has inked a 3.45 trillion won (US$2.62 billion) deal with the Polish government to supply the European nation with 152 K9 self-propelled howitzers by 2027.

The agreement states that between 2025 and 2027, Poland’s Army will receive 146 K9PL and six K9A1 howitzers. According to a statement from the Polish Armed Forces, the contract is worth approximately US$2.6 billion. Moreover, the defense contractor has signed an agreement with Polish PNZ to enable the country to manufacture the Howitzer locally.

The agreement with Warsaw’s Armament Agency is a component of a broader framework that Hanwha and Poland came to in July 2022. South Korea made a significant foray into European markets by entering into a framework agreement on defense cooperation with Poland, stipulating the purchase of three FA-50 squadrons, K2 tanks, and over 600 K9 howitzers.

In fact, within months of placing the order, the South Korean manufacturer delivered the first shipment of ten tanks and 24 howitzers in December last year. The agreement includes training, logistics, essential equipment, and ammunition. 

The decision by Poland reflects the vital lessons learned from the ongoing Ukraine war taking place in its neighborhood, where artillery has played a very decisive role. Poland is also motivated to bolster its defense capabilities due to the strategic worry that by 2027–2028, Russia will be able to resume conducting large-scale operations outside of Ukraine.

Moreover, the necessity to standardize cannon calibers and production constraints are other factors driving Poland’s artillery modernization. NATO’s move from 122 mm to 155 mm, which is more standardized, guarantees better ammunition availability. South Korean K9s guarantee that.

Poland-bound K9PL Howitzers (via Platform X)

The agreement includes more K9-PL howitzers that are exclusively meant to furnish the Warsaw army requirement. The K9 PL is a powerful self-propelled howitzer fitted with a 155 mm gun and a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. It is built on the South Korean K9 chassis. 

The contract appears to be a validation for the South Korean defense industry at a time when the two big military behemoths of the world — the United States and Russia — are invested in the ongoing Ukraine war that has overstretched resources on both ends. South Korea has essentially stepped in to fill the vacuum created in global arms trade owing to the Ukraine war.

Experts have also noted that South Korea has been steadily eating into the American pie as it woos customers in Europe, which has traditionally been dominated by Western arms, as explained in a detailed analysis by EurAsian Times.

The gobbling of the “American pie” in Europe and Asia has also incidentally meant that the South Korean Howitzers are lining up in countries surrounding Russia and China. For example, the K9 Howitzer is currently operational in Turkey, Finland, Norway, and Estonia — essentially countries that make up Russia’s European neighborhood. According to experts, adding Poland to this list only creates more deterrence against Russia.

The South Korean K9 is also lining up in the Indo-Pacific nations. Besides South Korea, the weapon system is operational in India and Australia. India could be particularly concerning for Beijing as the two countries remain in an active border conflict in eastern Ladakh.

India was reported to have deployed the first K9-Vajra self-propelled howitzer regiment in the forward areas in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Additionally, various accounts noted that the Indian Defense Ministry had initiated the procurement process for an additional 100 K9-Vajra self-propelled tracked howitzers. Larsen & Toubro (L&T) manufactured these howitzers in India, incorporating technology from the South Korean defense firm Hanwha Defense.

Hanwha’s K9 Howitzer Is A Force To Reckon With

The K9 Thunder, a self-propelled howitzer developed by Hanwha Techwin (formerly Samsung Techwin), is a 155 mm, 52 caliber artillery system that can use standard NATO 155 mm ammunition. The maximum firing range for a rocket-assisted shell is 40 kilometers, and for a regular high explosive (HE ) shell, it is 30 kilometers.

The K9 Thunder has an automated gun laying system, internal navigation system, and automatic fire control system installed. The firing emplacement takes 30 seconds to prepare, while the movement takes 60 seconds. The howitzer can rapidly move out of the way of counterbattery fire, making it a very survivable system that could aid operations in combat.

The crew of the K-9 is protected by all-welded steel armor that can withstand 14.5 mm armor-piercing shots, 152 mm shell fragments, anti-personnel mines, and comprehensive nuclear, biological, and chemical protection.

The K9 can fire its shells in MRSI (Multiple Rounds of Simultaneous Impact) mode. In MRSI mode, The K9 can fire three shells in under 15 seconds — one every 5 seconds — each with a different trajectory so that they all hit their target at the exact moment.

This is particularly helpful when using open-air surprise bombardment tactics to remove opposing strongholds and defenses. Additionally, it has the K-10, a truck for resupplying ammunition. It can keep up with the main artillery battery without falling behind because it uses the same chassis as K9, preserving K9’s mobility.

The ROK Armed Forces are now upgrading their whole K9 fleet to K9A1, and testing is underway to develop a further upgraded model, K9A2.