World’s ‘Most Expensive’ Main Battle Tank: Meet K2 Black Panther — The Ultimate War Machine — That Can ‘Float On Water’

With a price tag of $8.5 million dollars, South Korea’s indigenously developed K2 Black Panther tank is the most expensive tank in the world. The K2 is equipped with a variety of features that make it extremely capable–and lethal on the battlefield.

Presented with distinct challenges and terrain that isn’t precisely tank-friendly, South Korea combined technology from around the world with its own ideas to build a combat vehicle to meet its requirements. The Guinness World Records has recognized the K2 Black Panther as the most expensive battle tank.  

The K2 Black Panther was developed by Hyundai Rotem, a Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary, for the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA). By incorporating better ergonomics and digitalization, the MBT is designed to give an improved performance on the battlefield.

K2 Black Panther main battle tank (MBT) – Via Twitter

Given the possibility of North Korean aggression, South Korea has developed some of the most complex and advanced weapons in the world. The South Korean military has specific requirements keeping the peninsula’s terrain in mind.

Though an armistice ended heavy hostilities between the two Korean neighbors in 1953, tensions are far from over.  

Given the fact that North Korea has around 4,300 main battle tanks, Seoul gave a renewed push to increase its inventory. 

The K-2 Black Panther

In the late 1970s, North Korea began deploying T-62s with 115-millimeter cannons, outclassing Seoul’s M-48 Pattons and their 90-millimeter guns. South Korea then began to examine new main battle tanks and received permission from the US to domestically assemble a modified Abrams tank named the K1. 

The K1 started out with a 105-millimeter gun, just like the original Abrams. The K1 is, however, smaller than the Abrams and employs a diesel motor rather than a gas turbine. The K1 also bears a striking, superficial similarity to the larger American tank, to the point where it was dubbed the “baby Abrams” by US troops stationed in Korea.

However, South Korea owns very little of the K1’s technology. Eighty percent of the parts came from outside the nation, primarily the United States. While the K1 is far superior to any of the North Korean tanks, Seoul wanted a new, locally manufactured tank to enhance its armored capability.

Moreover, the South Koreans desired sole control of the technology in order to export it. This resulted in the development of the K2 Black Panther.

The project began in 1995; the design incorporated many of the NATO tank specifications. To do so, the Koreans scoured the globe for ideas, technology, and know-how and combined them all into a powerful machine that was entirely Korean. 

K2 Black Panther firing its cannon
K2 Black Panther firing its cannon. (Wikimedia Commons)

South Korea picked the Rheinmetall 120-millimeter L55 gun from Germany, which is 1.3 meters longer than the 120-mm L44 caliber gun used on all Abrams tanks and older Leopard 2s. It also developed its own version of the Leclerc autoloader from France.

Shells are fed from the back of the turret via a machine gun-like belt, enabling it to fire 15 rounds per minute — assuming no target acquisition, reacquisition, or lazing takes place. 

The fire control system was taken from France’s Thales, therefore Leclerc technology is likely to be used again. It is a highly automated modern fire control system. Once a target has been identified, the gun and turret can track it without human involvement.

It took Seoul seven years to reverse-engineer a working replica of Germany’s MTU-890 V12 diesel engine with 1,500 horsepower. Compared to the MTU, the domestically designed engine accelerates slightly slower: 0–32 kilometers per hour takes roughly eight seconds, up from seven seconds.  

Operational Capabilities 

The hydropneumatic suspension of the tank is the most apparent feature. The K2 can lower or raise its profile, owing to an upgraded version of suspension that was originally designed for the K1.

The suspension can be raised for cross-country performance, providing the K2 more ground clearance. For improved speed on the road, the suspension can be lowered.

In addition, the K2 has the ability to lean forward and backward. In hull-down positions, this improves the agility of the tank’s main gun. The K2 can elevate its main cannon when leaning backward to better target low-flying aircraft or more highly raised targets on the Korean Peninsula’s hilly terrain. 

The tank also has amazing water-fording capabilities, making it ideal for the damp and swampy terrain of the Korean Peninsula. The K2 can ford water up to 4.1 meters (13 feet) deep by using an onboard extensible conning tower/snorkel.

The turret becomes watertight while crossing a body of water, and up to 500 gallons of water can be put on board as ballast to boost the tank’s weight by nearly two tones and guarantee it maintains touch with the ground. 

K2 tanks
K-2 tanks deploy smoke grenades during maneuver drills. (Wikimedia Commons)

The K2 can fire regular high-explosive rounds and kinetic penetrators. The KSTAM-II is one of its unique munitions. The KSTAM is an anti-armor, top-attack smart munition that is designed to hit the tank’s weakest armored sections.

This ammunition is fired indirectly from the K2’s main gun towards a target up to 8 kilometers away, or roughly 5 miles away, on an artillery-like trajectory. The KSTAM-II has adjustable fins that allow it to target opponent armored formations. 

Despite South Korea’s desire to sell this tank,  the $8.5 million per unit price tag has made exporting difficult. The Korea Times reported on January 17, 2020, that Hyundai Rotem was likely to win a $9 billion tank development contract with the Polish Ministry of Defense. 

Poland will most likely acquire or develop a derivative of the K2 Black Panther main battle tank if the contract goes ahead.  Recently, it was also reported that Egypt is in negotiations with South Korea to co-produce the K2 Black Panther battle tank. 

The Black Panther’s superior suspension, paired with its unique top assault munition and high weight-to-power ratio, makes it one of the most sophisticated tanks in the world, capable of destroying any tank currently operated by North Korea.