The reemergence of tank warfare in Ukraine has refocused military planners on the importance of tank design in combined arms combat. While the American M1 Abrams, Russian T-84 and German Leopard 2 tanks have received extensive media attention in the main battle tank (MBT) conversation, South Korea’s K2 Black Panther should not be left out. This staggering $8.5 million dollar vehicle is considered the most expensive MBT in the world.
Its high price, however, is reflective of the unique features it provides South Korea’s armored corp. Considering Seoul’s precarious geography and unstable relationship with its northern neighbor, the development of a formidable MBT capable of functioning on rough terrain was paramount for the country’s national security. With the K2 Black Panther tank in its arsenal, South Korea is better suited to defend against any potential attacks from across the DMZ.
South Korea’s K2 Black Panther is the product of the country’s longstanding efforts to increase its self-reliance in manufacturing arms- specially an MBT. During the Korean War, the American-made M24 Chaffee light tanks that South Korea utilized were no match for the North’s stockpile of Soviet-designed T-35-85s. This dynamic switched by the 1990’s, when Seoul began operating newer K1 and KA1 models. Around this time, Korean engineers started plans to design a more advanced tank that could feature autoloaders, upgraded operating software and automatic target tracking devices.
The K2 Black Panther was a homegrown project
One of the main goals of the K2 development process was to design and build all parts locally, in order to reduce reliance on partners and safeguard production in times of war as well as export the tank without running afoul of international arms control and intellectual property rights.
This priority is reflected in nearly every aspect of the tank, beginning with the CN08 main gun. While it incorporates imported ideas such as chrome plating and an autoloader, the design is entirely homegrown and boasts remarkable accuracy; it is reportedly able to hit an object just a little larger than a basketball at nearly two-thirds of a mile away.
In addition, the K2 is armed with the Korean Smart To-Attack Munition, allowing it to fire an anti-tank munition at concealed targets up to 5 miles away.
The K2’s defensive systems enhance survivability
The K2’s armor is also designed by Korea based on the K1, the successor to the Black Panther. It is a modular system allowing for quick and easy replacement of damaged sections as well as upgrades when new technology becomes available. Furthermore, the K2 has been equipped with explosive reactive armor to bolster its already formidable plating.
Its Radar and Laser Warning receiver detect when enemy anti-tank weapons are aimed at the tank and immediately turn the turret to face the threat.
The K2 is also capable of auto-deploying smoke grenades at the appropriate time to disrupt incoming missiles.
Poland received its first shipment of K2s in December
Although South Korea’s MBT has not made an appearance in Ukraine, Poland received a delivery of 10 K2s along with other weapons from Seoul in December. Warsaw requested military equipment in light of Moscow’s ongoing offensive efforts in Kyiv.
The incorporation of K2 MBTs into Poland’s armored corps was necessary to “stop aggression” and “to stop the enemy with modern equipment” according to Polish President Andrez Duda.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.