The acronym (VIDAR) reflects one of the essences of Norse mythology. Vidar was next to Thor the strongest of all the Æsirs. Vidar was called the silent god because he spoke little. He was the son of Odin and the female Jötunn Gríðr, and lived in Vide which was described as a place where scrub and grass grows. Vidar avenged his father by putting his foot with his shoe on into the Fenris wolf’s mouth, cracking it up and thus killing Fenris. Vidar was among the Æsirs that survived Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods.
Hanwha factory background:
South Korea has licensed US M109 artillery and M1 tanks until the 1990s and in the 2000s they designed their own artillery and tanks; the K9 Thunder and the K2 Black Panther, built by Hanwha and Hyundai Rotem. Even the cannon barrel on the K9 has been newly developed, and it is built literally according to NATO standards as Koreans usually have. The Korean army is also a very tough customer with high service lifetime requirements. The artillery system is 20 percent over-designed to make sure nothing goes wrong when operated by conscripts.
K9 Thunder is the World’s Leading 155mm/L52 Calibre Self-Propelled Howitzer System in Terms of the Volume of Production
So far more than 2,000 K9 have been built for the home and export market, with known sales including Estonia (12 refurbished units to be delivered), Finland (48 refurbished systems to be delivered), India (first 100 systems from ROK followed by local production), Norway (24 new systems to be delivered), Poland (already supplying hulls for the local Krab) and Turkey (a locally built version called Firtina). K9 Thunder has proven its superiority through demonstrations and evaluation tests in various proving grounds such as extreme weather in jungles, barren land and severely cold areas. K9 Thunder has an excellent mobility and fits into every other field artillery unit. The K9 has been operated in RoK since 1999 (K10 ARVs from 2009). K9 Thunder is serving as one of the main conventional deterrent forces in the RoK Army.
K9 Thunder SPH is designed for manoeuvre operations in a highly technological battlefield, along with main battle tanks and infantry combat vehicles. The K9 Thunder is an adaptable weapon system with a sophisticated fire control system embedded on each K9 and under the coordination of the Fire Direction Centre (FDC). The K9 can deliver indirect fire support to disperse, subdue and neutralize enemy ability to wage war in a network-centric environment. In the RoK, a K9 Thunder/K10 ARV combined battery has the versatile capability needed to engage any enemy target. Each K10 ARV supports two K9s. K10 ARV has a fully automated robotized equipment delivery system and resupplying capability to maximize the efficiency of artillery forces. K10 shares the same chassis, power pack and suspension with K9 Thunder. That gives efficiency in logistics support and tactical movement. The K10 ARV moves to the firing position after loading the ammunition stored in the ammunition dump or on the truck to resupply the K9 Thunders. To sustain the firing mission, K10 ARV approaches the K9 and resupplies its onboard munitions immediately when needed, wherever K9’s position is, regardless of weather, daylight or darkness. K10 ARV has an electrically operated telescopic arm and conveyor belt to transfer rounds and charges and feeds 155mm projectiles and associated charges into the bustle at the rear of the K9 turret at a rate of 48 rounds and charges in 18 minutes. All crew is under protection during resupply. K10 ARV carries 104 rounds, sufficient to resupply two K9 guns.
K9 Thunder’s Features
The South Korean-made armoured Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) 155mm L52-caliber howitzer conforms to the Joint Ballistic Memorandum of Understanding (JBMoU). With a 23-liter combustion chamber volume , K9 is compatible with all NATO 155mm standard ammunitions. The K9 Thunder is autonomous with a Modular Azimuth Position System and a Kongsberg Automatic Fire Control System connected to the CI2 network. Under the coordination of the FDC, K9 Thunder can deliver indirect fire support to disperse targets, neutralize and incapacitate enemy ability to wage war in a network-centric environment.
K9 has a great firepower and rate of fire to provide fast and concentrated firepower over time.
The maximum range depends on the projectile/charge combination
Longer Firing Range: K9 Thunder fired a Nammo 155mm IM HE-ER (Insensitive High Explosive Extended Range) Base Bleed projectile out to a range of 43.6 kilometres. The live firing took place at the Swedish firing test range Ravlunda, May 2–4, 2016. The test was checked by the Norwegian Defence Research Institute. A maximum range of 54km has been achieved in trial.
“Shoot & Scoot.”
K9 Thunder is designed and developed to the tactical concept of “Shoot & Scoot.” K9 Thunder carries out its first-round within 30 seconds while at rest and 60 seconds while in move as soon as it receives firing information from the FDC. After completing the mission, K9 Thunder quickly moves away from the primary firing position before the enemy’s counter fire and implements the next mission. A burst rate of fire of three rounds can be achieved in less than 15 seconds, with a maximum rate of fire of six to eight rounds a minute for three minutes. The sustained rate of fire is from two to three rounds a minute for one hour. It can carry out multi-round simultaneous-impact fire missions.
The VIDAR system will also be able to fire the 155 BONUS which is a 155 mm artillery round, developed in cooperation between Bofors of Sweden and Nexter of France, designed for a long-range, indirect fire top attack role against armoured vehicles. The BONUS base bleed carrier shell contains two submunitions, which descend over the battlefield on winglets and attack hardened targets with explosively formed penetrator warheads.
For the future, Nammo has increased the range of artillery grenades to just over 100 kilometres, and equipped them with rocket (ramjet) technology and target management – allowing the projectile to change course after launch.
This means that the artillery grenades have significantly increased precision and accuracy. The grenades have somewhat less explosive power, as the rocket system takes up space; it is a conscious priority for the new grenades to fit into existing 155-millimeter artillery systems. This means that the new grenades offer great benefits to many nations’ artillery at a low cost. Test firing of the projectile is scheduled for 2020, and the plan according to Nammo.is for the new artillery grenades to be ready for operational use in 2023-24.
The K9 has proven to be modern, reliable and precise. At all times, when executing fire missions, the crew is protected under steel armour.
It has deployment capability in difficult terrains in all weather conditions. K9’s 1,000hp MTU engine with Allison automatic transmission engine delivers high power-to-weight ratio (21.6hp/t*) and its mobility is similar to modern main battle tanks and tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles [*Benchmark: Leopard 2 A4, 1,500hp engine power/weight 62.5 = 24hp/t].
K9’s individual HSU (Hydro-pneumatic Suspension Unit) at each wheel station provides the K9 Thunder SPH with a capability to manoeuvre and fulfil its missions in diverse environments and terrains. The HSU minimizes shock and vibration to the cabin and significantly reduces crew fatigue. The HSU gives a quick stabilization of the gun between firing of rounds.
In ROK Army service, the K9 is supported by the K10 ammunition resupply vehicle, which feeds projectiles and charges into the K9. The first export customer for this is Norway, which has ordered 12 units, with one of these supporting two K9.
K9 VIDAR replaces Norway’s 50-year-old M109 artillery
The Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency (NDMA) ordered 24 K9 with six associated K10 ammunition vehicles from Hanwha. Besides, an option agreement was signed for another 24 artillery systems. The project’s total cost framework is approximately NOK 3.2 billion. Since then, Koreans have decided to market the Norwegian variant as “The VIDAR System”.
After about six months of factory testing, the first systems were on Norwegian soil November this year, on the precise date the parties agreed almost two years ago.
Then there will be so-called acceptance testing, which is more convenient to conduct in Norway. Among other things, there will be a shooting section where Norwegian ammunition will be tested that will be carried out during the first half of 2020. This will mainly be done at Regionfelt Østlandet north of Rena military camp, where the thorough winter test of the four artillery candidates were also carried out in 2016.
The serial production at the Hanwha plant in Changwon, just west of Busan in South Korea, has already started, and all VIDARS will be completed in May-August 2020.
Already this year Norway will receive 80 percent of the spare parts and 90 percent of the special tools, as well as technical documentation.
All 30 VIDARs are scheduled to be delivered to the Army in the autumn of 2020. At the same time, four driving simulators will be delivered to the new army technical competence centre in Bjerkvik. Here, technicians will also be trained and maintenance performed.
It has not yet been verified, but there is a possibility of a joint solution with Millog in Finland, which is doing the same for the Finnish army. They have so far received five of 48 ordered K9. Both Finnish and Norwegian artillery will have ICS (integrated combat systems) from Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace.
Some 12-15 year old, little used K9s, who had been on storage in South Korea, were thus sold on to Finland and Estonia whose decision was made, among other things, based on the test data collected during the Rena testing in 2016.
The data is also shared with the UK, which is to replace artillery in a slightly wider context and is still carrying out inquiries, as well as Australia is doing.
- Manufacturer: Hanwha Defense Cooperation, South Korea
- Operating since: 1999
- Weight: 46.3 tons
- Length / height / width: 12 / 3.5 / 3.4 meters
- Crew: 4
- Speed: 67 kilometres per hour
- Range: >360 kilometres Power / weight: 21.6 horsepower / ton
- K10 ARV
The K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle is built on the same platform as the K9. Thus, it has the corresponding mobility and protection. It can carry 104 complete rounds and automatically transfer twelve rounds per minute to the K9s inside the magazine. Norway has initially ordered only six such vehicles for its 24 K9 VIDARS.
Through Life Support (TLS)
Hanwha Land Systems provides full system support throughout the life cycle for maintenance of the K9 through a proven ILS package. The ILS for K9 includes:
Integrated Logistics Support (ILS)
ILS of K9 Thunder has not only made a great contribution to its combat readiness but also made a noticeable reduction of life-cycle cost. Spare parts availability is anticipated beyond 2050.
Supportability Analysis (SA)
Various elements of SA have been applied to accomplish K9 ILS, such as: Test & Support Equipment, Spare Parts & Inventory, Facility/Utility, Level of Repair, Criticality, Operator Task, Distribution, Personnel Training, Maintenance, Interactive Electronic Technical Manual (IETM) + TM Publication, Test & Diagnostic Equipment/Special Tool, and Training Aids.
Through Life Support (TLS)
TLS utilizing regional support base and technical transfer to local entity of choice; ILS and tech data to manage Maintenance Level 2~4; Establish field service at a Nordic company; Train the trainer at a Nordic/Baltic country; Transit TLS activity to Nordic/Baltic countries after first 5-year TLS; Maintain REACH BACK to Hanwha for sustainment support; Develop national industry as part of global supply chain for K9 SPH International; Regional parts supply; Licensed K9 components, produced in Poland and/or Turkey, could be utilized in an emergency; Synergize user community group dialogue to maximize support capability.
The Norwegian artillery will also get other new modern material
That includes MOSKITO TI and JIM Compact multifunction, compact and lightweight advanced performance handheld devices, fulfilling respectively medium and long-range requirements of the Norwegian Armed Forces. The combination of the two equipment will fulfil the broad range of operational requirements, including day and night observation, target acquisition, artillery correction and fire support, forward observer and Joint Terminal Attack Controller.
It’s also planned to acquire a new Counter Battery Radar/Multifunction Battlefield Radar for the accurate and rapid location of enemy guns, rocket launchers and mortars. It may also be used for the Adjustment/Registration of the fire of own artillery. It will be fielded on a single vehicle, and should achieves its full performance requirements around 2024.
About the author
(The author) Here Major (Ret.) Walter Christian Håland standing beside the armoured self-propelled howitzer system ZUZANA. He has completed artillery courses in Norway and UK. He has served in the Norwegian field artillery many years. He served as UN officer in Lebanon 1979-80. Before retirement, he served two years as Lieutenant Colonel at Material Branch, HQ DEFENCE COMMAND NORWAY.
Member of European Military Press Association