K2 Black Panther: One of the World’s Most Expensive Tanks

Photo Credit: 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit: 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to the presence of its neighbors to the north, South Korea must constantly be prepared for the possibility of warfare. Kim Jung-un, the leader of North Korea, regularly feels the need to show that provocative actions could occur at any time, and South Korea has responded by creating a fierce military that uses updated vehicles and weapons. Among those is the K2 Black Panther main battle tank (MBT).

Design and development of the K2 Black Panther

K2 Black Panther parked outside
South Korea designed the K2 Black Panther to replace the American-produced M48 Patton tank. (Photo Credit: Simta / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

As an ally to the United States and other NATO nations, South Korea long had access to M48 Pattons. The tanks, however, had become somewhat obsolete, with the US Army retiring them in 1987. In the early 2000s, South Korea decided it wanted to come up with a replacement for the M48, as well.

Between 2003-07, five different prototypes for a new tank were developed. The final one was successful and declared fit for production by the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). Certain kinks had to be worked out regarding the engine and transmission, which delayed mass production of the vehicles.

Mass production of the K2 Black Panther

K2 Black Panther driving along a dirt road
Costing $8.5 million per unit, the K2 Black Panther is one of the most expensive tanks in the world. (Photo Credit: 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2013, mass production on the K2 Black Panther began, with German-manufactured MTU power plants used, due to the enduring issues regarding the reliability and durability of the tank’s transmission and engine. By 2014, the armored vehicles were ready for service and began showing up on battlefields.

In December 2014, South Korean company Hyundai Rotem took over the contract to build the K2. Production comes at a massive price, with each one costing $8.5 million. This makes the tank one of the most expensive currently in service.

Impressive defensive capabilities

K2 Black Panther firing its main gun
The K2 Black Panther has some very impressive capabilities. (Photo Credit: 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

As a more recently developed tank, the K2 Black Panther has some very impressive capabilities. It’s armed with a CN08 120 mm .55-caliber smoothbore gun, which can fire up to 10 rounds per minute. This is complemented by two machine guns, a 7.62 mm coaxial and a 12.7 mm K6.

The tank has an advanced fire-control system, as well as a laser range finder, which allows it to lock onto targets as far away as 6.1 miles. With this, it can take on enemies on the ground and low-flying aircraft. It features a steel shell that protects it from enemy fire and a radar system that can detect incoming missiles and fire grenades to disrupt the projectiles. The interior also has a pressure and air conditioning system that keeps those within safe from biological and chemical attacks.

Mobility of the K2 Black Panther

K2 Black Panthers firing smoke grenades
K2 Black Panthers can travel at high speeds, even through rough terrain. (Photo Credit: 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

In addition to its defensive capabilities, the K2 Black Panther is also an impressive mover; the tank can travel at top speeds of between 43-44 MPH. Even while driving over rough terrain, it can reach up to 31 MPH. There’s also an innovative snorkel system, which allows it to cross rivers up to 4.1 meters deep.

The K2 features an in-arm suspension system, allowing it to “sit,” “stand,” “kneel” and “lean.” Those operating the tank can take advantage of these positions to fire munitions more accurately.

Use by other countries

Turkish military troops walking alongside two military vehicles
In 2007, the Turkish military reached a deal to acquire design details for the K2 Black Panther from South Korea. (Photo Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP / Getty Images)

South Korea isn’t the only one taking advantage of the capabilities of the K2 Black Panther. The country’s government has also made deals with other nations to provide them with the tanks. The first was struck with Turkey in 2007. Under the $540 million deal, the Turkish military received a license for the K2, along with the delivery of 40 KAI KT-1 Woongbi training aircraft. While Turkey is building K2s, the nation is importing parts from South Korea.

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Poland has also struck a deal to acquire K2s. In July 2022, the country announced it had agreed to purchase 180 of the tanks from South Korea. Delivery of the vehicles is expected to occur between 2023-25.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in psfk.com, foxsports.com, politicususa.com and hillreporter.com. He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.