Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the strength of the planned engine for the K9 howitzer. South Korea plans to develop a 1,000-horsepower version.

SEOUL — South Korea has unveiled measures to enhance its defense industry’s capabilities in a move expected to help boost the country’s arms exports.

On Sept. 15, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to locally develop the engine for the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer.

“If we develop an engine for the K9 on our own, it will help pave the way for self-reliant national defense and contribute to increasing the exports of the artillery as well,” DAPA Commissioner Wang Jung-hong said in a news release.

The agency said it will invest about $65 million over the next five years to develop a 1,000-horespower diesel engine to replace the German MTU 881 Ka-500 water-cooled diesel engine, which currently powers the K9 howitzer.

The decision came on the heels of Australia’s selection of the K9 vehicle as the preferred solution for the first phase of the Land 8116 Protected Mobile Fires program, which is aimed at acquiring 30 self-propelled howitzers and 15 other ammunition resupply vehicles.

Australia would be the seventh country operating the K9 vehicles after Turkey, Poland, Finland, India, Norway and Estonia, once a deal is finalized later next year. About 1,700 K9 units are in service around the world, according to its manufacturer, Hanwha Defense.

Nevertheless, the export of the K9 has been impeded by a German arms embargo on some Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia. In March, the German government endorsed an extension of its arms embargo on the kingdom to last until the year’s end, marking the third extension to the arms export restriction, which was enacted in late 2018 following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Western intelligence agencies said the Saudi government murdered him, but the kingdom has denied the accusation.

“Negotiations are known to be continuing over K9′s sales to some other countries, but the German arms embargo has been the main stumbling block to finalizing deals,” a diplomatic source told Defense News, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In this regard, the plan of localizing the K9 engine is construed as an important step to shore up the country’s arms exports.”

In addition, DAPA adopted a policy of operating export-variant weapons systems on a trial basis, prior to potential sales, to verify performances first at home.

“By operating and evaluating the latest weapons systems designed for exports for a certain period of time, the Army would be able to provide valuable feedbacks to the manufacturers,” DAPA said in an Oct. 7 news release.

Through these efforts, the chance of exporting those weapons concerned would be increased when their performances could be proven and certified to potential customers, the agency added.

The beneficiaries of this program are Hanwha Defense, KOVICO and Dasan Machineries. Under the plan, the South Korean Army will take delivery of the six-wheel drive armored personnel carrier TIGON from Hanwha; four-wheel drive armored personnel carriers from KOVICO; and 12 types of small arms from Dasan.

“After pilot operation and evaluations of those weapons systems, certifications will be issued on proven records, which can be offered to potential customer nations,” the agency said.

TIGON is an export-oriented armored personnel carrier first introduced at a 2018 arms exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A successor to the Black Fox armored vehicle exported to Indonesia, TIGON can be fitted with four different types of armament such as a 12.7mm machine gun as well as three types of remote-controlled weapon stations armed with a 12.7mm machine gun, a 30mm automatic gun and a 90mm gun.

The 21-ton vehicle can carry two crew members up front and nine troops in the rear compartment. It has a maximum speed of 100 kph on the road and 8 kph in water, with a cruising range of 800 kilometers.

Brian Kim was a South Korea correspondent for Defense News.

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