SEOUL — South Korea’s Hanwha Defense has signed a contract to supply the Australian Army with advanced self-propelled howitzers and ammunition resupply vehicles.
The deal is worth about $730 million, representing the highest-valued export of Hanwha’s K9 self-propelled howitzer, nicknamed Thunder and known in Australia as the AS9.
The signing was witnessed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on Dec. 13 at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, while the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties.
Under the contact for the Land 8116 acquisition project, Hanwha Defense Australia will manufacture 30 AS9 Huntsman self-propelled guns and 15 AS10 armored ammunition resupply vehicles for delivery between 2025 and 2027 at its facility in Geelong, Victoria.
“With Australia’s close proximity to South Korea, and the strong bilateral relationship between the two countries, Hanwha’s Australian facility will become a critical and important secondary line of supply back to South Korea,” aid Richard Cho, managing director of Hanwha Defense Australia, which was established in 2019. He added that the Australian industrial base will help Hanwha fulfill contracts in other parts of the world and deliver capacity to engage with the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton was confident the acquisition of the “Huntsman family of vehicles” will help enhance the capability of the Australian forces. “The prime ability of the new vehicles is to fire and move quickly, avoiding enemy counter-attack,” the minister said. “This project will mean a significant increase in the level of firepower and security for Australian artillery capability.”
Hanwha’s K9 features a proven 155mm/52-caliber gun in service with seven nations around the world: South Korea, Turkey, Poland, India, Finland, Norway and Estonia. About 1,700 K9 variants are in use among those countries. Negotiations are underway between Hanwha and the Egyptian government for the K9.
The K9 has a firing range of 40-plus kilometers with conventional 155mm ammunition. It can move as fast as 67 kph. Fitted with an automatic fire control system, the howitzer can fire within 30 seconds from a stationary position and within 60 seconds while on move.
Based on the K9 features, the AS9 Huntsman will be specifically built to meet the requirements of the Australian Army by adding enhanced armor and weapon-locating radars, according to Hanwha officials.
The AS10 is also to feature better armor protection compared to the classic K10 ammunition resupply vehicle. Hanwha also forged a partnership with Kongsberg for the integration of tactical communication systems and battle management systems for the Huntsman.
“The Self-Propelled Howitzer capability, including a strengthened industrial base, is one of several projects that will modernize the Australian Army, ensuring it continues to maintain a capability advantage now, and into the future,” Dutton said.
Australian Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price expressed hope that the AS9 facility will bring economic benefits to the domestic industry by creating hundreds of local jobs and becoming a national asset for military capability.
Earlier this year, Hanwha Defense formed “Team Thunder” with U.K. suppliers to bid for the British Army’s Mobile Fires Platform program. A request for proposals for the program is expected to be released as early as 2022. Team Thunder includes Pearson Engineering, Horstman Defence Systems, Leonardo in the UK, and Canada’s Soucy Defense.
Hanwha Defense is offering the newer K9A2 gun, which is still under development. The K9A2 is to be equipped with a fully automated ammunition loading system capable of firing 9-10 rounds per minute. Other advanced technologies under consideration include composite rubber tracks and mine protection kits.
With the advanced K9 technologies, including an autoloader, Hanwha Defense is also looking to participate in the U.S. Army’s Extended Range Cannon Artillery program. The company plans to take the K9 artillery to Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, to demonstrate its performance and compatibility with American munitions.
Brian Kim is the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.