This story was updated Feb. 3, 2022, at 9:46 a.m. EST with additional details from Hanwha.
BEIRUT — Egypt has ordered K9 self-propelled howitzers and other support vehicles from Hanwha Defense, according to a Feb. 1 announcement by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
A source with knowledge of the deal told Defense News that most of the artillery and vehicles are scheduled to be locally produced at Factory 200, a state-run defense manufacturing facility just outside the Egyptian capital, while an initial batch is to be delivered by Hanwha Defense.
“The contract is valued around $1.7 billion for hundreds of the K9 Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH), K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicles, and K11 Fire Direction Control Vehicle,” the company said. “The K11 Fire Direction Control Vehicle is a new vehicle to be developed for the Egyptian military. Using the K9 chassis, the command-post vehicle will be equipped with a range of high-tech sensor and communication equipment in accordance with operational requirements of the Egyptian Army and Navy.”
South Korean company Hanwha, which makes the K9, showcased the system recently at the Egypt Defence Expo, which ran Nov. 29-Dec. 2. Defense News spoke to several experts during the negotiation process who said the firm was expected to launch production lines in Egypt with local companies to produce subsystems of the howitzer.
Mohamed al-Kenany, who leads the military studies unit at the Cairo-based Arab Forum for Analyzing Iranian Policies, noted that at least two Egyptian companies have experience in this field: “Abu Zaabal Company for Engineering Industries (Factory 100), which originally manufactures howitzer artillery systems for the Egyptian army and 120mm cannon for the Egyptian M1A1 tank,” and “Military Factory 200, which is an armored production and repair facility specializing in armored vehicles and tracked vehicles.”
The two organizations fall under the purview of Egypt’s Ministry of Military Production.
Why choose the K9?
Egypt expressed interest in updating its artillery systems in 2009, but efforts were postponed for nearly a decade as the country underwent a revolt — part of what was dubbed the Arab Spring, a wave of pro-democratic protests, revolutions and civil wars in the region that began in 2011.
“In 2017, there was a strong competition between French Nexter’s Caesar, South Korean K9 Thunder, Russian Koalitsiya-SV, and Chinese PLZ-45 for the Egyptian Armed Forces howitzer,” al-Kenany said.
Egypt hosted testing for the systems, he said, with a final competition between the Caesar and the K9, which the latter won.
Egypt’s land forces currently operate versions A2, A3 and A5 of the American-made M109 howitzer. Abdel Hamid Harfi, a military researcher and author, said the South Korean howitzers will replace Egypt’s aging fleet.
“Some of these [American] howitzers are first-generation systems and are either out of service or used by the Egyptian Ministry of Military Production to manufacture local artillery using Russian 122mm guns, but they don’t meet the field efficiency requirement levels the Armed Forces need. After local upgrade, they have become armored and not self-propelled,” he told Defense News.
But more significant than Egypt’s decision to purchase the K9 howitzer is its securing of a joint production deal, according to Ahmad Eliba, a defense expert at the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies.
“The K9 Thunder howitzer is very [similar] to the American howitzer. The particular choice of this system was made in accordance with the Egyptian armed forces specifications, like the cost and technology transfer,” Eliba told Defense News, adding that the latest deal is a sign of growth in Egyptian and South Korean defense cooperation.
Harfi agreed, emphasizing that the K9 Thunder used a German engine, American ammunition and an American-German gun. “Therefore, if the supply of one of the spare parts stops, the whole system will be out of service. But what the deal gives to Egypt is an example of technology transfer and building local knowledge and expertise to develop Egyptian weapons in the future.”
Locally performed maintenance and production of spare parts play a crucial role in Egypt’s effort to bolster its defense industry, and the K9 deal contributes to this national goal.
“The military doctrine of the Egyptian army is based on diversifying the suppliers of weapons to avoid any risk of [imposed] penalties or [the] embargo of weapons and spare parts supply,” Harfi said.
Added al-Kenany: “In the end, Egypt is moving toward what suits its operational needs, including its conditions, what suits the Egyptian combat environment and what is appropriate for maintenance costs and technical support, [and] the possibility of technology transfer.”
With only aging M109 howitzers in service, he noted, the country needs a new cannon with improved capabilities and a longer range for both its the land and naval forces. “It is expected that the naval forces will operate the howitzer also, as coastal defense is not limited to anti-ship missile systems,” he said.
That would give coastal defense forces a qualitative advantage over the currently operational M46, which is 130mm Soviet-era gun with a range around 30 kilometers.
“The firing range of K9 is up to 40 kilometers, and its extended range is up to 50-60 kilometers. This gives Egypt an unprecedented range, especially [given] the system can be equipped with laser-guided munitions and GPS-guided munitions and rocket boosters,” al-Kenany said.
DAPA did not disclose the details of the deal with Egypt valued around $1.7 billion, but the source privy to the deal said the number of the K9 artillery systems to be supplied to the Egyptian armed forces is expected to be around 200, along with scores of support vehicles, such as the K10 ammunition resupply vehicles. On Feb. 2, Hanwha confirmed the contract value in a news release.
Brian Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.
Agnes Helou was a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.