The K1 Tank was South Korea’s first true Main Battle Tank. It was a joint design with the former Chrysler Defence company (now part of General Dynamic Land Systems) who had originally designed the M1 Abrams, hence both vehicles similar appearance and the K1 nickname “baby Abrams”.
The K1 had some midlife upgrades and an export version with some minor modifications has also been marketed.
In 2014 the K1 Tank was upgraded with the “Performance Improvement” package. This tank is now known as “K1E1” and in service with the ROKA.
K1 Tank Development
Through out the 1950’s and right up to the mid-1980’s, America had supplied South Korea with surplus M47 and M48 Patton series tanks. These were supplied in different models, such as the M48A3 and M48A5.
South Korea modernised these vehicles with improved Fire Control Systems, were up-gunned in some cases and reportedly a new engine was installed.
However, these tanks had limited armored protection by modern standards and had limitations in the angles they could fire the main gun in the hilly terrain of South Korea.
South Korea decided to develop a new modern Main Battle Tank during the 1970’s known as the ROKIT (Republic of Korea Indigenous Tank) project. Working closely with the American company Chrysler Defence, 2 working prototypes were completed in 1983 for trials.
The new design was based around the M1 Abrams and met the requirements of the ROKA. The design included features that would later appear in the M1 Abrams series and eliminated the issues of firing the main gun in the hilly terrain of South Korea.
The design, now designated the XK1 or XK-1 was accepted into ROKA service and production commenced with Korean company Hyundai Precision Industry Co LTD (now known as Hyundai Rotem) in 1986. First delivery’s to the ROKA and service entry was in 1987.
K1 Tank Firepower
Note: Video is OF K1 Live Firing Not K1A1 (smaller fume extractor in the centre of the Barrel)
The main gun of the K1 Tank, is a licence built version of the American 105mm rifled M56, which in turn is a licence built version of the British L7. The main gun is known locally as the KM68A1. The 105mm gun was deemed capable of defeating the T-55 and T-62 tanks operated by North Korea and capable of also firing the 105mm ammunition used on the ROKA operated M48 Patton Tanks.
The main gun is stabilized for effective firing on the move. The K1 Tank is fitted with a modern Fire Control System with a ballistic computer, atmospheric sensors, laser range finder, Gunners sight with a thermal image channel.
Unlike the earlier M1 Abrams series models, the K1 Tank has always had a Commanders Independent Sight enabling a “Hunter Killer” capability, making the K1 a third-generation Main Battle Tank. The K1 sight technology is provided by French company Sagem.
Secondary weapons include a 7.62mm coaxial Machine Gun, a .50 cal MG on the Commanders Cupola and a pintle mounted 7.62mm MG on the Loaders hatch.
K1 Tank Protection
The K1 Tank is fitted with a composite armor across the frontal arc. This is referred to as Special Armor Plate (SAP) on the K1 and the sides of the hull have thick steel side skirts acting as a form of spaced armor against RPG attack.
Ammunition storage is similar to that of all 105mm armed tanks, with rounds mostly stored below the turret ring. The K1 features NBC protection and is fitted with a bank of smoke grenade launchers on either side of the turrets front. An internal fire detection and suppression system is also fitted.
K1 Tank Mobility
Note: Video is of the K1A1 and demonstrates the mobility of the K1 Tank Series
The K1 is powered by a 1200hp MTU 871 8-cylinder diesel engine, which is built under licence and known locally as the Ka-501. It is coupled to a Renk automatic-transmission. The K1 has a hybrid torsion bar suspension, which can be adjusted so the vehicle is either kneeling forward or backwards. This feature enables the K1 to fire up or down hills.
K1 Tank Layout
The K1 features a 4 man crew, the Driver is located on the left side of the hull, Gunner and Commander are located on the right side of the turret, with main guns breach separating them from the Loader (aka Operator) standing on the left side of the turret. The engine is located in the rear. the Driver has x3 periscopes in his hatch, with the centre one being replaced with a night vision type when required.
K1 Tank Models
Prototype and trialls vehicle. The first prototype was the Automotive Test Rig (ATR) and used for performance, endurance and reliabilty testing. The second was the Fire Control Test Rig (FCTR). All inital trials were completed in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in America.
Production model from 1986 to 1998. At some point during production the CIS was upgraded from a square housing to a round one. Some publications state the SAP armor was also upgraded during production, though this needs more clarification. Some 1000 vehicles were built.
Dedicated Vehicle Page: To Be Added
The Armored Recovery Vehicle is based on a K1 hull and equipment/systems from German company MaK (now part of Rheinmetall) who had developed the Leopard 2 ARV. MaK were awarded the initial contract for the ARV equipment in 1991. Since then, further orders have resulted in a total of 200 K1 ARV being produced for the ROKA and is used to recover both the K1, K1A1 and the new K2 Black Panther.
Dedicated Vehicle Page: To Be Added
The K1 Armored Vehicle Launching Bridge is a K1 hull fitted with a Scissor-Type bridge. The Bridging system was developed by the former British Vickers Defence Systems (now part of BAE Systems) and is integrated onto the K1 hull by Hyundai Rotem. 56 vehicles have been produced since 1993 for the ROKA.
Dedicated Vehicle Page: K1A1 Tank
The first major upgraded version of the K1, with improvements in firepower, technology and protection. Production of the K1A1 replaced the K1 in 1999, with 484 vehicles being built when production ended in 2009.
Export model developed for Malaysia developed in the late 1990’s. Malaysia eventually selected the Polish Pt-91 Twardy instead.
Dedicated Vehicle Page: K1E1 Tank
The K1E1 is an upgrade package currently being implemented to all K1 Tanks in service with the ROKA. It features the latest C4I networking technology and other new features.
K1 Tank Operators
South Korea: 1000 K1 tanks delivered. These scheduled to be all upgraded to the K1E1. 200 K1 ARV and 56 K1 AVLB. It is not clear if the ARV and AVLB are included in the 1000 vehicles built or are separate orders.
K1 Tank Specifications
|105mm, KM68A1 Rifled
Elevation -10 to +20
|x1 coaxial 7.62mm MG, x1 7.62mm MG, x1 .50 MG
|x47 105mm, x8,800 7.62mm, x1,000 .50
|1200hp MTU 871 8-cylinder Diesel
|Renk automatic-transmission (4 forward/ 2 reverse gears)
|Top Road Speed
|65 km/h (Governed)
|1.2m (2.2m with snorkel kit)
|Length Gun Forward
|2.24m (roof top)
|51,000kg aka 51 tonne combat
|Active Protection Systems
- Janes Armor and Artillery 2005
- Janes Tank Recognition Guide