Military Wiki
Korean K1 Tank.JPEG
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin  Republic of Korea
Service history
In service K1: 1986–present
K1A1: 1999-present
Used by See operators
Production history
Designer General Dynamics
Manufacturer Hyundai Rotem
Unit cost K1: US$2,500,000
K1A1: US$5,000,000
Produced K1: 1983-1999
K1A1: 1999-2010
Number built K1: 600
K1A1: 700
Weight K1: 51.4 metric tonnes
K1A1: 54.3 metric tonnes
Length K1: 9.67 m
K1A1: 9.71 m
Width 3.60 m
Height 2.25 m
Crew 4 or 3 (commander, gunner, loader and driver)

K1: KM68A1 105 mm 52 calibers (50 rounds)
K1A1: KM256 120 mm 44 calibers (35 rounds)
12.7 mm K6 HMG on right pintle mount for commander
7.62 mm M60D on left pintle mount for loader
7.62 mm M60E2-1 on coaxial mount
Engine 10-cyl. water-cooled diesel MTU 871 Ka-501
1200 hp at 2600 rpm
Power/weight K1: 25 hp/tonne
K1A1: 23.8 hp/tonne
K1A2: 22.7 hp/tonne
K1A3: 29.4 hp/tonne
Transmission ZF LSG 3000 (Four forward, two reverse)
Suspension Hydropneumatic at front, torsion bar at rear of the chassis
400 km
Speed (road)
K1: 65 km/h
K1A1: 65 km/h
(cross country)
K1: 40 km/h
K1A1: 40 km/h

The K1 is a main battle tank in use with the South Korean ground forces. The vehicle is based on the design of the M1 Abrams, a product of General Dynamics, while the production is handled domestically in South Korea by Hyundai Precision.[1]

History and overview

In the 1970s, Republic of Korea was desperately in need of additional main battle tanks. M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant of Sherman tanks, dating back to World War II, had been retired from service by the Republic of Korea Army, and the backbone of the South Korean armor was formed up of M47 and M48 Patton tanks. Meanwhile, North Koreans had both numerical and technological advantages over the South Korean armor with their T-62 main battle tanks.

At first, attempts were made to obtain the United States' M60A1 Pattons, but ended in a failure. It was deemed that, even if the M60A1s were obtainable, there would not be enough of them to give the South Korean forces a significant advantage over existing North Korean tanks. A number of other plans were also devised, such as upgrading the existing M48 Pattons to the M48A3 and A5 standard, as well as obtaining the license to domestically produce Germany's Leopard 1 main battle tank. Only the upgrades to the Pattons were carried out, with the results being the M48A3K and M48A5K, while producing Leopard 1s were deemed as counterproductive as newer generation of main battle tanks were already being developed and tested in both the U.S. and Germany, namely the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2.

In light of this, the Park Chung-hee administration announced plans to domestically produce main battle tanks that were comparable to the newer generation of main battle tanks. However, having absolutely no experience in the design, development and manufacture of main battle tanks to speak of, the task assigned to the South Korean industry was all but impossible. Upon realization, foreign designs were considered and evaluated, with condition being that the winning design be licensed and produced domestically. The winning design was based on the XM1, the prototype of M1 Abrams, by Chrysler Defense, the company which was later sold to General Dynamics and renamed General Dynamics Land Systems. Soon afterwards, South Korean officials were dispatched to General Dynamics Land Systems for supervision of the design, which would spawn the XK1.

With its design being based on XM1, the XK1 shared various similarities with it. However, upon closer inspection, numerous differences can be found. The differences included the weight (55 ton XM1 versus 51 ton XK1), height (2.37 m versus 2.25 m), engine (1,500 hp Honeywell AGT1500C for XM1 versus 1,200 hp Teledyne Continental AVCR-1790, also used on Merkava 3, for XK1, although the XK1's engine will later be replaced with MTU MB Ka-501, a compact version of the 1,500 hp MB-873 Ka-503 used on Leopard 2), transmission (Allison DDA X-1100-3B for XM1 versus ZF Friedrichshafen LSG 3000 for XK1), and several other components used in the vehicles.

The XK1 retained the XM1's M68E1 105 mm rifled main gun, which would also be domestically produced under license with designtion of KM68, as well as the fire control system by Hughes Aircraft Company and the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder. One of the major differences was the addition of tank commander's independent panoramic sights on XK1, which was missing on XM1, giving the XK1 the capability to utilize the FCS more effectively, notably by engaging in Hunter-Killer tactics, which the M1 series could not do until the introduction of M1A2. The tank commander's panoramic sights were not, however, equipped with light amplification or thermal optics, which led to the tank commander having to rely on personal night vision goggles to operate his sights, while the gunner's sights were equipped with thermal observation device, which meant that XK1 had superior sensors until the introduction of M1A2.

XK1 tanks are also equipped with a hybrid suspension system consisting of hydropneumatic system on road wheels 1, 2 and 6, while 3, 4 and 5 are equipped with torsion bars, a feature not present on XM1, granting the XK1 greater stability and ability to elevate and depress the main gun nearly twice as much than tanks equipped with torsion bars alone. (+20 to -9.7 degrees for XK1 versus +10 to -5 XM1)

The development of the vehicle was completed in 1983 with a prototype being delivered to the South Korean government in the same year. As mentioned above, however, the AVCR-1790 used for the design was replaced by MTU MB Ka-501 just prior to mass production, which resulted in K1's engine deck and exhaust grills becoming cosmetically similar to Leopard 2's.

Hyundai Precision, now known as Hyundai Rotem, took the responsibility of manufacturing the tanks, and the mass production began in 1985, with deployment lasting from the same year to 1987. The vehicle was not, however, unveiled until 1987, for security purposes. Foreign journalists were invited to the unveiling ceremony, and a massive training exercise using the new tanks took place during the event for publicity.

After the production of approximately 450 K1s, the Gunner's Primary Sights (GPS) designed by Hughes was replaced by Gunner's Primary Tank Thermal Sights (GPTTS) by Texas Instruments. The new system also replaced the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder used in the Hughes unit with a CO2-based one, which has proven to be safer to the users' eyes, although having less effective range than the former in foul weather.

While the exact composition of the armor has still not been released, it has been confirmed that K1 is equipped with composite armor, the Chobham. Automatic fire extinguishing system is present on the vehicle. Engine compartment detector is thermocouple wire, and crew compartment detector is optical sensor. Extinguishant used is Halon1301, commonly used by western MBT. And, while air conditioning system is installed to aid in crew comfort, the vehicle lacks overpressure system to effectively protect the crew against nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks, requiring the crew to don protective gear while operating in contaminated environment.

Production remained at approximately 100 units per year at its peak.


The vehicle was put into service with Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) and Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) in 1987, but was tagged 88 by then-President Chun Doo-hwan to honor the upcoming 1988 Summer Olympics that took place in Seoul, Korea. The K1 is often incorrectly dubbed as Type 88 by foreigners. The correct term would be 88 Tank (Hangul: 88 전차)—in South Korea, it is commonly referred to as the Eight-Eight tank, not Eighty-Eight.). Type 88 would actually translate into 88식, which is completely different as the South Korean military applies the American method of marking their equipment, such as M#A#, and do not use the Type ## designations to refer to their equipment.

The term 88 Tank is not an official designation. The official designation of the vehicle, as well as the most widely used name, however, remains to be the K1 Tank, (Hangul: K1 전차) regardless when referring to either the K1 or the newer K1A1 variant.

Nicknames include "Mini Abrams" and "Baby Abrams" due to its similar appearance and smaller size to the M1 Abrams.[citation needed]

North Korean reaction

North Korean defectors have indicated that the K1 is superior to North Korean counterparts. This led the North Koreans to upgrade their T-62 (see Ch'onma-Ho), as well as developing a new tank (see P'okpoong-Ho), in hopes of creating a countermeasure against the K1. Despite the effort, the North Koreans apparently have not come up with an effective means of countering the K1 threat, and have given the K1 and the K1A1 main battle tanks the nickname of "Monster Tank". (Hangul: 괴물 전차)[citation needed]



The K1A1 was accepted into Korean service on October 13, 2001 after the first one was produced on April 3, 1996[2] and is an upgraded version of the K1 MBT. The KM68 main gun has been replaced with KM256 120 mm main gun (a licensed production model of U.S. M256 which, in turn, is a licensed production model of the Rheinmetall L44) which nearly doubled the penetration power of the original vehicle. In addition, its fire control system, thermal sights, LASER rangefinder, turret and gun stabilization and armor have been improved, giving the vehicle greater survivability and lethality. Improved armor is called 'Korean Special Armour Plate(KSAP)'. The weight of the vehicle has increased along with the upgrade, and has slightly lowered its power-to-weight ratio and speed, the former of which was considered as already too low for the rough Korean terrain by some critics.

The KCPS specifications for K1A1 is as follows;

  • Zoom: 3× / 10× (day & night)
  • Vertical scan angle (the amount of angle which the optics can move up and down): +/- 35˚
  • Horizontal scan angle (the amount of angle which the optics can turn): 360˚
  • Gunner's alternate sight zoom: 8×

The carbon dioxide laser rangefinder's specification is as follows;

  • Range: 200 ~ 7,990 m
  • Daytime magnification: 1× / 10×
  • Nighttime magnification: 3× / 10×

The K1A1 can easily be distinguished from the K1 by the shape of the gun, location of the co-axial machinegun, the shape of the commander's panoramic sight, and the overall angular shape of the turret. (The K1A1 has more curved surfaces than the K1.) The 120 mm smoothbore gun of K1A1 is thicker than the K1's 105 mm rifled gun and has a thicker thermal sleeve a third of the way from the base of the gun. The co-axial machinegun on K1A1 is located at a much higher point compared to the K1. The K1A1 also features a somewhat cone-shaped day/night KGPS compared to day-only sight of the K1 that has a plain, tube-like appearance to it.


The K1 Armored Recovery Vehicle is based on the K1 tank.[1] It has a crane, winch and dozer system built on the vehicle.[3] Created with assistance from Krupp Mak Maschinenbau GmbH (now Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH) and was created from 1988 to 1992 with first deployment in 1993.[3]


The K1 Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge Vehicle variant uses a scissor-type bridge system mounted on the chassis. Developed from 1988 to 1992 with help from Vickers Defense Systems.[4]


This is a proposed export variant for Malaysia that never took off. In 1997, Malaysia expressed high interest for obtaining the K1, and the ROK responded by showing them the concept for K1M, which had several features not present in baseline K1, including LASER warning system and air conditioning unit. It was to weigh 49.7 tons, while the total ammunition capacity would have been reduced to 41 rounds. The two nations never reached an agreement as the ROK offered a contract for 210 K1M's, but Malaysia responded that it was too many, and chose to go with Poland's PT-91.


South Korea Republic of Korea Armed Forces

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hyundai. Retrieved on January 9, 2008
  2. K1A1 Main Battle Tank.
  3. 3.0 3.1 K1 ARV. Retrieved on January 9, 2008.
  4. K1 AVLB. Retrieved on January 9, 2008.

External links

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