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An K1 88-Tank tank of the South Korean Army.

Tanks in the South Korean Army have over several decades of history, from the M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant of Sherman tanks, and M47 and M48 Patton series tanks to the K1A1 Main Battle Tank and will soon see the K2 Black Panther (흑표;黑豹 Heukpyo). In 1970s, a number of plans were made to upgrade the existing tanks such as the 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 the Republic of Korea began to undertake a program to develop and produce a South Korean tank, heavily based on the M1. The development of the vehicle which resulted in the South Korean K1 88-Tank was completed in 1983, with a prototype being delivered to the South Korean government in the same year. A long history of invasions by neighbors and the unresolved tension with North Korea have prompted South Korea to allocate 2.6% of its GDP and 15% of all government spending to its military (Government share of GDP: 14.967%), which has allowed its own development of tanks.

History of the South Korean army

Despite the initial plan of a unified Korea in the 1943 Cairo Declaration, escalating Cold War antagonism between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually led to the establishment of separate governments, each with its own ideology, leading to Korea's division into two political entities in 1948: North Korea and South Korea. In the North, a former anti-Japanese guerrilla and communist activist, Kim Il-sung gained power through Soviet support. In the South, elections supervised by the United Nations were held, a Republic of Korea was declared, and Syngman Rhee inaugurated as its first president. In December, the UN General Assembly declared this "a lawful government" and "the only such government in Korea."[1]

The United States engaged in the decolonization of Korea (mainly in the South, with the Soviet Union engaged in North Korea) from Japan after World War II. After three years of military administration by the United States, the South Korean government was established. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, sparking the Korean War, the Cold War's first major conflict that continued until 1953.

Knocked out North Korean T-34 during the Korean War in September 1950 near Seoul after the amphibious landings at Inchon.

A North Korean T-34-85 caught on a bridge south of Suwon by American attack aircraft during the Korean War.

Upon the onset of the Korean War, U.S. forces were sent to defend South Korea against invasion by North Korea and later China. At the time, the Soviet Union had boycotted the United Nations (UN), thus forfeiting their veto rights. This allowed the UN to intervene when it became apparent that the superior North Korean forces would unify the entire country. The North Korea tanks confronted a tankless ROK Army armed with few modern anti-tank weapons,[2] including American World War II–model 2.36-inch (60 mm) M9 bazookas, effective only against the 45 mm side armor of the T-34-85 tank. under-equipped ROK Army border units used American 105 mm howitzers as anti-tank guns to stop the tanks heading the KPA columns, firing high-explosive anti-tank ammunition (HEAT) over open sights to good effect; at the war's start, the ROK Army had 91 howitzers, but lost most to the invaders.[3]

Countering the initial combat imbalance, the UN Command reinforcement matériel included heavier US M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing, M46 Patton, and British Cromwell and Centurion tanks that proved effective against North Korean armor, reversing the situation.[4] Unlike in the Second World War (1939–45), in which the tank proved a decisive weapon, the Korean War featured few large-scale tank battles. The mountainous, heavily forested terrain prevented large masses of tanks from maneuvering. In Korea, tanks served largely as infantry support and mobile artillery pieces. The Soviet Union and China backed North Korea, with the later participation of millions of Chinese troops. After huge advances on both sides, and massive losses among Korean civilians in both the north and the south, the war eventually reached a stalemate. The 1953 armistice, never signed by South Korea, split the peninsula along the demilitarized zone near the original demarcation line. No peace treaty was ever signed, resulting in the two countries remaining technically at war.

Supporting the 8th ROK Army Division, a M4A3E8 Sherman tank fires its 76mm gun at KPA bunkers at "Napalm Ridge", Korea, 11 May 1952

The South Korean Armed Forces were created in 1948, following the division of Korea, and the Republic of Korea Armed Forces is one of the largest standing armed forces in the world. The South Korean armed forces were largely constabulary forces until the outbreak of the Korean War. It was heavily damaged by North Korean and Chinese attacks and in the beginning relied almost entirely on American support for weapons, ammunition and technology. Between 1950 and 1953, during the Korean War, the two opposing armies of South and North Korea received large quantities of military supplies and vehicles and tanks from foreign powers.

Organization of South Korean Army armored forces

A Sherman M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant 76 mm armed tank

Beginning in 1945, the country which became South Korea was controlled by American forces and the remaining IJA forces which remained in place to assist till they were repatriated to Japan. At the end of World War II, the South Korean Army was formed but with no tanks till the Korean War, and at the beginning counted on equipment composed of very few armored vehicles and even less tanks. The South Korean Army received medium battle tanks M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant of Sherman tanks, and M47 and M48 Patton series tanks. These tanks were an important modernization of South Korea armored firepower. The M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" variant of Sherman tanks, dating back to World War II, were eventually 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 which are being phased out and replaced. Tanks of the ROK Army include these older M48 Patton series, as well as the more recent K1, K1A1 which bear a 120 mm smooth-bore gun and are of local manufacture, and Russian-built T-80U. Today the ROK Army has 2,872 tanks, including 1,524 K1 and K1A1 tanks.

Modern South Korean armor: present

The South Korean K2 Black Panther tank

The South Korean army has 2,500 tanks in operation, including the K1A1 and K2 Black Panther, which form the backbone of the South Korean army's mechanized armor and infantry forces. A sizable arsenal of many artillery systems, including 1,700 self-propelled K55 and K9 Thunder howitzers and 680 helicopters and UAVs of numerous types, are assembled to provide additional fire, reconnaissance, and logistics support. South Korea's smaller but more advanced artillery force and wide range of airborne reconnaissance platforms are pivotal in the counter-battery suppression of North Korea's over-sized artillery force, which operates more than 13,000 artillery systems deployed in various state of fortification and mobility.[5]

The future replacement for the K1 MBT has been baptized the K2 Black Panther (Korean: 흑표), which will be fitted with a 1,500 hp (1,100 kW) water-cooled Diesel engine, 120 mm/L55 main gun, and coaxial machine guns. The new tank will also feature radar equipment as well as all-bearing laser detection system and reactive armor comparable to the American M1A2 and French Leclerc.

South Korean armor outside of Korea

South Korean soldiers of the Zaytun Division.

From time to time, South Korea has sent its troops overseas to assist American forces. It has participated in most major conflicts that the United States has been involved in the past 50 years. South Korea dispatched 325,517 troops to fight alongside American, Australian, Filipino, New Zealand and South Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War, with a peak strength of 50,000. In 2004, South Korea sent 3,300 troops of the Zaytun Division to help re-building in northern Iraq, and was the third largest contributor in the coalition forces after only the US and Britain.[6] Beginning in 2001, South Korea had so far deployed 24,000 troops in the Middle East region to support the War on Terrorism. A further 1,800 were deployed since 2007 to reinforce UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.

List of Armored equipment of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces


Armored vehicles

See also


External links

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