UK shuns competitiveness norms, picks RCH 155 over Hanwha K9

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The RCH155, an advanced artillery system, is the UK Army’s latest acquisition and it is not a unilateral development. Rather, this project represents a partnership between the UK and Germany. The chosen 155mm artillery is part of the Ministry of Defense’s extensive Mobile Fires Program [MFP]. 

Photo credit: Twitter

A few weeks ago, on April 24th, news of this innovative artillery system made headlines. The announcement was made jointly by the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, emphasizing it as a “first step” in their collaboration. In essence, the RCH155 is an artillery system from Krauss-Maffei Wegemann [KWM] that will be installed onto the British Boxer chassis. 

However, it’s worth noting that the adoption of the RCH155 did not result from a competitive selection process. Rather, it was a singular decision made by the British Prime Minister. This led to a sense of disappointment within the South Korean arms giant, Hanwha Defense, and its local UK division, Hanwha Aerospace UK. Hanwha had prepared its K9 Thunder for what it assumed would be a competitive race – a race that never materialized.

Photo credit: Twitter

The decision certainly evokes an air of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, even though there is no tangible evidence to support such a claim by BulgarianMilitary.com. However, the apparent disregard for lessons from the Ukraine war in Britain is indicative of an agreement haphazardly negotiated to harness two local economies. 

The efficacy and battle readiness of the new British-German RCH155 are open to debate. Can it meet the ever-evolving conditions of modern warfare? While these questions aren’t intended to endorse the South Korean front-runner in artillery, they do raise a pertinent question: Is there any definitive proof that the RCH155 is a superior choice for the British Army versus the K9? 

Interestingly, the government’s decision surfaced without a competitive evaluation of what each contender could bring to the table – a point highlighted by Simon Humphrey, vice president of business development and strategy at Hanwha Aerospace UK, during his media interaction.

Photo credit: Reddit

“There’s an undeniable air of disappointment from Hanwha. From a professional viewpoint, the inability to get the K9A2 to the competitive process starting line is deeply disheartening. Indeed, initiating a competitive process would have been the one surefire way to truly guarantee that we’re equipping our soldiers with optimal survivability and lethality for the future.” 

As we step into the next paragraph, one can’t help but ask, is this irony or a paradox? Here’s why – in deciding on the RCH155, Sunak bypassed any potential competition, one could argue this undermines the spirit of the newly proposed Integrated Public Procurement Model [IPM] developed under his own administration. 

This leads us to contemplate a potential paradox: By infringing on competitive rights, we unveil a key concern – the scrutiny of future systems and their balance. Without competition, the scales are tipped. This would prevent us from conducting comparison trials to evaluate the pros and cons of each weapon system.

Photo credit: Hanwha Defense

One might suggest that throughout its development stages, the RCH155 will undergo rigorous evaluations, testing, and performance assessments. However, those who do often overlook the local debacle notoriously known as the Ajax armored infantry vehicle. This costly project didn’t just exceed the initial budget, but resolving its noise issue proved to be a Herculean task. 

The potential capabilities of the RCH155 remain unknown. It might indeed surpass the K9 system in performance, but that is merely speculation at this point. We are left with a decision that lacks concrete evidence. However, we can gain some insight by examining what Hanwha Aerospace UK intended to accomplish with their version of the K9A2. 

Expectations are high for the K9A2, with enhancements in areas like firing rate, automatic ammo loading, and other artillery capabilities anticipated. Concurrently, Hanwha is working on its next iteration, the A3, back in South Korea. The K9A3, boasting an advanced 58-caliber gun and higher levels of autonomy, is their answer to the growing demand for an unmanned system that integrates seamlessly into the existing manned environment.

Photo credit: Hanwha Defense

Additionally, the K9 is a state-of-the-art artillery system designed and manufactured by Samsung Techwin, now known as Hanwha Defense. This advanced piece of military equipment is currently in service with several countries around the world, including South Korea, Turkey, and India. 

The K9 Thunder is characterized by its robust design, high mobility, and superior firepower. It’s built on a tracked chassis, allowing it to navigate a wide range of terrains, from flat surfaces to steep slopes. The vehicle is powered by a 1,000-horsepower engine, enabling it to reach speeds of up to 67 km/h on roads and 52 km/h off-road. 

In terms of firepower, the K9 Thunder is equipped with a 155mm/52 caliber gun, which can fire a variety of projectiles, including standard High Explosive [HE], Rocket Assisted Projectiles [RAP], and base bleed rounds. The howitzer can also use K307 BB-HE ammunition, thereby extending its firing range.

Photo credit: Hanwha Defense

The rate of fire for the K9 Thunder is truly impressive. It can discharge three rounds in 15 seconds in ‘burst mode’, six rounds per minute for three minutes in ‘intense mode’, and two rounds per minute for an hour in ‘sustained mode’. This prompt firing capability puts it among the quickest artillery systems globally. 

The K9 Thunder comes equipped with several advanced systems that augment its operational capabilities. These features include a panoramic periscope for the commander, a thermal sight for the gunner, and a laser range finder. In addition, it boasts a navigation system and an automatic fire control system capable of computing firing data and auto-adjusting the gun for elevation and azimuth. 

Lastly, the operational range of the K9 Thunder is noteworthy. It can fire standard HE rounds up to 18 km, while rocket-assisted projectiles can reach as far as 30 km. With the use of K307 BB-HE ammunition, the range extends to a remarkable 40 km. This extensive range, fused with its rapid firing rate, makes the K9 Thunder a formidable asset on any battlefield.

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