The South Korean Army has decided to halt exercising with the Samsung Techwin K-9 artillery gun pending an enquiry to find out what caused the explosion of the self-propelled howitzer that killed two soldierand injured five others last week.
The explosion inside the K-9 Thunder gun occurred during an artillery training exercise last Friday in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province. The training was meant to improve the accuracy of counter-artillery attacks in preparation for a probable war with North Korea.
The doubts over the performance of the howitzer has put a question mark over potential domestic and export sales of the K-9, touted as among the most advanced artillery gun currently in the world .
“For reasons unknown, there was smoke inside the howitzer’s breach block assembly,” an Army official said under condition of anonymity adding, “according to our on-site investigation, three rounds of explosive were completely burned down without any trace,” Korea Herald reported today.
The Army will soon establish a comprehensive investigative panel consisting of government officials and civilian experts, the report said.
Developed by Hanhwa Techwin (earlier Samsung Techwin), the K-9 was touted as a high-quality artillery unit for its long range and high rate of firing and comparable to analogues from the US, France and Russia.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration has signed export deals with Turkey, Poland, Finland and India.
Earlier, two K-9 howitzers had malfunctioned when they were engaged against North Korea’s artillery during Pyongyang’s 2010 bombardment of Yeonpyongdo, an island in the West Sea close to the border with the North.
According to a parliamentary inquiry in 2016, there have been more than 1,700 reports of malfunctions with the K-9 artillery over the past five years. Currently, about 500 K-9 are fielded since its prototype was produced in 1999.
Following its setback during the Bombardment of Yeonpyeong, the K-9 received a series of modifications to reduce its rate of malfunction. Separately, the military revealed a plan last week to improve the K-9’s performance, including the development of an automated loading system, similar to a robotic turret.
More than 1,000 K-9s have been produced and they suffered from 1,700 malfunctions over the past five years, a rate of problems not considered unusual for a heavy use military hardware, the report added quoting a military expert.