Currently, Korea is operating four K1 variants: K1 in 1987, K1E1 in 2014, K1A1 in 2001, and K1A2 in 2013.
Although equipped with advanced K2 Black Panther tanks, K1 MBT still plays the main role of the South Korean Army’s tank force – armor, with the number up to more than 1,500 units. K1 is Korea’s first domestic main battle tank, although it is considered to have many similarities with the US M1 Abrams. Currently, Korea is operating four K1 variants: K1 in 1987, K1E1 in 2014, K1A1 in 2001, and K1A2 in 2013. Currently K1 and K1E1 account for 70% of the K1 tank force with an estimated number of more than 1,000 vehicles, while the more modern and more expensive K1A1/A2 is only about 484 vehicles.
K1 has many similarities with XM1. Differences include the weight, 51 tonnes compared to the XM1’s 55 tonnes. Later upgrades K1A1 and K1A2 had increased weight, 53.2 tons and 54.5 tons, respectively. K1 has a length of 9.67m, a width of 3.6m and a height of 2.25m. This Korean main battle tank has a composite armor at the front of the hull and turret. Its protection level is broadly similar to that the M1 Abrams. Ammunition is stored in the turret bustle with blow-out panels.
The K1 retained the XM1’s M68E1 105 mm rifled main gun, which would also be domestically produced under license with the designation KM68, as well as a fire control system by Hughes Aircraft Company and the laser rangefinder. One of the major differences was the addition of tank commander’s independent panoramic sights on the XK1, which was missing on XM1, giving the K1 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 the M1A2. Secondary armament consists of coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, 12.7 mm heavy machine gun mounted over commander’s hatch and another 7.62 mm machine gun mounted over the gunner’s hatch.
The K1 is equipped with a German turbo-charged 1,200hp MTU MB 871 diesel engine. This engine is license-produced in South Korea. The K1 can attain a maximum road speed of approximately 65km/h. Operational range is 500km. The K1 has a hybrid hydropneumatic and torsion suspension, that can be adjusted to suit terrain conditions. It allows vehicle to “kneel” and gives tank a number of advantages in mountainous terrain.
On the K1A1 variant, the main gun was replaced by a 120mm KM256 gun, a licensed production model of the U.S. M256 which, in turn, is a licensed production model of the Rheinmetall L44. The new gun has 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. The improved armor is called ‘Korean Special Armour Plate (KSAP)’.