In 2003, Seoul decided to spend $77 million to develop the all-new K21 series, making it one of the best infantry fighting vehicles in the world.
Since the 1980s, in an effort to promote the defense industry, Korea launched the K200 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) series based on the American M-113 armored vehicle. However, this vehicle is only equipped with weak firepower, thin armor, inferior to the North Korean BMP-1. So, in 2003, Seoul decided to spend $77 million to develop the all-new K21 series, making it one of the best infantry fighting vehicles in the world.
K21 is part of South Korea’s major effort in building modern combat vehicles. The manufacturer Doosan DST started developing the K21 in 1999, the prototype was completed in 2003, mass production and commissioning began in 2009. The K21 chassis is constructed entirely out of aluminium with certain parts, like hatches, made of fiberglass, reducing the weight of the vehicle and enabling it to travel at higher speeds without bulky and powerful engines.
The K-21 is lighter comparing with most modern IFVs. It is known that front arc provides protection against 30 mm armor-piercing rounds. All-round protection is against 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds. Vehicle is also fitted with automatic fire suppression and NBC protection systems. The K-21 can be also fitted with active protection system, similar to that used on the South Korean K2 Black Panther main battle tank.
The K21 is armed with a two-man turret, armed with a 40 mm gun capable of firing APFSDS, high-explosive, smoke and multipurpose munitions. The auxiliary weapon is a 7.62 mm machine gun. The K-21 also carries two indigenously developed ATGW launchers. Overall the K-21 has significant anti-armor capability. It can easily defeat enemy armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, even also poses significant threat to main battle tanks.
The fire-control system is able to spot and track targets as far away as 6,000 metres away and identify them from up to 3,000 metres away. IFF sensors are also present. The vehicle also has hunter-killer capabilities with its separate commander’s sight and gunner’s sight, which can detect both ground and aerial targets. The sights are designed by Samsung Thales. The commander of the vehicle also has the ability to override the command to take control of the turret and gun from the gunner.
The K21 is able to carry a total of 9 passengers and 3 more vehicle crew members. With the Battle Management System, the vehicle crew and passengers inside the vehicle can be instantly notified about the environment around them, improving their situational awareness. A screen is installed inside the passenger compartment, which provides various data from the BMS. The vehicle is mounted with an external CCD camera, and the passengers inside can survey the environment using the same screen.
The K21 is equipped with a turbocharged Doosan D2840LXE V-10 diesel engine, with 840 hp. The vehicle can travel on both land and water. It can reach a top road speed of up to 70 km/h, and on water is 7 km/h. The range is 500 km. On water this armored vehicle is propelled by its tracks.
Currently, South Korea operates about 466 K21s. The average cost per unit is approximately $3.5 million USD. According to evaluation, K21 is not inferior to modern Western IFV models such as M2 Bradley, Warrior or CV90. So far, the K21 has not been as successful in the export market as expected, although its price is relatively cheap compared to the M2 Bradley or CV90.