The K9 self-propelled howitzer primarily uses 155mm ammunition (Finnish Army)

WASHINGTON — Looking to make headway in the US market, South Korea’s largest defense contractor is throwing its artillery portfolio in the metaphorical ring for several possible opportunities, according to Hanwha Defense USA Chief Executive Officer John Kelly.

Topping that list, he told reporters on Monday, is offering the K9 Thunder 155-millimeter self-propelled howitzer to fill the capability gap created when the US Army shut down work on its Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) platform prototype.

We’ve obviously replied with the K9 as an option for that,” Kelly said, noting that the company and service are discussing if a new demo should take place in South Korea or stateside at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. 

“We can do either and it’s really working with the Army around the timing of that and exactly what they want to see,” he added.

Nine countries — Australia, Norway, Finland, Estonia, India, Turkey, Egypt and Poland — are currently on contract for the K9 howitzer, with Romania having selected the weapon but not put it on contract. According to the company, the platform requires three crew members, has a “fully automatic” ammunition handling system and an autoloader able to fire nine rounds per minute beyond the 40-kilometer range.

Earlier this year the US Army announced that it was no longer working on the ERCA platform prototype that added a 30-foot, 58-caliber gun tube to BAE Systems’ Paladin M109A7 self-propelled howitzer. The goal, up until then, was to use the modified artillery platform to launch 155-mm rounds out to 70km, an increase from the current max range of up to 30km.

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After cancelling ERCA, the service sent out a call for companies to demonstrate their existing platforms, while also continuing development on a mix of new munitions and a supercharged propellant that can increase the range of those weapon systems. (Janes reported last month that those demos may now run into the early part of 2025 and span multiple events).

Elbit America previously told Breaking Defense it plans to vie for a demo spot with its Sigma cannon, while BAE Systems said it is proposing its M109-52 prototype. Germany’s KMW may be another potential contender looking for a spot to show off for the Army.

As contenders line up, industry is still waiting for word from the Army about other artillery opportunities that may include modernizing or replacing towed artillery or, possibly, even the M109A7 self-propelled howitzer.

Part of the suspense hinges on a highly anticipated tactical fires study that has not yet been released. So far, details remain sparse with the exception of the ERCA course correction, and US Army Futures Command head Gen. James Rainey noting that towed artillery may have a limited role on the future battlefield. 

“We’re hoping we see that [document] and that gives us a better view of that strategy,” Kelly said Monday. “But, I see [the ERCA revamp] as a first chapter in a number of chapters around different sectors of artillery replacement.”

Hanwha isn’t solely banking on artillery as its entry into the US market. Its 10-year plan also includes branching out into the sea, air and space arenas. 

But for now, it is sticking close to its roots in the land arena, and earlier this year announced a partnership with Anduril for the Army’s Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (S–MET) Increment II competition. The plan is for the US firm to serve as the prime contractor for a modified Hanwha’s Arion-SMET platform, with Forterra serving as a sub-tier supplier of the autonomous capabilities.

Still in the early competition phase, Kelly said if the Army selected the team to build eight prototypes, those will be produced in South Korea. If the team ultimately wins a contract, Kelly said, a decision will have to be made about whether full production will happen at Aundril’s facility in California or at a new Hanwha facility that has not yet to been selected and built.