Thursday, July 29, 2010

Flaws in New S. Korean Troop Vehicle

A South Korean soldier died when an K21 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) sank during a simulated river-crossing exercise July 29. Army officials said the accident apparently revealed flaws in the design of the 25-ton K21 IFV, which was jointly developed by the state-funded Agency for Defense Development and Doosan DST.

It was the second time that the K21 had been sunk since the vehicle entered service last November after 10 years of development.

A month after the first deployment of K21s, one of them was sunk during a river-crossing training exercise south of Seoul.

Water flowed into the air intake hose of the vehicle's engine, said investigators, who speculated the air induction nozzle might have been attached too low.

The latest incident occurred around 1:50 p.m. when a Doosan technician was teaching Sgt.1st Class Kim - no first name was provided - and another solider to operate the vehicle at a training range about 320 kilometers southwest of Seoul, according to the Army.

The soldiers and the technician were inside the K21 when it fell into a reservoir. The Doosan official and the enlisted soldier escaped. Rescue workers salvaged the vehicle three hours later and found the NCO dead inside it.

"We'll thoroughly look into the cause of the incident in cooperation with Doosan DST," an Army spokesman said. "If there are problems with the vehicle's design, we'll hold the company accountable."

A Doosan official said, "We don't want to jump to conclusions in a hasty manner. We'll investigate the cause of the accident in a careful and measured way."

The K21 has often been referred to as the country's key export item in coming years, thanks to its high performance and price competitiveness.

Doosan DST and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration say the vehicle offers better firepower, mobility and survivability than the U.S. Army's M2A3 and Russia's BMP-3. The $3.4 million vehicle is cheaper than the U.S.-built Bradley and German Puma IFV with full options, whose per-unit prices are estimated between $4 million and $4.5 million, according to the company.

The K21 IFV has a 750-horsepower turbo-diesel engine and 40mm auto cannon designed to shoot down slow-moving helicopters and aircraft. It has digital communication, GPS receivers and intervehicle digital links.

The vehicle can travel as fast as 70 kilometers per hour on paved roads and cross rivers at 7.8 kph with the help of the Water Jet Propulsion System, according to an Army release.

The South Korean Army plans to acquire about 450 K21s over the next decade.

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