The South Korean AS21 Redback infantry fighting vehicle from Hanwha Defense won the contract for a new IFV for the Australian Army.
Militarnyi is pondering whether this infantry fighting vehicle will become as popular in the global arms market as the South Korean-made К9 Thunder self-propelled gun.
We are also going to consider the combat characteristics and potential customers of the AS21 IFV.
The AS21 Redback tracked infantry fighting vehicle is based on the chassis of the K21 IFV, which is in service with the South Korean Army. It was first shown at the exhibition in 2018. The following year, Hanwha Defense Systems presented it as a participant in the LAND 400 Phase 3 program as part of the rearmament of the Australian Army. This version of the combat vehicle was named after the Australian poison spider, the Redback (Australian black widow).
AS21 has a classic layout for modern infantry fighting vehicles: the engine and driving compartments are located in the bow, the combat compartment — in the middle of the vehicle body, and the squad compartment — in the stern. The combat vehicle can hold eleven soldiers: three crew members and eight in the squad compartment.
A two-seat Т2000 turret, developed by the Australian company Electro Optic Systems (EOS) together with the Israeli company Elbit Systems, was installed on the IFV for the Australian contract.
The turret is equipped with a Mk44S Bushmaster II 30mm automatic gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun.
The weapons complex includes a retractable launcher for two Israeli Spike LR2 anti-tank missiles, as well as a remotely controlled R400S-MK2 installation, which can be equipped with a machine gun or an automatic grenade launcher.
The AS21 Redback is equipped with a diesel engine МТ-881 a capacity of 1000 hp. The same system is installed on the South Korean K9 self-propelled gun. The maximum mass of a combat vehicle reaches 42 tons, while it can reach speeds of up to 65 km/h and has about 500 km of range.
During the creation of the IFV, the design engineers paid great attention to increasing the level of protection of the vehicle. The ballistic protection of the aluminum hull was strengthened by hinged multi-layer modular armor units. Twelve such units can be installed on each side of the hull.
The board of the vehicle is also covered by an armored screen that spans from the bottom of the modular armor blocks to the top of the support rollers. Modular armor units are also mounted on the front frontal part of the IFV body. The aft part is also covered with add-on armor.
In addition, the defense of the AS21 Redback IFV on the battlefield was increased by installing the Iron Fist active protection system from the Israeli company Israel Military Industries. APS elements are integrated into the turret.
Onboard radars of the system detect and identify missiles and rocket-propelled grenades approaching the combat vehicle. The received information is processed by the computer, after which the ammunition is launched from one of the rotary installations on the turret. Munition flies towards the threat and explodes near it, hitting an enemy anti-tank missile or rocket-propelled grenade due to high-explosive action and fragments.
The mine resistance of the AS21 IFV is ensured by placing the passengers on individual energy-absorbing seats. On the bottom of the hull, there is also a mat, that partly extinguishes the pulse of the explosion. And on the bottom of the hull, composite armor elements are installed, except for the area under the engine compartment.
Operators and potential customers of AS21 Redback
Now in service with the army of South Korea are K21 IFVs. One such vehicle weighs 26 tons and can accommodate 12 soldiers. Its main weapon is a 40-mm automatic gun. An aluminum alloy armor protects the crew and passengers from armor-piercing heavy ammunition and fragments of artillery shells. The 740-hp engine accelerates the IFV up to 70 km/h. It can also overcome water obstacles.
Previously, South Korea did not sell its IFVs abroad. However, with the introduction of the AS21, the world became interested in the purchase of such South Korean equipment. Therefore, now local manufacturers offer their customers even deeper cooperation than just the supply of ready-made systems.
Large arms contracts, which provide for the transfer of technology and joint production, are now signed with Poland, in particular for tanks and artillery. The South Korean K9 Thunder ACS will also be produced in Egypt.
Hanwha Defense Systems presented the AS21 Redback combat vehicle as a bidder in the LAND 400 Phase 3 – Mounted Close Combat Capability program for the purchase of 450 infantry fighting vehicles as part of the rearmament of the Australian Army ground forces.
The final stage of the competition was attended by two combat vehicles: the KF41 Lynx from German Rheinmetall Defence Australia and the AS21 Redback from Hanwha Defense Australia. The competition itself, in the format of a wide range of comparison tests, has been ongoing since 2019.
The tests included a comparison of weapons systems, anti-mine and anti-sharp caliber projectiles, mobility, electronics, tactics for the use of IFVs and defense against human factors.
In July 2023, the Korean AS21 Redback became the winner of the results of comparative tests, which lasted all these years.
Hanwha Defense has already signed a contract to produce 129 vehicles. However, it is worth noting that the number of combat vehicles ordered was reduced from a priority of 450 to 129 in the April Defense Strategic Review (DSR).
The Australian Defence Industry Minister, Pat Conroy, said the Land 400 Phase 3 project would cost $5–7 billion. This amount includes the cost of the IFVs themselves, project costs, spare parts, ammunition, and training.
According to the minister, the new AS21, including training, repair, and spare vehicles, will enter service with a mechanized battalion as part of the only armored combined arms brigade of the Australian ground forces.
According to the agreement, the production of combat vehicles will be deployed in Australia, for which Hanwha will build a plant in the Geelong region. It is currently unclear what the participation of Australian companies in the production will be and what share of the production of the vehicles will be localized at local facilities. To date, it is only known that at least the final assembly will take place in Australia.
The Australian government also wants to accelerate the start of production in order to get the first IFV in early 2027, which is two years earlier than originally planned. The implementation of the contract is expected to last until the end of 2028. The ordered combat vehicles should replace some of the obsolete M113AS4 tracked armored personnel carriers in the army.
Consequently, Australia became the first buyer of the new South Korean Redback heavy infantry combat vehicle.
In October 2022, Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak said that servicemen of the 18th Mechanized Division began field tests of infantry fighting vehicles AS21 Redback from Hanwha Defense. Then he specified that the Ministry of Defense is looking for optimal solutions to strengthen the Polish mechanized troops. The AS21 was tested in various field conditions with live fire during the day and night.
Although Poland is actively eyeing the South Korean IFV, it is currently unknown whether these vehicles will be ordered for the Polish army. Especially because the country in February 2023 signed a framework agreement to order 1,400 Borsuk infantry fighting vehicles of its own production for the Polish armed forces. Therefore, the issue of obtaining IFVs from South Korea remains open.
The South Korean company Hanwha Defense is currently promoting its AS21 Redback IFV to Romania as part of a fleet renewal program for infantry fighting vehicles in the Romanian Army. The competitors of the AS21 are the Austrian-Spanish ASCOD armored vehicle by General Dynamics European Land Systems and the German Lynx IFV by Rheinmetall.
The contract for the supply of heavy infantry fighting vehicles will provide that the first batches of vehicles will be imported, and then technology will be transferred to the Romanian defense industry and armored vehicles will be manufactured in Romania. The program will have two stages. The first phase involves the acquisition of 246 IFVs, including training simulators and initial logistics.
This phase is expected to begin in 2023 and run until 2031. The estimated cost of purchase contracts at this stage is €2.5 billion. At the second stage, 52 more units of armored vehicles will be purchased for €450 million.
Will the AS21 Redback IFV become a bestseller in the global arms market?
Currently, the South Korean К9 Thunder self-propelled gun is popular among customers from many countries, including NATO members. Hanwha Defense offers customers not only the supply of ready-made artillery installations, but also industrial cooperation and the involvement of local enterprises in the production of components and final assembly of the К9 at the customer’s facilities. Such conditions increase interest among many current and potential customers in this weapon.
Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has shown that the requirements for armor protection of combat vehicles must be strengthened. The saturation of the modern battlefield not only with artillery but also with anti-tank weapons, strike UAVs, and kamikaze drones leads to a decrease in the survivability of old and modern armored vehicles.
To counter these threats, combat vehicles must have greater protection and countermeasures against munitions, such as active protection systems designed to counter anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Anti-tank mines are also a great danger, which can affect equipment not only from below, but also due to the core projectiles, which affect the on-board projection and the upper part of the armored vehicles.
The AS21 Redback has become one of the modern combat vehicles that have appeared in recent years. It was created taking into account the trends in the development of military technologies.
The survivability of the AS21 on the battlefield is enhanced by multi-layer armor, improved mine protection, and the Iron Fist active protection system.
Amid the Russian-Ukrainian war, many countries have started programs to rearm their armies, so there is a shortage of industrial capacities for the production of military equipment in the world. South Korea stands out for offering its customers a relatively fast pace of supply.
In general, it can be assumed that the conditions of cooperation loyal to the customer, confirmation of the declared combat characteristics, and quality of production in compliance with the delivery time may allow the South Korean AS21 Redback combat vehicle to occupy one of the leading positions in the global armored vehicle market.
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