ABOVE: This Marine corporal from the 1st “Sea Dragon” Marine Division is wearing the old uniform. He is cradling a 5.56mm K1A submachine gun. A product of S&T Motiv, the improved K1A entered service in 1982.
Earlier in 2014, Small Arms Defense Journal attended a large-scale bilateral military exercise in South Korea. Exercise Ssang Yong (which translates as ‘Double Dragon’) involved some 14,000 personnel from the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States. During the series of military drills, we took the opportunity to look more closely at weapons used by the ROK Marine Corps (ROKMC). As to be expected, the small arms they employ are mostly those in common with the ROK Army as well. Regardless, the exercise provided us an opportune chance to look at equipment of the largest Marine Corps in the Asian region.
The ROKMC is not a branch of the ROK Navy, for it is a distinct service of the country’s armed forces. Its origins date to just prior to the Korean War (1950-53), when a Marine Corps consisting of just 380 men was established on 15 April 1949. Its first equipment was mostly leftover weapons from the Imperial Japanese Army, and soon the country was plunged into wartime chaos. One of the corps’ memorable moments was the Battle of Incheon, where 75,000 American and South Korean troops landed west of Seoul to send the North Koreans into retreat during the Korean War. Later, the ROKMC dispatched a brigade to South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
One might ask why South Korea needs an amphibious force, especially since the country’s military is geared almost totally to a conflagration with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), whose military looms threateningly across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In fact, South Korea is a peninsula nation surrounded by sea on three sides and with a number of offshore islands. Thus, the possession of a Marine Corps makes a lot of sense.
Marines are charged with conducting landing operations in conjunction with the ROK Navy, as well as conventional ground warfare, special warfare and facility protection. Indeed, the country must guard against DPRK intrusions that might include Special Forces infiltrating by small craft or mini-submarine. Today the ROKMC poses a behind-the-lines threat to any DPRK act of aggression, since it could make an amphibious lodgement on either the west or east coast of North Korea. To guard the maritime approaches to the capital Seoul and nearby port of Incheon, Marines are also deployed on five islands to the west of the South Korean mainland, including Yeonpyeong Island that was shelled in 2010.
The Marine Corps Command has an estimated 27,000 personnel. Of these, many are conscripts doing 24 months of compulsory military service. The corps comprises two divisions (1st and 2nd Marine Divisions), one brigade (6th Marine Brigade located in the northwest islands), and the Yeonpyeong unit. South Korean marines are acknowledged as being among the best there are, and even their U.S. counterparts speak glowingly of them as being “very tough.”
After this brief introduction to the ROKMC, let us turn our attention to the service’s small arms. The following is not designed as an exclusive list, but it does highlight the weapons one would typically expect to see within the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. These small arms are almost exclusively manufactured in South Korea by S&T Motiv, a company belonging to the Daewoo group. The company was established in 1981 (then called Daewoo Precision Industries Co. Ltd.) specifically to build small arms for the country’s armed forces. The company adopted its current name in 2012. As well as having a captive domestic market, S&T Motiv has also achieved considerable weapon exports to a variety of nations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America.
K5 9mm Pistol
The K5 9mm semiautomatic pistol from S&T Motiv is routinely carried by officers as a sidearm. The weapon is also used by tank crewmen, with the ROKMC operating both K1 and M48 tank types. The recoil-operated K5 was introduced to the country’s military in 1989 after its development from 1984-88.
A special aspect of the pistol is its triple-action trigger, which includes a ‘fast-action’ trigger mechanism. The latter permits the hammer to be decocked while the mainspring is still compressed. Thus, only a light trigger pull is needed to recock the hammer and fire the pistol in a conventional double-action mode. The advantage is that the first shot is more accurate because of the lighter trigger weight, plus it is safer because longer trigger travel is required to fire it. Alternatively, the hammer can be recocked manually to fire it in single-action mode.
The K5’s magazine contains 13 9x19mm Parabellum rounds. The pistol weighs 728g (without a magazine) and its total length is 190mm. The manufacturer quotes its range as 50m.
K1A 5.56mm Submachine Gun
The K1A submachine gun has been around for a long time, and its use is widespread in the ROKMC as its compact proportions make it easier to manhandle within the confines of an amphibious assault vehicle, for example. The K1 was the first modern firearm developed by the country’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD), intended as a replacement for the M3 for use by Special Forces. Manufactured by S&T Motiv, the K1 entered service in 1981. These original weapons suffered from problems caused by a poorly designed flash suppressor, excessive recoil and a weak stock.
However, these early troubles were soon solved in the follow-on K1A that made its appearance in 1982; this is the variant now in service. It is distinguished by a flash suppressor that has three holes in the top-right quadrant to reduce muzzle flip. While the K1 submachine gun shares development history with the regular K2 assault rifle, they are different designs. The direct-impingement gas system of the K1 fires 5.56x45mm rounds. S&T Motiv has since developed the K2C, a carbine version of the K2 assault rifle. While it could be a potential replacement for the K1A, it seems destined for Special Forces use first. The K2C has been field tested by the ROK military, and an S&T Motiv spokesman told SADJ it is scheduled to be
introduced in 2015.
The K1A weighs 2.87 kg and its barrel is 263 mm long. The submachine gun measures 838 mm in length with its stock extended, or 653 mm when folded. The submachine gun’s effective firing range is given as 250 m (using M193 ammunition), and it has a rate of fire of 700-900 rounds per minute. The magazine holds 30 rounds.
K2 5.56mm Assault Rifle
The K2 assault rifle is the standard personal weapon of a South Korean Marine. Produced by the same company that makes the K1A, the K2 was inducted into South Korean service in 1984 as a replacement for the M16A1, which is still found in the hands of some reserves. Interestingly, the K2’s development commenced before that of the K1 (it actually started in 1972) even though it was introduced several years later. At the time, Colt accused the designer of copying its M16, an allegation that was not upheld. Indeed, few parts are interchangeable with the M16.
The K2 is a gas-operated, long-stroke weapon with three selectable firing modes: semiautomatic, three-round burst and full automatic. A couple of variants have been developed and trialed, including the aforementioned 3.77 kg K2C carbine with a shorter barrel (310 mm compared to the standard 465 mm), extendable buttstock, a Picatinny rail and Dong In Optics red dot sight. Destined to be the K2’s eventual replacement, the K2A is an enhanced version that features a Picatinny rail and foregrip. A company representative revealed two stocks will be available – fixed (but foldable) or extendable. Until it is introduced, the K2 will continue as the mainstay
weapon of personnel in the ROKMC.
The 3.37 kg K2 assault rifle fires a 5.56x45mm round from a 30-round magazine. The rifle is 970 mm long, which reduces to 780 mm when the butt is folded. The K2’s range is claimed by the manufacturer to be 460 m (with M193 ammunition) and its rate of fire is 700-900 rounds per minute.
K201 40mm Under-Barrel Grenade Launcher
The K2 assault rifle can be fitted with a K201 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher that is modeled on the ubiquitous M203, but which S&T Motiv claims is its own independent design. The K201 fires a 40x46mm grenade. In a typical nine-man ROKMC or ROK Army squad, there are two dedicated grenadiers who carry K201 grenade launchers mounted on their K2 rifles.
K11 Dual-Barrel Airburst Weapon
While the K1A1 and K2 have been around for many years, the small arms inventory of South Korea’s military has been partially modernized by the introduction of the K11 in 2010. This weapon is innovative in that it is an assault rifle cum grenade launcher. Dubbed the Dual-Barrel Airburst Weapon by manufacturer S&T Motiv, the K11 can fire both 5.56x45mm bullets and 20x30mm airburst smart grenades via a single trigger.
The grenade launcher is mounted above the rifle barrel, and grenades can employ one of three settings. One is detonation upon impact, and another is a timed fuse after impact. Alternatively, the weapon’s electronics can program the grenade to detonate a few meters from the target. Such an airburst effect above or to the side can kill enemy soldiers within a 6 m radius. The K11’s operator simply has to enter the range at which he wishes the round to explode, meaning the round does not have to directly hit the target to score a kill. To achieve this, the K11 has a laser rangefinder, ballistics computer and night sight in its fire control system, this being produced by EOST (Electro-Optic Systems and Technology). An electronic scope is integrated onto the K11 with a digital display.
The K11 was the world’s first such airburst rifle to be issued as standard to soldiers. However, it is not widely issued yet, and the first place to see it so far has been in the inventory of ROK United Nations peacekeeping troops. However, it is surely destined to reach the ROKMC. It will not replace the K201 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher because of its high price and its less-lethal round compared to the K201. Defects showed up in the first K11 rifles, which halted production in 2011. Production later resumed, with 4,000 K11s manufactured by the end of 2014.
The rifle can accept a 20- or 30-round 5.56mm magazine, and a five-round 20mm grenade magazine. The two types of grenades available are the K168 training round and the 100g K167 high-explosive round. The effective firing range for both systems is quoted as 500 m. The K11 is 860 mm long and it weighs a hefty 6.1 kg without magazines. The 5.56 mm barrel is 310 mm long, while the grenade barrel is 405 mm long.
K3 5.56mm Light Machine Gun
Whereas the K1 and K2 were the first indigenous weapons to reach the ROK Armed Forces under its national self-sufficiency policy, the gas-operated K3 light machine gun was the third such weapon developed at home. Manufactured by S&T Motiv since its induction in 1989, it was inspired by the FN Minimi and it replaced the incumbent M60 machine gun that served as a universal machine gun at that time. South Korea, heavily influenced by U.S. doctrine, introduced the K3 as it followed the USA’s introduction of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)
in the 1980s.
The K3 fires 5.56x45mm rounds supplied from either a 30-round box magazine that feeds from the left, or a 200-round disintegrating-link belt. A 70-round box magazine may be encountered on rare occasions. The K3’s maximum effective range is 800 m.
At 7.1 kg, it is significantly lighter than the M60, although its 5.56mm firepower is correspondingly lighter too. The K3 is usually fired on a bipod mount, but it can also be fitted on a tripod for sustained fire utilizing its maximum 1,000 rounds per minute rate of fire. A built-in carry handle eases the task of changing a hot barrel. The barrel is 483 mm long, whereas the entire K3 measures 1.046 m in length. A shortened and lighter (6.3 kg) K3 Para variant also exists (953 mm long with its buttstock extended), and this features a rail accessory system. A squad typically contains one K3 light machine gun.
K4 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher
Even just a cursory glance at the K4 40mm automatic grenade launcher (AGL) produced by S&T Motiv reveals it is closely modeled on the Mk 19 from the U.S. The K4 was introduced to South Korean troops in 1993. It fires 40x53mm grenade rounds (in high-explosive dual-purpose (HEDP), high-explosive (HE) or target practice (TP) types) at a rate of 325-375 rounds per minute. The K4 AGL’s effective firing range is 1,500 m, and it weighs 63.9 kg (with tripod) or 34.4 kg (without tripod). It is often vehicle-mounted on an M4 pedestal, or it can be mounted on an M3A tripod for ground use.
Ammunition is carried in a 48-round or 24-round box, and the manufacturer claims the K4’s rounds can penetrate 2 inches of armor at a range of 2,000 m. The grenades have a 15 m blast and fragmentation effect. A KAN/TVS-5 night sight can be attached to the K4 as well. The AGL is 1.072 m long.
K6 .50 Cal. Heavy Machine Gun
The K6 .50 caliber weapon is clearly a locally manufactured version of the Browning M2HB heavy machine gun, modified so its barrel can be quickly changed. This weapon that is license-built by S&T Dynamics entered South Korean service in 1990. It weighs 38 kg and the manufacturer lists its effective firing
range as 1,830 m.
Within the ROKMC the 1.654 m-long K6 is typically found fitted on armored vehicles such as the K200 armored personnel carrier, K55 self-propelled howitzer and K1 main battle tank. However, the K6 machine gun can also be tripod-mounted for ground use. Its rate of fire is 450-600 rounds per minute.
K14 Sniper Rifle
For a long time the South Korean military lacked a sniper capability, but U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its own combat deployments, convinced the South Korean military that it had to address this capability gap. Two types of sniper rifle can now be found in the ROKMC – the K14 and Steyr SSG3000. The former is – predictably – produced by S&T Motiv, meeting a requirement delineated in 2011 for bolt-action 7.62x51mm rifles. After its development period, the K14 was duly accepted into service in late 2012 as South Korea’s first general-issue sniper rifle. The author has not yet spotted it in ROKMC service, but its arrival seems inevitable.
The rifle comes with a four-way Picatinny rail handguard plus a bipod. Foreign-sourced scopes such as the Schmidt & Bender PM II or Leupold Mark 4 are currently favored over domestic sights. The K14 is fed from a detachable magazine containing five rounds, although an optional ten-round version is also available. The rifle measures 1.15 m long and it weighs just 7 kg with an optical sight fitted. Its maximum range is listed as 800 m. Understandably, as the country’s first domestically developed sniper rifle, it is a no-frills weapon without too
many exotic features.
KM181 60mm Mortar
Marine infantry battalions have fire support available in the shape of two mortar systems – one of 60mm caliber and one of 81mm. The KM181 is produced by Hyundai WIA, a company that specializes in producing artillery and mortar systems for the ROK Armed Forces.
The maximum range of the KM181 is 3,590 m (minimum is 67 m), and up to 20 rounds can be fired per minute for a sustained period of ten minutes, according to the manufacturer. The complete mortar weighs 19.5 kg and the barrel is 987 mm long.
KM187 81mm Mortar
The larger brother of the 60mm KM181 is the KM187. This 81mm mortar is also produced by Hyundai WIA. Weighing 42 kg, the mortar offers a minimum/maximum range of 78 m to 6,325 m. The KM187 offers a rate of fire of 20 rounds per minute for the first 1.5 minutes, and after that a sustained rate of ten rounds per minute. The barrel of the
KM187 is 1.55 m long.
Several anti-tank weapons such as the TOW missile, Metis-M missile and Panzerfaust 3 are available to the ROK military, but it is worth mentioning one interesting weapon here – the M67 90mm recoilless rifle that dates from the Vietnam War era. This American system was actually manufactured in South Korea, and it remains in modern-day use within the ROK Marine Corps. The breech-loaded weapon is fired from a bipod resting on the ground, or shoulder-launched. The M67 can be used against armor, fortifications or personnel, but it is notorious for its large backblast. The M67 requires a team of three to operate: a gunner, assistant gunner and ammo bearer.
Also of interest, South Korea has deployed the Spike NLOS missile with 20 km range on its northwest islands to help protect against hostile DPRK acts.