The South Korean military has used tanks developed and produced in the United States from the time of the Korean War. In the 1970's the Korean Government was concerned with its aging American family of tanks made up of the M47 and M48 Patton series. A main battle tank concept was needed to counter the North Korean Soviet tanks T-54/55 threat. The South Korean President, Park Chung-hee, and his administration wanted to build the new tank domestically so the Korean Army and the people would take national pride with Koreans producing a Korean tank and Park new his men would fight with a feeling of superiority in a tank built by their own countrymen. Having said that, the Koreans did not have the design expertise to develop, tool and manufacture such a tank. The Korean development team looked at multiple designs. Initially the team looked into obtaining rights to licensing produce the American M60A1 Patton tank.
The original plan was to acquire all the tanks available and produce new Pattons in Korea. This ended in a no-agreement because the amount of Patton's available was insufficient for the Korean's needs. Contracts were secured to upgrade existing Korean Patton's and the design team looked at production rights for the German Leopard 1. After some consideration, the Korean team felt that with new Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams being developed, producing older tank versions could reduce their ability to counter new Soviet designs. Instead, the tank chosen by the South Koreans would be a variation of the American M1 Abrams design - developed by the General Dynamics Land Systems company. Looking forward to the manufacture of the tank in South Korea, Hyundai Precision engineers were sent to study at General Dynamics and supervise production of the variation called the XK1.
With its origins in the M1 Abrams, it is easy to see the external similarities between the South Korea Type 88 (ROTEM K1) Main Battle Tank and the American M1 Abrams. Hyundai Precision & Inc Company Limited (now ROTEM) handled production of the vehicle locally in South Korea (though some parts production was handled overseas). Though the system was originally designed to take on the vast amounts of North Korean T-54/T-55/T-62 main battle tanks of Soviet design, the Type 88 has since grown to compete with the latest generation tanks from around the globe.
The Type 88 features the M68 105mm rifled main gun, though an upgunned M256 120mm variant is also available (standard in the K1A1). Full NBC protection, day/night sighting and a computerized fire control system round out the major features of this main battle tank. Crew accommodations is conventional by western standards and include the driver, ammunition loader, tank commander and gunner. The driver has controls to adjust suspension on-the-fly while the commander's station features stabilized sighting equipment along with an all-digital computer system.
Power is derived from the 1 x MTU 871 Ka-501 diesel engine developing up to 1,200 horsepower at 2,600rpm. Road speed is equal to 65 kilometers per hour with a range of 457 kilometers. Its listed weight is 51,000 kilograms.
The K1 has evolved into an AVLB (bridgelayer) and an ARV (Armored Recovery Vehicle). Malaysia is the other operator of the K1 series, this in the form of the K1M. Production of the system in all forms - as of this writing - is approximately 1,500 examples. The K1 entered service in 1986.