During the last week of April another phase of training for the Polish employees was finalized. The trained team would be responsible for manufacturing the Krab sph platform – known at HSW under the PK9 (or K9PL) designation. The training was conducted with involvement of two chassis assembly kits delivered by the manufacturer. Also, under strict supervision of the Korean experts, 12 complete K9 platforms had been polonized. They were delivered from Korea in a pre-assembled form. In case of these examples, dismantling and reassembly of powerpacks took place. This was done to fit a fire extinguishing system in the engine bay. The original K9 sph has no solution as such. Even though this work could have been completed in Korea, it was decided that the procedures would take place at HSW to enhance the training process for the employees.
Practical training is conducted in parallel with adaptation of the original design documentation and preparation of the Polish process documentation. Before the assembly team received its training, several HSW engineers, technicians and production department employees had been trained, in a rotational manner (rotation period of several months) at the Hanwha Land Systems facility in Korea. The training concerned assembly technologies, production systems, as well as production management and QA solutions. The training programme also involved HSW experts who would be dealing with implementation of the automated welding systems - this is the most convoluted phase of license assimilation (license was acquired back in 2015).
Both the Poles, as well as the Koreans are expressing positive opinions on the high tempo and effectiveness of the training processes, even though the industrial and cultural differences between both nations are significant experience-wise. It is stressed that an ongoing feedback provision system has been developed by the Parties involved, clarifying any emerging doubts and questions. Poland is taking over the relevant expertise in a fluid manner. Two important factors play an important role here. Specific purposes English proficiency is required at the production level and upwards. Secondly, the license supplier has accumulated huge amounts of knowledge based on 2 decades of K9 production. The system has been manufactured in a series of more than 1000 examples, and it has been recently popular on the Indian and European markets. Howitzers of this type are being procured, directly or via an intergovernmental agreement, by Norway, Estonia and Finland for instance.
Following the finalization of training assembly of two PK9 platforms, HSW would have 14 platforms ready for integration with the turret modules at its disposal. Another 10 platforms are scheduled to be assembled soon, with the first four ones to be finished before the end of June and the remaining ones - until December. These examples of the chassis would be used by Krabs of the first series-manufactured squadron fire module - the one that is a subject to the December 2016 contract concerning 4 Regina squadrons involving 96 Krab sphs. The assembly process will use licensor-delivered assembly kits, but without any supervision provided by the Koreans.
The introduction of Krab howitzers into operational use is also being done without the Korean support (at the 11th “Mazurski” Artillery Regiment stationed in Węgorzewo). Same applies to introduction of rules of maintenance that require changed habits and standards. Numerous specialized tools are used, for instance for replenishment of nitrogen in the suspension, for removing the wheels and so on.
Let us recall that back in 2017 the last elements of the first Regina module were received by the Armed Forces: 24 Krab sphs and auxiliary vehicles. At the moment the 11th “Mazurski” Artillery Regiment that is a part of the 16th Mechanized Division remains the main user of the system. Meanwhile, the first battery Regina module included in the series manufactured squadron that is being delivered on the basis of a 2016 contract has been planned to happen towards the end of 2018 with finalization scheduled a year after that. The equipment is to be received by the 5th “Lubuski” Artillery Regiment based in Sulechów, while 23rd “Śląski” Artillery Regiment based in Bolesławiec is next in the queue. In this way, all three Polish Divisions would be equipped with 155 mm artillery assets, compliant with the NATO norms. All is done on the basis of the contract signed in 2016.
The company also has several turrets ready and at different production stages for virtually all Krabs of the first series-manufactured Squadron Fire Module (DMO). The turrets are mounted onto the platforms after they are test fired on artillery test stations with barrels processed at the HSW barrel manufacturing facility. This is a critical, yet expensive element of the howitzer - and it is already being manufactured on site, instead of being imported. The list of imported elements still includes the powerpack and the Hydropneumatic Suspension Unit. The Polish industry may still get involved in development of hydropneumatic suspensions and the drivetrain.
Introduction of the Regina artillery system into use in the Polish military would also translate into greatly enhanced combat capability. The new artillery assets would also level up the military in the technical domain, within the scope of maintaining and servicing the new generation assets. New operational norms and maintenance standards shall also be expected to be introduced.
Arrangement and equipping process at a new PK9-related manufacturing facility at HSW S.A. is scheduled to happen towards the end of June. The facility would be one of the most modern in its class, compared with other European solutions, or arrangements one could witness globally. The construction works have been finalized in April. Their price was relatively high, set at the level of PLN 40 million. HSW officially claimed that this marks 50% of works completion (building shell). This is the largest investment that has been undertaken since many years.
The new 3500 sq. m production hall is to feature an X-ray chamber, robotized welding stations and a machining section where the vehicle hulls would undergo finishing.
The hall has already been fitted with a roof, rainwater drainage system (that takes the recent precipitation values into account), modern windows, thermal insulation and gantry cranes. The hall also features a partially finished lighting system as well as basic internal and external ventilation ducts.
The central section of the hall features a welding line for manufacturing large volume armour steel hulls. It would also include a new welding section. The western portion of the facility is to feature X-ray / defectoscopy chamber that would be able to accommodate the largest of welded structures manufactured at HSW: the PK9 bodies. Defectoscopy equipment is to be mobile, which would enable the company to use it outside the dedicated chamber.
The work is proceeding in line with a workplan assuming that the whole process would be finalized by the end of June. This would mark the beginning of the set up and fine-tuning of all the hardware. Installation and launch of a mechanical machining centre is the final step, planned to happen in the early 2019. The system will be arranged around a portal-milling machine the capabilities of which would far exceed the ones applicable to the recently acquired UNION 1600 system. This phase of equipping work virtually finalizes the investment process and it is scheduled to happen during the first quarter of next year. Neither did HSW disclose the specification, nor the brand name of the supplier of the whole production system.