The announcement is an embarrassment for the South's Army, which wants to replace aging K1 and U.S.-built M48 tanks with the K2 "Black Panther" tank from next year, but it is a relief for local defense contractors because they will acquire more time to fix the problems.
The decision was approved by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin at a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) earlier in the day. Before the meeting, officials had considered importing the key part of the K2 from Germany to meet the original date of deployment.
South Korea originally planned to start mass production of the K2 tank this year, but the plan hit a snag in 2009 because of a series of technical problems involving the engine and transmission of the new tank.
Production of the K2 tank has been suspended since then as the homegrown engine and transmission, known as a "power pack," was found to be defective.
"Given the circumstance of development for the domestically-built power pack, a deployment date of the K2 tank was delayed to 2013 from 2012," said Jeong Jae-un, a DAPA spokesman.
However, unless local developers meet a quality standard for the key part by October this year, the DAPA will import the power pack, Jeong said.
Modeled after the German-developed MTU-890, the K2 power pack is made up of a 1,500-horsepower diesel engine and transmission. Doosan Infracore and S&T Dynamics are the two main developers of the homegrown power pack and there are more than 1,000 subcontractors in South Korea.
The new tank features an auto-loaded 120mm cannon, can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour, and can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters using a snorkel, according to the DAPA.
At Wednesday's meeting, the DAPA also approved a plan to purchase high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance planes from the U.S. and air-to-ground precision-guided munitions to arm the F-15K fighter jets, Jeong said.
The approval is part of defense reform measures unveiled by Defense Minister Kim early this month that call for an early introduction of the U.S.-made RQ-4 Global Hawk spy planes in response to increasing North Korean hostilities.
Seoul asked Washington last year to sell it the Global Hawk planes and expects to receive final approval for the planned purchase from the U.S. Defense Department in June, a military source said earlier.
The South's military originally planned to introduce the unmanned spy drones by 2015 but decided to speed up the deployment of the world's most advanced reconnaissance planes to strengthen its own intelligence abilities.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high following the North's two deadly attacks last year that prompted Seoul to vow to unleash tougher retaliation measures if Pyongyang provokes again.