While many countries have ceased the design, development and production of main battle tanks (MBT), China is reaching out to the export market.
Today China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) is marketing a number of MBT designs with some of these already in service with the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) with others aimed at the potentially lucrative export market.
The Chinese land industrial base can offer potential export customers the widest range of equipment for their land forces without the stringent export conditions laid down by Western governments to their defence contractors and at competitive prices.
This MBT capability was originally achieved by importing foreign technology but today China is self-sufficient in all aspects of MBT design and production as well as through life support.
The latest Chinese MBT to enter production for the export market is the VT4, previously known as the MBT-3000, with the first export customer being the Royal Thai Army (RTA) who placed the initial contract for 28 in 2016 with first deliveries taking place in 2017. These were followed by another two batches of 10 and 14 units. Other known export customers include Nigeria and Pakistan.
VT4 is a conventional MBT design and has a typical gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 52 tonnes with driver’s compartment at the front, turret in the middle and 1,200hp power pack at the rear.
The hull and turret are of steel armour with added composite armour over the frontal arc and bar/slat armour over the turret rear, but there is an option for the installation of explosive reactive armour (ERA) for increased protection against incoming threat munitions with a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.
VT4 is armed with a 125mm smooth bore gun, similar to that installed in the Russian Uralvagonzavod T-72/T-90 MBTs, which is fed by an automatic loader located under the turret. This has allowed the crew to be reduced to commander, gunner and driver. The 125mm smooth bore gun’s automatic loader holds 22 rounds of ready use separate loading ammunition, projectile and charge, plus an additional 16 rounds in reserve.
As well as firing conventional natures of 125mm ammunition, including high-explosive (HE), HEAT and armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) it can also launch a Norinco GP7 laser guided missile (LGP) which is based on the Russian 9M119 Refleks design.
The GP7 is fitted with a tandem HEAT warhead and with a maximum range of 5,000 metres, enables targets to be engaged beyond the range of the main 125mm armament firing conventional ammunition.
A 7.62mm machine gun (MG) is mounted co-axial with the main armament and there is a roof mounted remote weapon station (RWS) armed with a 12.7mm machine gun with grenade launchers mounted either side of the turret.
Gun control equipment (GCE) is all electric with a computerised fire control system (FCS) and stabilised day/thermal sights for commander and gunner also incorporating a laser rangefinder. This allows stationary and moving targets to be engaged under almost all weather conditions.
The commander’s roof mounted panoramic sight allows hunter/killer target engagements during which the target is first detected by the tank commander who then turns it over to the gunner to carry out the target engagement.
VT4 is also fitted with an air conditioning system, NBC protection system, inertial navigation system (INS) and a global positioning system (GPS).
The export MBT-2000 has a GVW of 48 tonnes and also armed with a 125mm smooth bore gun fed by an automatic loader enabling crew to be reduce to commander, gunner and driver. There is also a roof mounted 12.7mm machine gun and a 7.62mm co-axial MG. Hull and turret are of steel armour with ERA fitted over the frontal arc and bar/slat armour on the turret rear.
Norinco states that it provides stabilised sights for commander and gunner incorporating a laser rangefinder but have not confirmed that the night sights are of the thermal type. The 1,200hp water-cooled turbocharged diesel gives a maximum road speed of up to 69 kilometres per hour (43 miles per hour).
The VT2 is the export version of the Chinese Army Type 96A MBT and is known to have been sold to Bangladesh. It has a GVW of 42.8 tonnes, three person crew and is armed with a 125mm smooth bore gun fed by an automatic loader which carries 22 rounds of ready use ammunition with another 18 rounds in reserve. In addition there is an externally mounted and manually operated 12.7 mm MG and a 7.62 mm co-axial MG.
The gunner is provided with an Image Stabilised FCS and the sight incorporates day/night channels, laser rangefinder and an automatic target tracker (ATT). The hull and turret is of steel armour with an additional layer of composite armour and ERA over the frontal arc.The 800 hp turbocharged diesel is coupled to a manual transmission and gives a maximum road speed of up to 57 km/h.
In addition to marketing these new build MBTs, Norinco is also offering upgrades to older Russian and Chinese MBTs to extend their operational lives and enhance their capabilities.
For the original Chinese Type 59 MBT and its similar Russian T-54/T-55 armed with a 100mm gun, a more modern 125mm smooth bore gun can be installed, as well as a new FCS, upgraded suspension, enhanced protection and a new 750hp or 800hp diesel engine.
China also offers MBT technology transfer with the agreement between China and Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) of Pakistan being the largest to date. This began with upgrades to the Chinese Type 59 and Type 69 MBTs and progressed to local the manufacture of the Type 85AP followed by the Al Khalid (or MBT-2000), with each stage increasing local content.
Late production Al Khalid have a compact 6TD-2 diesel engine supplied by the Ukraine as Pakistan took delivery of 320 T-80UD MBTs from the Ukraine between 1997 and 1999.
China has also had an MBT assembly/upgrading contract with the Military Industry Corporation (MIC) of the Sudan.
Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) MBTs
The Type 98 MBT used technology from the widely deployed Russian T-72 MBT but was only deployed in small numbers and rapidly replaced on the production lines by the Type 99 MBT which has an enhanced level of survivability due to the installation of modular passive armour over the frontal arc.
The chassis is very similar to that of the Russian T-72 but it has a new turret armed with the previously mentioned 125mm smoothbore gun fed by an automatic loader. There is also a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a roof mounted 12.7mm machine gun operated by the commander. A computerised FCS Is fitted with commander and gunner having stabilised day/night sights incorporating a laser rangefinder.
Production of the Type 90 MBT has been completed for the PLA and a version of this is manufactured by the HIT in Pakistan as the Al Khalid. The Type 90 has a GVW of 46 tonnes and like the Type 98/Type 99 is armed with a 125mm smooth bore gun fed by an automatic loader. A computerised FCS is fitted with stabilised day/night sights for the commander and gunner incorporating a laser rangefinder. The hull and turret incorporate advanced armour but it has also been fielded with ERA and a more powerful diesel engine.
Type 85 MBT was the first production Chinese MBT to be armed with a 125mm gun fed by an automatic loader, with a 7.62mm co-axial and 12.7mm roof mounted machine gun. The hull and turret armed of welded steel with applique composite armour. This was exported to Pakistan large numbers and subsequently manufactured/assembled under licence by the HIT.
The Type 80 MBT used a brand new hull fitted with a turret leveraged from the older Type 69 and is armed with a western 105mm rifled gun, 7.62mm co-axial and 12. 7mm roof mounted machine gun. It has a computerised FCS but the sights are of the image intensification type rather than the more capable thermal sights.
In addition to firing conventional natures of 105mm fixed ammunition developed in China, the 105mm gun can also fire the Norinco GP2 LGP fitted with a tandem HEAT warhead, but it has not been confirmed that this is deployed by the PLA for its Type 80 MBTs.
The other two MBTs still deployed by the PLA, in declining numbers, are the Type 69, a further development of the Type 59 which is based on the original Russian T-54 MBT. Both of these are armed with a 100mm gun, 7.62mm co-axial and 12.7mm roof mounted machine gun.
In addition to MBTs, China has developed support vehicles based on MBT platforms including armoured recovery vehicles (ARV), armoured engineer vehicles (AEV) and armoured vehicle launched bridges (AVLB), to name but a few.
To meet potential export customers’ requirements in 2017 Norinco revealed its so called VT5 Lightweight MBT which has a GVW of between 33-36 tonnes and features a hull and turret of welded steel to which a layer of composite and ERA has been fitted over the frontal arc, with bar/slat armour over the rear arc of the hull and turret.
Main armament comprises a 105mm rifled gun fed by an automatic loader which has enabled the crew to be reduced to commander, gunner and driver. In addition to firing conventional natures of ammunition it can also fire the 105mm GP2 laser guided projectile with a tandem HEAT warhead out to a maximum range of 5,000m.
The electronically controlled 1,000hp diesel engine gives a maximum road speed of up to 70km/h (43mph) with Norinco stating an average cross-country speed of 35-40 km/h (21-25mph). The PLA use a version of the VT5 Lightweight MBT under the designation of the ZTQ-15.
Not all the terrain in China is suitable for heavy MBTs and this lead to the design, development and production of two light tanks, the Type 62 and Type 63.
The Type 62 light tank is essentially a scaled down version of the larger Type 59 MBT and has a GVW of 21 tonnes and is armed with an 85mm gun with a 7.62mm co-axial and 7.62mm fixed bow mounted machine gune plus a roof mounted 12.7mm machine gun. This is no longer deployed by the PLA.
The Type 63 light tank is in many respects the Chinese equivalent of the Russian PT-76 light tank and is also fully amphibious being propelled in the water by two water jets located one either side at the rear. It is fitted with a three person turret armed with an 85mm gun, 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a roof mounted 12.7 mm machine gun.
Some of these were upgraded with a laser range finder mounted above the 85mm gun while other underwent a major upgrade to the Type 63A configuration which is also referred to as the WZ213.
The Type 77 amphibious armoured personnel carrier (APC), which is also referred to as the WZ511, shares many common components with the Type 63 amphibious light tank and in many respects is the Chinese equivalent of the Russian BTR-50PK APC which was phased out of service with the Russian Army many years ago.
The forward part of the hull of the Type 63A has been extended to enhance its amphibious capability and a maximum water speed of up to 7.5 knots (14km/h) is claimed.
All that is required for amphibious operations is erecting the new and larger trim vane at the front of the hull and activating the bilge pumps.
A brand new turret has been installed armed with a 105mm rifled gun coupled to a computerised FCS that includes day/night sights incorporating a laser rangefinder.
In addition to firing conventional ammunition it is believed to be able to fire a GP2 LGP out to a maximum range of 5,000m.
China has also fielded other platforms armed with a stabilised 105mm gun including the VN16 tracked amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) which based on the earlier VN18 tracked AAV in the infantry role and the ST1 (8×8) tank destroyer.
by Christopher F. Foss