Asia Defense

China to Retire Its Armored Tank Destroyers

The Chinese military is replacing its tank destroyers with anti-tank missiles and attack helicopters.

China to Retire Its Armored Tank Destroyers

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will retire its armada of Type 89 (aka PTZ89) tank destroyers, Asia One reports based on information published in the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the PLA.

The PLA Daily published a picture of 18 self-propelled guns that look like Type 89 tank destroyers departing a military base of the PLA Shenyang Military Command’s 39th Group Army.

The newspaper said that an official retirement ceremony for the obsolete armored vehicles was held on November 3.

The Type 89 tank destroyer entered the PLA’s service in 1989. From 1989 to 1995 around 100 vehicles were produced. The tank destroyer’s main armament is a 120-mm/L50 smoothbore gun, equipped with a semi-automatic gun loader.  Since the gun is not stabilized, the armored vehicle cannot fire accurately on the move.

“With its good mobility and a high automation level, the Type 89 tank destroyer can easily pierce the armor of enemy tanks using a 120-mm smoothbore gun,” according to Senior Colonel Wang Kai, a land armaments expert at the PLA Academy of Armored Forces Engineering in Beijing. However, the gun has a relatively short range, one of the Type 89’s many shortcomings.

With thin armor (less than 50 mm), the Type 89 only provides protection against small arms fire and artillery shell splinters and would not survive a direct artillery hit. In addition, maintenance costs for the weapon are relatively high. Furthermore, the tank destroyer, as the name suggests, can only be used against enemy armored vehicles and not for much else.

The Type 89 was “brought into service by the PLA around the early 1990s to close the loopholes in the PLA’s anti-tank capability that existed in the 1970s and 1980s,” according to Wang.

“Thanks to the past 20 years of modernization, our armored forces have acquired a large number of advanced tanks equipped with large-caliber, powerful guns, which means specialized tank destroyers such as the Type 89 will no longer be needed,” Wang added.

The PLA already concluded in the late 1970s that attack helicopters armed with anti-tank missiles would be the best weapon against large enemy tank formations, a conclusion that was reinforced with the U.S. military’s success during the Gulf War.

Wang acknowledges that “anti-tank missiles and helicopters represent the trend of anti-tank warfare. They can form a three-dimensional anti-tank firepower network.”

The PLA has been slowly building up its arsenal of HJ-10 anti-tank missiles, which, along with the WZ-10 and WZ-19 attack helicopters, are much more effective weapons against tanks in the 21st century. The HJ-10 anti-tank missile is purportedly the equivalent to the U.S.-made AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile.