China’s top armor manufacturer, China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), has apparently produced a new variant of the third-generation ZTZ-96 main battle tank (MBT), IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports.
At least five improved models of the ZTZ-96 MBT, dubbed ZTZ-96B, arrived in Russia last week to participate in this year’s International Army Games, organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense and held from July 30 to August 16.
The Type 96A MBT is the backbone of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tank force with more than 2,500 MBTs estimated to be operated by the Chinese military.
According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the upgraded ZTZ-96 variant “was revealed on Chinese online forums on 5 July by a blogger posting a video of the tank on its way to high altitude testing. Two days later images emerged of the new tank beginning its trip to Russia.”
Specific details about what upgrades were installed on the MBT were not provided by the Chinese military. “Except for an improved ventilation system, the T-96B appears to show no visible changes to the turret, optical sensors or main 125 mm gun armament,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly notes.
According to unconfirmed Chinese media reports, the ZTZ-96 B variant is equipped with an improved communications system and could have been fitted with a new engine. Improvements have purportedly also been made to the tank’s exhaust system, suspension, and running wheels, Jane’s reveals.
Last year, China lost to Russia in the competition (See: “Russia Beats China in This Year’s International Army Games”). China participated with four ZTZ-96A MBTs. In 2014, Chinese PLA tank crews complained that the Type 96A with its 780 horsepower diesel-engine is underpowered in comparison to Russian T-72B3 MBTs (See: “Russia to Host World Military Games: China Brought its Own Tank”).
Consequently, it could be possible that the new MBT variant brought to Russia has been fitted with a new 1,200 horsepower liquid-cooled diesel engine. However, this is speculation. Should Chinese tanks perform better during this year’s games it might be an indication that the ZTZ-96s engine underwent an upgrade.
China Military Online reports that for the 2016 International Army Games, the PLA has dispatched 1,066 officers and soldiers, 155 vehicles, one frigate, and two JH-7A fighter-bombers to the competition. Overall, the PLA along with the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force will participate in 22 separate contests.
“We invited teams from 47 countries and 19 of them agreed to participate,” Russian Lieutenant-General Ivan Buvaltsev told TASS news agency on July 7. “As always we have many applications for the tank biathlon competition. Sixteen teams are participating this year. More than 3,000 solders will take part in the competitions. Kazakhstan has 21 teams, Venezuela has nine, China 22, Egypt six, and Iran seven.”