Asia Defense

China Unveils New Tank for Mountain Warfare

China’s top armor maker unveiled a new lightweight tank at the Airshow China 2016 in Zhuha.

China Unveils New Tank for Mountain Warfare
Credit: China Defense Blog

China’s biggest developer and manufacturer of land armaments, China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), has for the first time publicly displayed an export version of a new lightweight main battle tank (MBT), dubbed VT5, at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuha, IHS Jane’s reports.

According to IHS Jane’s, the new MBT has a combat weight of between 33 to 36 tons, a relatively light weight in comparison to other MBTS such as the 43-ton ZTZ-96 (See: “Meet the ‘Backbone’ of China’s Deadly New Tank Force”). The tank’s weight indicates that it could be used for mountain warfare operations to operate in terrains that are inaccessible to heavier MBTs. Like most other light tanks, the VT5 will most likely be used for reconnaissance and infantry support operations.

The tank can reportedly be fitted with advanced composite armor and explosive reactive armor. “The example being shown at Airshow China is also fitted with bar/slat armor on the turret sides and either side of the hull. This provides a higher level of protection against rocket-propelled grenades and similar weapons fitted with a single high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead,” according to IHS Jane’s.

The tank is purportedly armed with a 105 millimeter gun fitted with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor. Similar to guns on other Chinese MBTs, the VT-5’s gun may also be capable of firing laser-guided anti-tank missiles, next to kinetic energy penetrators and high-explosive anti-tank warheads. Furthermore, the VT5 is equipped with a state-of-the-art fire control system and features an autoloader like all Chinese tank designs.

The VT5 purportedly is a variant of the so-called ZTQ light tank, pictures of which first emerged in 2010. There is little public information available on the ZTQ tank and it is unclear whether the MBT has already been inducted into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or not. The tank is/will likely be deployed along China’s western border including Tibet. It unclear how many ZTQ are and will be in service with the PLA. Some sources indicate that the PLA intends to field as many as 300.

As I reported elsewhere, China has allegedly also produced a new variant of the third-generation ZTZ-96 MBT, the ZTZ-96B. This new tank participated in this year’s International Army Games, organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and held this summer near Moscow.  The Type 96 MBT series is the mainstay of the PLA’s tank force with more than 2,500 Type 96 MBTs estimated to be in service with the Chinese military.

The VT-5 and ZTQ light tanks appear to be a downsized version of the VT-4/MBT-3,000. The VT-4 is based on the Soviet-era T-72 tank design and armed with a 125-mm smoothbore gun. In comparison to the VT-4, the VT-5 will likely boost weaker armor and a less powerful main gun as well as engines.