The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has tested a new tank on the Tibetan Plateau in western China, the Chinese Ministry of Defense announced on June 29.
“Recently, a new-type of tank has undertaken trials on the Tibet Plateau. The trials were aimed to test the tank’s performance and are not targeted at any country,” PLA spokesman Colonel Wu Qian said during a regular press briefing at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) on June 29.
The statement came in response to a (prepared) question about U.S. media reports of a new-type of 35-ton light main battle tank (MBT) that was seen during a recent military exercise conducted by a mechanized infantry brigade of PLA Tibet Military Command on the Tibet Plateau.
The spokesperson did not reveal details on the tanks, but it is likely that he was referring to the so-called ZTQ light tank, dubbed Xinqingtan, pictures of which first emerged in 2010. It remains unclear whether this new type of light MBT with a combat weight of between 33 to 36 tons has already been inducted into the PLA.
An export variant of the Xinqingtan, designated VT-5, has first been revealed at an exhibition in October 2016. Both the VT-5 and Xinqingtan have reportedly been under development by China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), China’s largest tank maker. As I reported last year when discussing the combat capabilities of the Xinqingtan’s export version:
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.
Next to the 105-millimeter tank gun, the Xinqingtan MBT is reportedly armed with a 35-millimeter grenade launcher and a 12.7-millimeter machine gun. The tank can reportedly be fitted with advanced composite armor and explosive reactive armor. According to some reports, the PLA plans to induct up to 300 Xinqingtan MBTs. The tank will likely be used for reconnaissance and infantry support operations in mountainous terrain.
“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,” I noted last year. “In comparison to the VT-4, the VT-5 will likely boost weaker armor and a less powerful main gun as well as engines.”