China has officially confirmed the deployment of a new light tank for service in high altitude regions, Chinese state-media reports. According to China Daily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has for the first time officially published a picture of the tank.
“A photo of the tank on snowy ground is on display at an exposition in the Beijing Exhibition Center, as part of a display showing achievements made by China over the past five years,” the article reads. “The caption accompanying the picture says it is a new type of light tank, without giving details.”
China’s Ministry of Defense announced in June that it had conducted test trials of a new tank on the Tibetan Plateau in western China. “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,” a spokesperson said at the time.
Developed by China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO), first pictures of a new-type of 25-35-ton light main battle tank (MBT), called Xinqingtan or ZTQ, appeared in 2010. Up until now, it was unclear whether the tank had been inducted into service with the PLA. NORINCO has also been working on an export version of the Xinqingtan, designated VT-5.
The capabilities of the domestic and export versions of the tank are reportedly roughly similar as I pointed out last year:
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 tank has reportedly also been fitted with a new hydropneumatic suspension system to facilitate operations in mountainous regions. Furthermore, I noted:
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 explained in 2016. “In comparison to the VT-4, the VT-5 will likely boost weaker armor and (…) as engines,” I added. According to Du Wenlong, an equipment researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science: “The shortage of oxygen on plateaus means its engine must be very powerful and can work well with a limited amount of oxygen. Similarly, its power, fire control and ammunition systems must have been specially designed for high altitudes.”