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Is China Equipping Its Marine Corps With a New Lightweight Battle Tank?

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Asia Defense

Is China Equipping Its Marine Corps With a New Lightweight Battle Tank?

An image posted on Chinese online forums may indicate that the Chinese marine corps has been equipped with a new tank.

Is China Equipping Its Marine Corps With a New Lightweight Battle Tank?
Credit: Chinese Internet

The PLA Marine Corps (PLAMC), part of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), may have inducted into service a new lightweight battle tank, according to an image posted on Chinese online forums.

The image, published in mid-July on a Chinese language website, shows what appears to be a ZTQ light tank, also known as the ZTQ-15, painted in the blueish gray PLAMC camouflage.

The image was first reported by IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.

The PLAMC is reportedly currently undergoing an expansion. According to a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) source, the size of the PLAMC is expected to increase from around 10,000 to 30,000, divided up into six brigades, in by 2020. According to some reports, the PLAMC may eventually expand to over 100,000 personnel.

“Each PLAMC brigade is divided up into one armored regiment and two marine battalions,” I reported in March 2017. “The brigades are equipped with ZBD05 tracked amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, ZLT05 tracked amphibious assault guns, and ZTZ-96A main battle tanks.”

Whereas the ZTZ-96A displaces around 43 tons, the ZTQ reportedly has a combat weight of between 25 to 35 tons. In October 2017, China officially confirmed the induction of a new lightweight tank for service in high altitude regions. This tank is thought to be the ZTQ.

Designed and built by China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO), the first images of a new-type of the new ZTQ MBT, also called Xinqingtan, appeared in 2010. The ZTQ appears to be a downsized variant of the PLA’s VT-4/MBT-3,000 MBT, which in turn is based on the Soviet T-72 MBT design. As I wrote 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 [ZTQ’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 [ZTQ] is equipped with a state-of-the-art fire control system and features an autoloader like all Chinese tank designs.

According to some reports, the PLA intends to procure up to 300 ZTQ MBTs. The number of tanks in service with the PLAMC, if any, remains unclear.

The new tank could also serve in the PLA’s amphibious mechanized infantry divisions (AMID) rather than the PLAMC. China is also in the middle of expanding this force from two to four AMIDs, with each unit equipped with up to 300 armored and amphibious transport vehicles, as well as MBTs.

The PLAMC and the AMIDs still lack a joint command system. As I explained previously, the major weak point of both the PLAMC and the AMIDs is amphibious transport capacity:

According to an estimate by the RAND Corporation, the PLA may be able to field 89 amphibious landing ships [by the end of last year], including five Type 071 Yuzhao-class amphibious warfare ships and up to two bigger Type 081 (some reports use the designation Type 075) Xisha-class landing helicopter docks (LHD), large multipurpose amphibious assault ships.

The PLA presently operates the world’s largest active MBT force.