December 25, 2004
One of Chinas primary military weaknesses is a lack of modern ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) because of the obsolescence of their current light anti-tank weapons. Over the last decade or so, China has been aggressively attempting to modernize its armed forces to become a regional superpower. Much of this money goes towards obtaining new combat aircraft, air defense equipment, and armored vehicles. As a result, Chinas air force and armored corps have improved significantly, due to the increased attention they have received. Like in many countries, small arms and infantry weapons are way down the list.
However, China has long been completely self-sufficient in infantry weapons and continues to develop more high-tech equipment. China has thus attempted to solve their problem with a lack of anti-tank missiles in an interesting way: theyve developed two new anti-tank systems without using missiles.
The first two of these systems is basically a cheaply-made domestically-produced LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon). For years, the primary light anti-armor weapon for the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) Ground Forces was the Type 69, which was a Chinese copy of the Soviet RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launcher. The Type 69 fired the standard 85mm rocket with an armor piercing capability of about 300mm. During its heyday, this weapon was actually very good, being extremely cheap, reliable, and powerful enough to pierce most light armored vehicles at the time. The millions of RPG-7s scattered around the globe attest to its usefulness. However, the first-generation RPGs are now obsolete without more powerful warheads and, when up against a well armed and armored forces, only good for attacking vehicles with little to no armor protection. The Type 69 is still in widespread service, as each Chinese infantry squad has two RPG operators each with three rockets, giving small units a substantial amount of anti-armor power.
The Type 69 is gradually being replaced by the PF89 80mm Light Anti-Tank Weapon. The Chinese claim that it is comparable to the American AT-4. The weapon weighs about 6-7 pounds as opposed to the Type 69s 12 pounds and penetrates about 400mm of armor, 100mm more than the Type 69. Like the AT4, the PF89 is a self-contained anti armor weapon, with a disposable launcher. The PF89 is probably not as high-quality as the similar AT4, but its a big improvement over the obsolete RPG.
Of course, a man-portable light anti-tank weapon doesnt solve the problem of not being able to take out main battle tanks. Instead of developing anti-tank missiles from scratch or buying them in bulk from Russia, the Chinese have developed an anti-tank rocket, the PF98, to deal with heavy armor on the battlefield. Gradually replacing the older Type 65 and 78 recoilless rifles, the 120mm PF98 is intended to be a cross between an anti-tank missile and an individual anti-tank rocket. Like an individual weapon, the PF98 is lightweight, man-portable, and self-contained and consists of a reusable launcher tube, aiming sight, and a tripod for stabilization. For ammunition, the weapon fires two types of projectiles: a tandem HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round and a High Explosive Multipurpose round. The HEAT round penetrates explosive reactive armor and has penetration capability of 800mm. The High Explosive Multipurpose rounds consist of high explosives and 120 steel ball bearing for use against hostile infantry.
The biggest advantage of this system is the weight. The entire system weighs about 20 pounds, and can be quickly transported from one place to another in a hurry. This is extremely light when compared to a Western anti-tank system like the US Javelin missile, which has a carry weight of almost 50 pounds (49.06). With these two system, China now has little need to produce or import large quantities of ATGMs. The PF-89 provides the infantry with enough firepower to deal with light armored vehicles and the PF98 is capable of killing most heavily-protected tanks. Also, both systems are simple and inexpensive to produce in large number, essential to a country that already has a stretched defense budget.