February 3, 2013: Despite objections from some army commanders in southern China (especially on the Burmese and Vietnamese borders), the Chinese Army has retired the last of its WZ131 (Type 62) light tanks. This 21 ton vehicle was in service for fifty years and about 1,500 were produced between 1963 and 1989. Armed with an 85mm gun and three machine-guns (tw0 7.62mm and one 12.7mm) it had a four man crew and a top speed of 60 kilometers an hour. But the best aspect of the WZ131 was its mobility in swampy terrain, which there is a lot of in southern China. That means the WZ131 could accompany infantry into all but the worst (for vehicles) terrain. This is the main reason the WZ131 remained in service for so long. The WZ131 was exported to nine other countries, and many of these are still in use. The WZ131 is basically a lightweight version of the Russian T-55 (copied by China as the Type 59) and the wide tracks gave it excellent traction in swampy terrain.
The replacement for the WZ131 was, on paper, the ZBD 97. This is an amphibious IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) with narrow tracks that do not allow the vehicle to move across marshy terrain the WZ131 (which was not amphibious) could handle. The 20 ton ZBD 97 has a top road speed of 65 kilometers an hour and water speed of 20 kilometers an hour. It can travel 500 kilometers on roads on a load of fuel.
The original ZBD 97 used license built components of the Russian BMP 3 in a Chinese designed amphibious infantry fighting vehicle chassis. The later ZBD 97 entered service seven years ago, armed with a 30mm autocannon and a 100mm gun/missile launcher in a small turret, plus several 7.62mm machine-guns. The fire control system includes a night sight. The crew of three is accompanied by seven infantrymen in the rear. All that is very well but it does you little good if the vehicle is stuck in the muck most of the time. Senior army officials apparently believe that any future wars in the mucky south would stick to the roads. That attitude is not likely to change until the next war in the south.