January 2, 2014:
Cell phone photos of a new family of armored vehicles are coming out of China. Most were taken while these vehicles were being transported, apparently from the factory to their users. The new “Type X” vehicles look like a redesigned Type 89 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). This was a 14-15 ton, 6.15 meter (20 foot) long vehicle that was, without a turret, able to carry a crew of two and 13 passengers. The IFV version had a turret armed with a 25mm autocannon. That meant it had a three man crew and seven passengers. The Type 89 was introduced in the 1990s and developed from the Type 63 which was a 13 ton clone of the Russian BMP 1 but without the turret. The Type 63 had a crew of two, carried ten passengers and entered service in the 1980s. Over 8,000 were produced, which was five times as many as the Type 89.
Like Russia and many Western nations China has also developed a modern wheeled armored vehicle. The most successful one was the Type 92, which was developed in the 1990s and is similar to the U.S. Stryker or Canadian LAV. It is an 18 ton, 6x6 armored vehicle that is most frequently used to transport infantry. These vehicles carry a crew of three, plus nine infantry. Most vehicles are the APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) model and armed only with a 12.7mm machine-gun.
The new “Type X” IFV has been seen in numerous configurations (engineer, command, 120mm mortar, recon and ambulance) in addition to the basic IFV. This would indicate that this is the real replacement for the Type 63 and not the Type 89 (which had lots of problems and was never produced in large numbers).
China is still having problems meshing its infantry with its new IFVs. That’s because the standard nine man infantry squad won’t fit in many of the IFVs. Despite that problem over the last decade China has been equipping its mechanized infantry units to a modern standard, in terms of equipment, weapons, and training. This is part of a four decade effort to modernize the Chinese Army. For example, it was only in the 1980s that China (at least on paper) motorized all of its infantry divisions. Before that, many infantry marched, or took the railroad, while some of their heavy equipment was still moved by horses. Now, many infantry units are getting a third generation of armored vehicles, or IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles). This makes them mech (mechanized) infantry.
The current standard is for each infantry fighting vehicle to carry a nine man squad, armed with six Type 95 assault rifles, one machine-gun (gunner armed a pistol crew), and one RPG gunner (also with a pistol as a secondary weapon). Troops wear camouflage uniforms (a green pattern), helmets similar to those used by American troops, and protective vests (not the ones with the bullet proof ceramic plates, but the older ones that mainly protect against shell fragments and pistol bullets). The dismounted squad has two walkie-talkie radios, while the vehicle has a longer range radio and intercom system. China organized its first mechanized infantry brigades in the late 1950s, and now has about 30 of them. Some are experimental because China is always trying new things.
Non-mechanized (they move by truck) infantry uses a 12 man squad organization, with an extra RPG and light machine-gun. The mechanized infantry squad has to be smaller because you can't get twelve troops into the vehicles available to the mech infantry. The new IFVs can carry only seven passengers, so the infantry squads are split up when travelling in the new IFVs.