Armor: May 27, 2000


CHINA'S TYPE-98 TANK: THE NEW DRAGON FROM BEJING: During the October Parade in Beijing last year, China exhibited three new tanks, all of them developments of previously-seen types. These included the Type-80-III and the Type-85-III (new versions of the previously seen Type-80 and Type-85) and the new Type-98, which is apparently a derivative of the Type-90 (and different than the previously-seen Type-96). The Type-98 weighs 50 tons and is powered by a 1200hp diesel engine. It has six road wheels; there is less space between the outer pairs than the others. The Type-98 is armed with the standard Russian 125mm smoothbore cannon with a carousel autoloader. The turret is fitted with two independent sighting systems, allowing the commander and gunner to use the modern hunter-killer system, in which the commander looks for new targets while the gunner kills the one previously found. The Type-98 is apparently a modified T-72 chassis with a new box-shaped turret. That turret posed a considerable mystery to Western analysts, and it looked like the typical turrets seen on Western tanks, a radical change from previous Chinese design practices. It is, in fact, an entirely new design never seen anywhere before. Another curious change was a boxlike structure on the turret deck behind the gunner's hatch; this turned out to be another entirely new system not fitted to any known tank. The box behind the gunner has now been identified as a powerful battlefield laser designed as a defense system. Whenever the laser detectors determine that the tank has been painted by a laser rangefinder or a laser designator, or some other indication of an incoming attack is seen, the turret is rotated to face the threat and the laser is fired at low power. Sensors on the turret then look for the tell-tale reflection of the optical systems of the attacking unit. Once this is detected, the laser is re-aimed at the reflection and fired at extremely high power, destroying the optical systems of the attacking unit (and probably the eyes of the gunner). The system is largely automatic as it will have only seconds to react to an attack. This system is different than the Russian Drozd system, which fired shrapnel down onto an incoming missile or cannon shell. It is also very different from the laser "dazzler" systems which Iraqi tanks tried to use to interfere with US missile guidance systems. The design of the turret baffled Western analysts for months, but there is now a clear impression of its unique design. The first clue was that the turret is unusually long, and unlike any Chinese or Russian-made tank, actually overhangs the turret ring and hull armor in front. This indicated unusually thick forward armor for the turret. It was assumed that this thick frontal armor had cavities as new Russian tanks do; these cavities are filled with special materials to defect incoming missiles or cannon shells. The top of the Chinese turret shows panels which are bolted into place over what are clearly such cavities. This indicates that the Chinese, unlike the Russians, plan to change the contents of these cavities periodically to improve protection. The key clue to the turret design, however, was a set of six unusual triangular lifting hooks, four on the turret front and two on the front part of the top. These could not possibly be used to lift the entire turret; they are in the wrong place and not strong enough. In fact, they are intended to allow a crane to lift an armor module clear of the tank and replace it. The turret is now known to consist of a cast crew cabin similar to any other Russian or Chinese tank, with two huge armor modules (each a meter square and half a meter tall) welded to the front of the cast turret and to either side of the main gun. This could allow damaged tanks to be repaired more easily, and could also allow significant improvements in armor to be added later. The Type-98 is clearly developed from the Type-96. The Type-98 has padded tracks (Type-96 had bare steel), new track skirts, and a larger turret. The Type-96 had the same laser counter-attack weapon. --Stephen V Cole


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