Armor: China's Wonderful Water Taxi


October 15, 2009:  China recently displayed, for the first time. a number of new locally designed military vehicles at its 60th anniversary celebrations. Among these new items was the ZBD2000 Amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle,  designed for beach assault and/or accompanying infantry as they move inland. The tracked vehicle comes in 3 different versions and serves the Chinese (PLA) Marine Corps.

In its primary configuration as an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the 8 ton ZBD2000 is armed with a central positioned angular turret comprising a 30mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun and single anti-tank guided missile launcher. Also, 2 sets of smoke grenade dischargers sit on either side of the main gun. 

Two crewmen (commander and gunner), ride inside the turret, while a driver sits in the front of the boat shaped hull beside the engine. Behind him, 10 troops ride along at a comfortable 45 kilometers per hour propelled by two water jets. One of the reasons for the high speed, is that a blade-like appendage deploys in front of the vehicle allowing the hull to almost ride (hydroplane) above the water rather than push itself through the waves. This makes the vehicle the fastest of its type in the world. Once ashore, the blade retracts, and the vehicle can travel at a road speed of 65 kilometers per hour out to a range of 500 kilometers. Yet, such performance comes at a cost. Its light weight betrays the fact it is lightly armored, only providing protection against small arms rifle fire. So its vulnerability must be taken into context when operating alongside other vehicles including as one of its guises, the light tank.

As a light tank its crew is increased to 4 (gun loader added). Armor remains the same but the primary armament becomes a 105mm gun. It’s fully stabilized to allow shooting while moving and modified to allow firing when waterborne. The gun can fire High Explosive or Armor-Piercing variants of shell, and a laser beam guided anti-tank missile derived from a Russian model may also be under development that uses the barrel as a launcher. 

In its final variant as a command vehicle, a turret downgraded with a .50 caliber machine gun and raised rear roofline allow the installation of communications equipment and computer displays

The ZBD2000’s physical dimensions are a 17 foot length, 9 foot width and 10 foot height. Unit cost is 2.5 million dollars

Electronics for the vehicles consist of satellite navigation, night vision, a fire control computer and laser rangefinder. All variants enable amphibious operations day or night in a near ‘over the horizon’ environment. In this state, transport ships remain out of sight beyond the horizon, reducing vulnerability while amphibious vehicles shuttle to and from the beach

Comparable vehicles to the ZBD2000 include the venerable AAV-7 tracked amphibious vehicle which entered service in 1972 and is used by the U.S Marine Corps. The AAV-7 is heavier (22.8 tons), longer (26 feet) and wider (10 feet). It’s slower, with a waterborne speed of 13.5 kilometers per hour with water jets and road speed of 64 kilometers per hour out to a range of 300 kilometers. Its armament is  40mm grenade launcher in a forward positioned turret. A .50 caliber machine gun is mounted as secondary armament. It carries a crew of 3, in addition to 25 troops. Unit cost is 2.5 million dollars. -- Mike Perry


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