Armor: What The Chinese Learned

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May 28, 2011: China is offering its ZBL 09 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle for export (as the VN1). This is a 21 ton vehicle that has a crew of three and carries seven passengers. The vehicle is 8 meters (25 feet) long, three meters (9.2 feet) wide and 2.1 meters (6.5 feet, to the hull roof) high. It's amphibious, and has a top water speed of 8 kilometers an hour. On roads, top speed is 100 kilometers an hour, and max road range on internal fuel is 800 kilometers. The infantry carrier version has a turret with a 30mm autocannon. There are also artillery versions carrying either a 105mm or 122mm howitzer.

The ZBL 09 entered service in 2009, and some brigades will be equipped with it, to operate somewhat like the American Stryker brigades. China has been developing new wheeled armored vehicles for over a decade. Until recently, these were all based on Russian designs. The ZBL 09, however, borrows more from the West. Still, some of the more recent (five years ago) Russian type designs were interesting, and instructive.

Back then, for example, the 18 ton, 6x6 WMZ551A model was given a new turret. The vehicle has a crew of three and can carry nine more troops. Using technology and weapons obtained from Ukraine, the new vehicle has a 30mm autocannon, instead of 25mm. More importantly, the new turret has an improved fire control system (containing a laser range finder, and a vidcam that shows the vehicle commander what the gunner sees.) This is apparently related to earlier Chinese efforts to upgrade its BMP1 tracked infantry fighting vehicles, with BMP3 turrets from Russia. These also have the 30mm cannon. The main problem with all these upgrades is money. The government wants Chinese-made weapons to be used, as they are cheaper, and supply is more assured. But the Chinese manufacturers don't want to move up to the 30mm autocannon design just yet. Many Chinese generals believe that the Chinese 25mm autocannon is sufficient.

There is agreement that an improved fire control system is a good thing. But there is not much space available inside a BMP. Some export models of the BMP3, when equipped with a thermal imager, have to mount some of that gear on the outside of the vehicle. There is also agreement that wheeled armored vehicles for the infantry might be a better investment. The Chinese have been following American success in Iraq with the Stryker and LAV wheeled combat vehicles. Chinese designers eventually concluded that the roomier internal layout of Western vehicles did serve a useful purpose, and the ZBL 09, and all the electronics installed in it, are an example of what the Chinese learned.

 

 


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