Armor: China Quietly Takes The Lead

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June 14, 2017: The new Chinese ZTQ light tank has shown up in Tibet, equipping army units on the Indian border. Earlier in 2017 ZTQs were seen near the Vietnam border. What is different now is that the Chinese military is officially recognizing the existence of the ZTQ and has even given it a name; Xinqingtan.

At the end of 2016 photos appeared on the Internet showing many ZTQs on rail cars, painted in army colors and headed for delivery to units in southern China. This indicated that the military had placed an order after five years of testing and tinkering with the design. Although pictures of the ZTQ have been showing up since 2011 it was not until late 2016 that details of the turret were visible. The ZTQ was designed for rough, mountainous terrain as found in Tibet and the mountainous jungles on Vietnamese border. ZTQ is in mass production and it has been seen in the highlands of western China in the months before the recent announcement.

The ZTQ replaces the 21 ton Type 62 (WZ131) that entered service in the 1960s and some are still used as a light reconnaissance tank. The Type 62 looked like a scaled down Russian T-55 (or Chinese clone the Type 59) with much thinner armor (35mm/1.4 inches in the front). This provided protection from most artillery fragments as well as most machine-gun fires. The Type 62 had a four man crew and an 85mm gun. Over 1,500 were built before production ceased in 1989. There were stories in Chinese media during 2013 indicating that the Type 62 was being retired and some officers were not happy with that because at the time there was no replacement.

First mentioned in 2010, it is believed that the ZTQ began to undergo intensive testing and evaluation in 2014. The tank has a 105mm gun, improved armor protection and running gear that is more efficient and easier to maintain. A tank this size could carry about 36 105mm rounds as well as ammo for the 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine-guns carried. The ZTQ is heavier, as in about 35 tons. There are also many other improvements as armor design has advanced greatly since the 1960s. Then again the armor piercing capabilities of artillery shells and heavy machine-guns have become deadlier. It appears that the ZTQ has modern armor and other protection. So far China has released very little official data on the specification of this new light tank. The vehicle is widely known because cell phone photos have been taken more of them were transported to distant places (like Tibet) on railroad flat cars or moved around on tank transporters for tests in different parts of the country.

The turrets were often covered with netting to conceal details, although a few other photos have appeared with a clear (but not as detailed) view of the turret. This turret detail revealed the TZQ was using a smaller version of the modern turret used in China’s most modern tank, the Type 99A2. This tank first appeared in 2007 and quite a lot of detail was visible. These turrets (ZTQ and T-99A2) are of modern design and the latest photos show more detail, confirming the presence of numerous of sensors. There appears to be modular armor (reactive or other lightweight types) for parts of the vehicle. Overall the vehicle is most definitely a modern design and the Chinese will probably eventually offer it for export. At that point the details will be revealed.

Although China still borrows (and often improves on) a lot of Russian armored vehicle tech China is also pulling even with and even ahead at times of Russia. More importantly new Chinese designs are mass produced for widespread use in the Chinese military as well as export to a growing list of satisfied customers.

 


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