Armor: Asian Stryker With Everything

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December 24, 2019: Back in 2017 Thailand ordered 34 VN1 armored vehicles from China. Recently the Thais asked for some additional weapons to be added to their VN1s. The VN1 is the export version of the ZBL 09, which is a 21 ton 8x8 wheeled armored 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 topwater 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 Thais originally ordered VN1s armed with the 30mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine-gun. Before the VN1s were delivered Thailand ordered an upgraded turret that was not manned and carried more weapons. This RWS (Remote Weapon Station) is operated by a soldier inside the vehicle and has a thermal (heat) sensor, zoom vidcam and full stabilization. In addition to the 30mm autocannon and 7.62mm coaxial (aligned with the 30mm cannon) machine-gun, there are a  a QLZ-04 40mm automatic grenade launcher and an ATGM (Anti-tank guided missile) launcher for HJ-73 missiles. The ATGM and 30mm autocannon both have an effective range of 3,000 meters.

The ZBL 09 entered service in 2009 and several Chinese infantry brigades have been equipped with it, to operate somewhat like the American Stryker brigades. China has been developing new wheeled armored vehicles since the late 1990s. Until recently, these were all based on Russian designs. The ZBL 09, however, borrows more from the West. This includes RWS technology, which proved very effective for the Americans during fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thailand does not have any disputes with its neighbors. There was a brief border confrontation with Cambodia between 2008 and 2011 that included a number of skirmishes and about a hundred casualties. Thailand never had the occasion to use armored vehicles and the dispute was settled by an international tribunal. The VN1s are likely to be used for training, and not much of that because the army budget does not allow for extensive training exercises with armored vehicles. Thailand tends to have armored vehicles that are decades old and still operational because they are maintained but not used very often. As a result, the Thai army still has hundreds of decades old armored vehicles whose numbers shrink as more and more of these vehicles become too decrepit to keep running and are scrapped. For example the Thais have hundreds of 1970s era M113 tracked APCs (Armored personnel carriers) as well as Chinese Type 85 APCs that are similar to the M113 but of more recent vintage. The Thais noted that the M113s lasted longer and were easier to maintain. For that reason, Thailand has 60 American Strykers in addition to 79 VN1s.

 


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