January 26, 2015: Strategy Page
The Chinese like to develop a lot of specialized armored vehicles, in part to deal with the very different climates and geography found throughout their vast country. Thus they have a lot of amphibious armored vehicles as well as models equipped to handle marshy ground or deep snow. The latest specialized vehicle is a light tank designed to be more effective in Tibet and nearby provinces with a lot of rough, mountainous terrain. This would include the mountainous jungles on Vietnamese border.
The new tank (nicknamed the ZTQ) replaces the 21 ton Type 62 (WZ131Type 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-guns. 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.
First seen in 2010, it is believed that the ZTQ entered service in 2014. The tank appears to have a 105mm or 125mm gun, improved armor protection and running gear that is more efficient and easier to maintain. The ZTQ is probably heavier, as in 30 tons or more. Armor design has advanced greatly since the 1960s as have artillery and heavy machine-guns. A closer examination of the ZTQ would probably reveal an armored vehicle with modern armor and other protection. So far China has released very little data on the new light tank. The vehicle is known because cell phone photos have been taken as many of them were shipped to 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. It is of modern design and appears to be equipped with 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.
In 2006 it was believed that the recently introduced ZBD 97 amphibious tank would replace the Type 62. The ZBD 97 is armed with a 30mm autocannon and a 100mm gun/missile launcher in a small turret, plus several 7.62mm machine-guns. The fire control system includes a night sight. The crew of three is accompanied by seven infantrymen (or additional fuel and ammo) in the rear. While the ZBD 97 could replace the Type 62 in some respects, it was basically a scaled up IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle.) The ZBD 97 used license built components of the Russian BMP 3 in a Chinese designed amphibious infantry fighting vehicle chassis. ZBD 97 was popular with the Chinese marines, but the army wanted a new light tanks. Now they have one.