June 7, 2015: Strategy Page
China recently offered (for export) another new variant in its line of ZBL 09 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle; the VN1 vehicle launched bridge. This is an old concept that goes back to World War II. What it amounts to is a 15-20 meter (46-66 foot) bridge than can quickly be deployed from the vehicle over obstacles allowing similar (in size and weight) vehicles to quickly cross.
China introduced the ZBL line of armored vehicles in 2006 after more than a decade of development. The first model was a personnel carrier but other variants quickly followed. For example the ZBL 09 ST1 is equipped as a tank-destroyer with a high velocity 105mm gun. This appears to be a variant on the 2007 version that had a lower velocity 105mm gun that was intended to give infantry front line artillery support. The Germans called this an “assault gun” when they invented the concept (as the “Sturmgeschütz” during World War II. These vehicles are particularly useful for infantry attacking as an assault gun could quickly take out enemy opposition with one or two shells.
The assault gun version of its ZBL 09 had a smaller turret than the ST1. The larger turret of the ST1 is apparently to hold the additional recoil and fire control equipment for the more powerful and longer range 105mm gun. In 2009 there was already an artillery version of the ZBL 09, carrying a 122mm howitzer in a larger turret similar to the one used by the ST1.
Since 2012 the Chinese Army has been using the ZBL 09 with the turret and 105mm gun as a wheeled light tank. That appeared to indicate that an anti-tank version was already in the works. The ZBL 09/105mm assault gun could, with some extra training, be capable of shooting up other armored vehicles. The 105mm gun carried is not powerful enough to destroy most modern tanks, but could knock out most other armored vehicles.
The basic ZBL 09 is a 21 ton vehicle that has a crew of three and carries seven passengers. The ST1 apparently has a crew of four and weighs over 25 tons. All ZBL 09s are 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.
The infantry version of the ZBL 09 entered service in 2009, and a growing number of combat brigades are being 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 ideas from the West. Still, some of the more recent (since 2009) Russian type designs were interesting and instructive.
The Chinese have observed NATO 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.