September 22, 2013: Strategy Page
China recently revealed a wheeled 8x8 anti-aircraft system equipped with a radar and a single 35mm autocannon. This was very similar to an earlier tracked version that contains the same radar and two 35mm autocannon. In both cases the gun appears to be a licensed copy of the Swiss Oerlikon 35mm autocannon. The tracked version weighs 34 tons while the wheeled version weighs about ten tons less and moves more quickly on roads and requires less maintenance.
The 35mm gun is a popular weapon for armored, self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery. Systems of this type were first developed in Europe. These fire 2.5 kg (5.5 pound) shells at the rate of 300 a minute. Max altitude is about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The 35mm projectiles weigh up to .75 kg (1.65 pounds). This AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) is still useful against helicopters and transports, and jets that are moving slowly over the battlefield.
The new Chinese wheeled 35mm system is another version of ZBL 09 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle. Recently China also showed off a version equipped with a small turret containing a 105mm gun, for providing direct fire support for troops. There was already an artillery version, carrying a 122mm howitzer in a larger turret. There are several other versions and the anti-aircraft version came as no surprise.
The basic ZBL 09 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 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 (five years ago) Russian type designs were interesting and instructive.
The Chinese have been observing 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. Producing a wheeled anti-aircraft version of the ZBL 09 makes sense for the Chinese as they are creating mobile infantry brigades equipped with the various models of the ZBL 09. These “Stryker” brigades are meant to move quickly over the newly built Chinese highways. Tracked vehicles move more slowly, tear up the roads and the vehicles require a lot more maintenance after long road marches.