China possibly equipping PLA ground units with new light tank

Images posted on Chinese online forums at the end of December 2016 suggest that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may be equipping ground units with a new light tank first seen in 2011.

Posted on 31 December on the CJDBY and FYJS websites, the images show around 10 of the new tanks on railway flatbed cars at what appears to be the Guilin railway station in China’s southern Guangxi Province. The tanks’ transit through Guilin could indicate their initial delivery to units assigned to the PLA’s new Southern Theatre Command.

In January 2016, the popular Chinese web portal published a report on the tank – the designation of which has yet to be revealed – that assessed its history and missions and provided new details on its armament and features.

Corroborating previous reports that the tank weighs about 35 tonnes, the report noted that the vehicle has a crew of four. There has also been speculation that the use of an autoloader for its 105 mm main gun reduces its crew to three. The gun can fire tungsten alloy anti-tank rounds that can penetrate up to 500 mm of armour as well as gun-launched missiles, according to the report.

The gun’s main sights and the commander’s optics appear to be derived from the new T-99A2 main battle tank and a shell-tracking radar appears to be mounted on the gun. The wedge-shaped ‘arrowhead’ turret features detachable reactive armour blocks and laser detectors, while the turret bustle can also carry smoke grenade launchers.

The tank may also feature liquid-gas suspension, enabling it to ‘crouch’ to better exploit terrain for concealment and to assist with rail and air transport. Due to its wide tracks the tank reportedly has a ground pressure rating similar to the Chinese Type 62 light tank developed in the early 1960s: low enough to overcome rice paddies.