China’s New Main Battle Tank Is Almost Here

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The People’s Republic of China continues to offer sneak peeks of its latest military hardware on state television. On Sunday, viewers were given a glimpse of the People’s Liberation Army’s latest main battle tank. Footage of the new tank appeared on Sunday as part of a CCTV series on the modernization efforts of the PLA, and the episode focused on advanced weapons.

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In one segment, the tank itself could be seen, albeit mostly covered.

According to a Tuesday report from the South China Morning Post, the fourth-generation vehicle could enter service with the PLA in the coming year or two. The news outlet quoted Song Zhongping, an analyst and former military instructor, who suggested the “development of China’s most advanced main battle tank is almost complete.”

Beyond an Improved Type 99

The exact model hasn’t been confirmed, but the PLA’s most advanced main battle tank is the Type 99A, an upgraded version of a model that first entered service in 2001. Some 1,200 Type 99/Type 99As have been produced in the past two decades. Many of those tanks were deployed last year to the border region along the Karakoram mountain range in western China. There they served as a symbol of deterrence in Beijing’s standoff with India.

No details have been released on the progress of the fourth-generation main battle tank since its development was first revealed in 2016. Though the size is not known, it is believed to be smaller than the Type 99. Song said the new tank is believed to have greater mobility and stealth, improved armor protection, and notably strong strike capabilities. It has been reported that the MBT could operate with just two crew members, instead of the three needed by the Type 99/99A.

That would suggest one crew member serves as the driver, while the other would take on the commander and gunner roles. It also further implies that the future MBT would employ an autoloader.

What Adversaries Might China’s Main Battle Tank Face?

The South China Morning Post also noted that the news of the Chinese MBT has coincided with General Dynamics Land Systems’ announcement that it is developing a next-generation Abrams main battle tank that will utilize a hybrid conventional-electric propulsion system. Such a system would enable a 50% reduction in fuel consumption, but it would also make for a quieter tank. The AbramsX is on display at this week’s U.S. Army Annual Meeting & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

In addition, GDLS continues to improve the Cold War-era MBT, and last week, the United States Army’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team became the first unit to switch to an upgraded variant of the Abrams – the M1A2 SEPv3.

Development is also under way on the M1A2 SEPv4, which will include an integrated color camera, an Eye-safe Laser Range Finder, and a cross-platform laser pointer to facilitate multi-domain battle into the commander’s sight. Beyond the lethality upgrade, the M1A2 SEPv4 also promises to include full-embedded training to maximize crew proficiency in the system. The Army is reported to be testing a prototype of the M1A2 SEPv4 in its Yuma Proving Grounds.

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