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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

Modern PLA Armoured Vehicles

Technical Report APA-TR-2009-0901

Martin Andrew, BA(hons), MA, PhD, RAAF(Retd)
  September 2009
Updated November, 2009
Updated August, 2010
Updated April, October, 2012
© 2009 - 2012, Martin Andrew

Excerpted from “How the PLA Fights: Weapons and Tactics of the People’s Liberation Army, Second Edition” published by the United States Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Additions and updates by Dr Carlo Kopp and Dr Martin Andrew.

Tanks and Self Propelled Artillery

Type 99A2 Main Battle Tank

The Type 99 is a Chinese variant of the T-72 as it incorporates the hull, 125mm main gun, automatic loader, advanced Russian armour and active protection systems.

The photograph shows the Type 99A2 main battle tank with the new wedge turret face with internal ERA like the T-72B/T-90 and an active protection system NORINCO is intending to install a Chinese built 1,500hp diesel in a Type 99 main battle tank this year.  The Type 99 fleet was recently upgraded with a new 2.5 generation thermal imaging observation and targeting system along with a 5.5km gun tube launched anti-tank guided system.  The combat weight of the vehicle is now 55 t. to defeat incoming rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. There is a layer of 20 to 30mm of high hardness armour plate over the explosive reactive armour either side of the main gun, characteristic of the latest Russian 4S23 Relikt built-in reactive armor modules. These modules employ smaller reactive armor tiles that use explosives and flying plates to break up both HEAT and APFSDS projectiles.

NORINCO is intending to install a Chinese built 1,500hp diesel and the fleet was recently upgraded with a new 2.5 generation thermal imaging observation and targeting system along with a 5.5km gun tube launched anti-tank guided system.  The combat weight of the vehicle is now 55 tonnes.

Type 96A  Main Battle Tank

Type 96A MBT.

The Type 96 main battle tank has undergone an upgrade and is now designated the Type 96A.  The vehicle includes ERA on the glacis plate and add-on armour on the front of the turret, reminiscent of the ‘Super Dolly Parton’ ERA array incorporated on the T-72A. The gunner now has an integrated thermal imaging/day sight, the equipment rack/bar armour on the sides of the turret has been replaced by larger boxes and a Chinese version of the Russian Shtora-1 infra-red/laser jamming system is fitted.

Type 05 / PLZ05 155 mm Self Propelled Howitzer

The turret uses a modified autoloader from the Russian 2S19 Msta-S turret, using a  155m gun instead of 152mm, mounted on a slightly extended PLZ45 hull.  There is a gap between the fifth and six road wheel, which has a beefed up suspension.  The barrel is 8.06 metres long and can fire a rocket assisted shell to 53km.

Type 07 122mm Self Propelled Gun

The PLZ07 122mm tracked self-propelled gun mounts a 122 mm gun armed turret on the PLZ45 hull.  The vehicle weighs 22.5 tons fully loaded and carries 40 rounds of ammunition.  It is 6.66m high, 3.28m wide and 2.5m high to the turret roof.  It carries a crew of five and its 440 kW diesel engine gives it a top road speed of 65 km/hr and a maximum road range of 500km.

The gun is a Chinese copy of the Russian D30 howitzer and besides the QJC-88 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun mounted on the turret roof there are two triple banks of 76mm smoke grenade dischargers on either side of the turret.  The gun has an elevation from 0° to +70
° and a maximum rate of fire of 6 – 8 rounds per minute.

The gun has a maximum range of 18km with normal ammunition, 22km with base bleed and 27km with rocket assisted rounds.

Type 90-II Armoured Recovery Vehicle

The Type 90-II Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) is the most modern ARV in service  and the only one able to reliably recover the Type 96 and  Type 99 main battle tanks.
The Type 90-II ARV has an all up weight of 48t and is 8.83m long, by 3.4m wide by 2.4m high not including the 12.7mm heavy machine gun. Its 1200 hp diesel engine gives it a top road speed of 69 km/hr and a maximum range of 500 km. There is a 25 tonne lift capacity crane on the right side of the vehicle, and the hull sides are vertical with the front part of the superstructure vertical after the glacis plate.  The driver has a very large armoured window to see through and there are two cupola’s side by side on top of the superstructure, the left one mounting the machine gun. There is also an octuple 76 mm smoke discharger on the forward right edge of the roof. The vehicle dozer blade is 400m in height and depending on the soil type, the vehicle can move 120m3 of earth in an hour. The winch, which uses a 30 mm thick wire rope, has a drag capacity of 41 tonnes without a pulley and 82 tonnes using its pulley.

Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Personnel Carriers

Type 04 Infantry Fighting Vehicle

In 1997 the Chinese government bought the rights for the Russian BMP-3 fire control system, 100mm gun, 30 x 165mm 2A72 automatic cannon and the technology for anti-tank guided missiles fired though gun tubes. The 2A72 30mm gun is a further developed and simplified version of the KBP Instrument Design Bureau 2A42 which is no less capable, as it uses the same rounds and concurrent muzzle velocities. It is powered by a V6 404 horsepower  diesel engine which at 2200rpm gives the vehicle a power to weight ratio of 25.2 and a maximum road speed of 70 km/hr and 13km/hr in water.  The  vehicle is very thirsty or has a small fuel tank as the Type 04 has a maximum road range of only 400km and can climb a 0.75m vertical obstacle.

This is the centrepiece new infantry fighting vehicle, to replace the Type 86 infantry fighting vehicle and to operate with the new third generation Type 96 and Type 99 main battle tanks.

Designated the ZBD/Type 04, it was not introduced into service until 2007 as there was a considerable debate whether its high cost was justified, given the capability of the Type 86G with the new universal turret with the same 30mm automatic cannon and SACLOS guided HJ-73C.

The high flat sides and the highly combustible 100mm ammunition make this vehicle highly vulnerable in the event of a hull penetration.  Similarly armed Russian vehicles in combat have performed poorly on having the hull penetrated have exploded along the weld beads.

ZBD05 Tracked Amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Previously known as the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) The vehicle is developed from the ZBD/Type 04 infantry fighting vehicle chassis but is now a completely separate vehicle.  The ZBD04 chassis has been extended slightly at the rear and an extended bow section similar to those on the Type 63C amphibious armoured personnel n extended bow section similar to those on the Type 63C amphibious armoured personnel carrier and the Type 86 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle.

The large bow wave plate is hinged and hydraulically extended when the AAAV is in the water.  When stowed it lays across the bow and glacis plate providing another layer of frontal protection.

The ZBD05 carries a two man turret with components from the Ukrainian Shkval turret.  The turret mounts a 30 x 165mm  automatic cannon, coaxial Type 80 7.62 x 54mmR machine gun, two Hong Jian-73C ATGM launchers, one on either side of the turret and eight 76mm smoke dischargers.

ZLT05 Tracked Amphibious Assault Gun

The ZLT05 Tracked amphibious assault gun uses a slightly modified turret from the Type 03P amphibious tank on the ZBD05 hull.  There is a co-axial Type 80 7.72 x 54mmR machine gun and cupola mounted QJC-88 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun and eight 76mm smoke grenade dischargers.

The 105mm gun has an effective range  over 2,000m against armour, where presumably its HEAT round can penetrate between 460 and 500mm of steel armour plate or between 1 and 1.5m of steel reinforced concrete.   The turret face is claimed to stop a 25mm AP round of unknown type at 1,000m and the turret rear and hull glacis plate can stop a 12.7mm AP round at 100m and the entire vehicle hull is proof against 7.62mm AP rounds.  The turret roof can stop a 7.62mm ball round.

ZDB03 Airborne Combat Vehicle

The PLA’s current airborne combat vehicle, the ZDB03, was previously known as the ZSL2000, and was first deployed in the Sino-Russian Peace 2005 exercise. The ZBD05 was developed utilising the chassis of the BMD-3 mated to the 30mm automatic armed ‘universal’ turret. The ZDB03 airborne combat vehicle has a maximum road speed of 68 km/hr, and maximum speed in water of 6 km/hr and a maximum road range of 500km.  It uses a 2A72 30 x 165mm automatic cannon in a very busy one man turret.  The gun can fire up to 300 rounds per minute with a maximum effective range of 4km and a maximum altitude of 2500m.  There are 125 AP and 225 HE rounds in the turret and a further 80 AP and 120 HE rounds in the hull.  There is a coaxial QJT 5.8 x 42mm co-axial machine gun, with 10,000 rounds available and two sets of triple 76mm smoke dischargers either side of the turret that have a maximum effective range of 100m and a maximum range of 120 - 150m. Four infantrymen can be squeezed into the rear of the hull, making this the PLA’s BMD-2.

The placing of a missile with its explosive rocket motor and warhead in place to fire only happened in exercises and parades with inert rounds.  The Russians never had the ATGMs on their BMP-1 and BMP-2 loaded on their launchers on operations in case they were set off by enemy fire. They did not want around one kilogram of explosive exploding on the barrel or on top of the turret.

Only the United States M-2 Bradley has incorporated a separate armoured ATGM system onto an AIFV turret. The 30mm automatic cannon is powerful as Soviet trials in the 1970s showed.  This the same cannon mounted in the Russian BMD-2 airborne combat vehicle and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle.

Type 89 Armored Command Vehicle

The Type 89 armoured command vehicle is based on the hull of the WZ752 armoured ambulance, itself based on the ZSD89 armoured personnel carrier. The vehicle is 6,634mm long, 3,148mm wide and 2,470mm high to top of the hull. There four 76mm smoke grenade dischargers on both sides of the forward part of the hull. The vehicle commander/gunners sits behind the driver and he has a pintle mounted QJC 88 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun  attached atop his raised cupola.

ZBD09 8 x 8 Wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicle

The ZBD09, previously labelled the VN1, is the PLA’s new wheeled armoured personnel carrier and combat loaded with the basic armour fit, weighs 20 tonnes.  Its power to weight ratio of 16.5 kW/t enables the 8 x 8 version to climb a 30° slope, cross a 1.8m trench and climb over a 0.55 m vertical obstacle. The vehicle is 8 m long, 3 m wide, is 2.1m high at the top of the hull and has a ground clearance of 400mm.  This vehicle carries  a modified Ukrainian Shkval 30 x 165mm automatic cannon equipped two-man turret with wire-guided Hong Jian-73C anti-tank guided missiles, although in service it may carry the ‘Universal’ one man turret mounting a 30mm automatic cannon, coaxial 7.62 x 54mmR machine gun, a Hong Jian-73C ATGM launcher and six 76mm smoke dischargers. 

Command, recovery and 122mm howitzer variants have been seen.  The howitzer sits in a fixed cradle and is a modified Type 86 (Russian D-30).

The basic armour fit is claimed to defeat 12.7mm armour-piercing incendiary (API) strikes frontally at 100m, 7.62mm API on the sides at 100m and 7.62mm ball at the rear.  Fitting an add-on armour package enables the vehicle to survive 25 mm API frontally at 1,000m and 12.7mm API on the sides at 100m.

Command Vehicle and Medevac ZBD09 variants.

People’s Armed Police WZ 551 6 x 6 Wheeled Armoured Vehicle

The basic six-wheeled WZ551 vehicle has a hull height of 1.76 m and a ground clearance of 400 mm. Its width is 2.85 m and its length depends on the location of the engine. The version with a front mounted engine is 6.9 m long and has one driver and the mid-mounted engine version has two crew and is 6.8 m long. The all up weight of the vehicle is between 15 and 18 tons depending on the configuration and weapons fit and the turning radius is 9 m.   Its top speed on land is 85 km/hr and 10 km/hr in water. It can climb 31° vertical slope and can drive on a horizontal incline of 17°.

The WJ08 has a QJC-88 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun mounted centrally in the turret, along with what appear to be dispersant or water cannon on the top of the turret along with two sextuple 64mm tear gas grenade dischargers and a white light searchlight.  Each 64mm tear grenade carries four tear gas sub-munitions internally.  The six rear firing ports have been kept.

PTL02 100 mm Assault Gun

The PTL02 assault gun is the WZ551 equipped with the 100mm Type 86 high velocity smoothbore cannon with a six slotted muzzle brake, fume evacuator and a thermal sleeve.  Nothing like the the German and Russian assault guns of the Second World War, it can be compared to the M1128 Mobile Gun System, which is part of the Stryker LAV family. There are three 76mm smoke grenade dischargers either side of the turret and a cupola mounted QJC 88 12.7 x 108mm heavy machine gun.  
For an assault gun the vehicle is also very thinly armoured, but consistent when a turret is added to an armoured personnel carrier. The sharply angled turret front can only defeat a 12.7mm standard, not armour-piercing (AP), projectile at 100m and a 7.62mm AP projectile at 200m.  The chassis front can stop a 7.62mm AP projectile at 100m, the sides of the vehicle at 200m and the rest of the vehicle is proof against standard ball rounds. Besides the traditional cavalry roles of flank protection, rear area security, and pursuing a defeated enemy, the PLA envisage it using to exploit a break though of enemy defences.

WZ 91 4 x 4 Tank Destroyer / Hong Jian-9 ATGM System

The WZ 91 tank destroyer uses the WZ 550 4 x 4 chassis with a turret mounted twin launcher for the Hong Jian-9 anti-tank guided missile. The chassis length is 6,050 mm, has a height of 1,980mm, a width is 2,440 cm, and 400mm ground clearance. The height of the turret, including the thermal imaging sight is 610 mm. A 213 kW diesel engine gives the vehicle a maximum road speed of 95 km/hr. There is also a version mounting the Hong Jian-8 anti-tank guided missile.

The Hong Jian-9 anti-tank guided missile is almost identical to the TOW-2A. The major difference is that the Red Arrow-9 is 1,200 mm long compared to the TOW, which is 1040mm long.   Its penetration is quoted as 320mm at 68° with a maximum range of 4,000 m.


  1. ‘99gai zhuzhan tanke huanzhuang Zongguo fadongji’, Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang, 2012 Niandi, 9 (shang) Qi, Zhongdi 363, p2
  2. ‘Zhongguo chokou 04 xing bubing zhanche’, Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang’ , 2012, Niandi, 7A Qi, Zhongdi 359 Qi, p. 2.

Imagery Sources: Chinese Internet.
Layout / Line Artwork: © 2000 - 2012 Carlo Kopp

Technical Report APA-TR-2009-0901

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