Type 96 (A-G-B) MBT gallery

(Type 96 MBT image). The Type 96 MBT is a light tank, compared to Western models, which has been designed to be able to fight in all types of climates and terrain, and which stands out for its ease of maintenance. After the 1991 Gulf War, where the obsolescence of the Chinese Type 59/69/79 tanks used by the Iraqis became evident, the PLA decided to undertake the modernization of its fleet of battle tanks, beginning with the replacement of all Type 59/ 69/79 MBTs and the modernization of the Type 80/88 MBT.
(Type 96 MBT image). In 1988 the Type 85 MBT appeared, specially developed for the export market and which did not enter service with the PLA. However, this model was used to develop two prototypes for the Pakistani Army, the Type 85-IIAP and Type 85-III MBTs. This last model would serve as the basis for the development of a new tank called Type 96 after having confirmed in the late 80s that the 105mm gun of the Chinese Type 80 tank was not able to penetrate the armor of the T-72 tanks and that the 125mm gun of the T-72 MBT, was able to penetrate the armor of all Chinese tanks in service.
(Type 96 MBT image). The Type 85-III MBT and Type 85-IIM MBT prototypes were developed by Norinco in 1995 and featured a new more powerful engine and explosive reactive armor (ERA) among other improvements. In 1996, the Type 85-IIM MBT was accepted by the PLA, although with several further modifications, and entered service in 1997 under designation “Type 96 MBT” or “ZTZ-96 MBT” (according to Chinese designation). Initially, in Western media, the Type 96 tanks were mistakenly designated as “Type 88C MBT”, which was actually a prototype made by Norinco on the Type 85/85-IIM basis for the export market exclusively.
(Type 96 MBT image). The Type 96 MBT was a new tank in many ways. It had a new more powerful engine, a new 125mm smoothbore gun and much more effective composite armor than in previous models. However, it is true that a large part of its components, such as the planetary drivetrain, torsion bar suspension, NBC protection system, air conditioning system, vision equipment and the fire control system, were still copies of Soviet and Russian models, which saved costs and facilitated its construction.
(Type 96 MBT model image). The internal layout of the Type 96 MBT is conventional, with the driver at the front, combat chamber in the center and the engine in the rear of the vehicle. The crew is made up of 3 members, driver, gunner and commander. The driver sits on the left side of the front of the hull and has 3 vision periscopes that cover the frontal arc. The central periscope can be exchanged for one with infrared vision for night driving. The gunner and the commander are located inside the turret and have their own vision elements, including individual thermal sights. All crew members have their own night vision devices and image intensifiers that allow them to operate both day and night and in any type of weather condition.
(Type 96 MBT model image). Type 96 MBT drive train is made up of 6 dual lightweight metal rubber-tired road wheels with 3 return rollers on each side, drive sprocket at the rear and idler at the front. The suspension is made up of torsion bars with shock absorbers on road wheels 1, 2 and 6 and the upper part of the drivetrain is protected against RPGs by rubber skirts. The original Type 96 left the factory with the V12 730hp 12150ZLC water-cooled turbocharged diesel engine, considered by the PLA as an easy-to-maintain, reliable, durable and economical engine. This engine is a derivative of the Soviet B2 engine used in the T-54A MBT, which has been improved over time and with which the Type 96 MBT reaches a maximum speed of 57 km/h on road and about 45 km/h h cross country. The range is about 500 km with internal fuel, and can carry two external 200 liters fuel tanks at the rear of the hull.
(Type 96 MBT model image). Protection has been one of the great improvements added to the Type 96 MBT. Both the front hull and the welded turret are made of steel and composite armor, to which explosive reactive armor (ERA) bricks can be installed, but only in Type 96A/G and Type 96B variants. The front of the turret has a certain resemblance to that of the American M-1 Abrams MBT and according to some sources the thickness of the armor reaches 440mm, while the thickness of the front hull reaches 200mm. It can be said that this tank was the best protected to that date within the PLA, offering protection equivalent to 600mm of RHA on the front hull and 850mm of RHA on the front of the turret against high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds. In addition, the turret’s low-profile design and the large inclination of the front hull further help the passive protection of the vehicle.
(Type 96 MBT image). Although the data regarding the armor is kept secret as much as possible, the composition and arrangement of the hull front armor of the Type 96 MBT came to light some time ago. According to this information, the armor is of the composite type and has a total thickness of 200mm. It is made up of a 100mm “hull armor steel base” in which a series of bolts have been installed. These hold the modular composite armor known as “Type 683”. A 15mm “air gap” has been left between the hull and the Type 683 armor modules, which is “a sandwich type” armor formed by a 15mm plate of “high hardness steel”, a 50mm layer of “Aluminum Titanate” ceramic compound (Al2TiO5 + fiberglass cloth) to disperse the heat of the impact and an external layer, composed of 20mm of “high hardness steel”. The hull front armor has an inclination of 68º, which is equivalent to 534mm of RHA armor at 0º inclination.
(Type 96 MBT image). The Type 683 modular armor was developed by China and is actually an improvement of the former Type 681 modular armor. It is estimated that Type 683 offers against APFSDS rounds fired at 2,000 meters of distance, the same protection as 530 mm of RHA. In addition, vehicle protection includes an automatic detection/suppression fire extinguisher for the crew and engine compartments and a NBC protection system by overpressure in the fighting compartment. It also has a system that allows fuel to be injected into the exhaust to create clouds of smoke and make visibility difficult. Finally, the protection is completed with the installation of six electrically-fired 76mm smoke grenade dischargers on each side of the turret. The Type 96 MBT does not have any modern active protection system (APS).
(Type 96 MBT image). The Type 96 MBT’s armament was also significantly improved, including a new dual axis stabilized 125/50mm ZPT-98 smoothbore gun. This gun is a Chinese copy of the Soviet 2A46 gun and is coupled to an autoloader that feeds the gun through a carousel-style magazine, although it can also be loaded manually if necessary. The autoloader is capable of selecting the type of round, complete ramming and load the larger rounds with separate charges. The maximum rate of fire is 6 rounds per minute in the autoloader mode or 4 rounds per minute in manual mode and the maximum effective range is about 3,000 meters against heavy armoured vehicles. The tank carries 42 125mm rounds and the gun can fire between -4 depression and +12 degrees elevation. The barrel has a light alloy thermal sleeve and a smoke evacuator located in the middle of the barrel and has a hydropneumatic recoil system. It is estimated that the gun has a useful life of about 800 shots, although it depends on the type of ammunition used.
(Type 96 MBT image). This weapon has several types of indigenous ammunition but can fire HE, HEAT and APFSDS ammunition of Soviet and Russian origin and is also capable of firing Russian “Refleks” (AT-11 Sniper) gun-launched anti-tank missiles, but it is unknown if they are carried inside the magazine or must be loaded manually by the gunner. Among the indigenous ammunition there is an APFSDS round with a muzzle velocity of 1,730 m/s that is capable of penetrating up to 500mm of RHA armor at 2,000 meters away, the “BK-27” HEAT round that contains a triple-shape charge warhead capable of penetrating up to 600mm of RHA armor at 2,000 m distance and the “BK-29” HEAT round with triple charge and a hard penetrator cap of depleted uranium or tungsten designed to penetrate explosive reactive armor (ERA), capable of penetrating 550mm of RHA armor at 2,000 meters.
(Type 96 MBT model image). In addition to the main gun, the Type 96 MBT carries a 7.62mm Type 86 coaxial machine gun and a 12.7mm QJC-88 heavy machine gun installed next to the commander’s hatch. The vehicle carries 2,250 7.62 mm rounds and 500 12.7 mm rounds. This tank has a modern ISFCS-212 computerized fire-control system that incorporates a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer. This system is capable of automatic target tracking capability in all weather conditions both day and night, and is claimed to be superior to those installed on contemporary Russian tanks. However, the range of night sights is only 1,200 meters, which seems short by Western standards.
(Sudanese Type 96 MBT image). The first Type 96 MBTs were delivered to the PLA in 1997, and since then it is estimated that more than 1,000 units have been built, of which 1,000 currently remain in service. These tanks are usually distributed in armored battalions of 31 tanks, which in turn are made up of 3 companies of 10 tanks each. The Type 96 has progressively replaced the older tanks and has become the “standard tank” of the PLA’s Armored Forces since the more modern and heavier Type 99 MBT is intended only for units considered “elite” within the PLA. Despite Norinco’s efforts to export the Type 96 MBT, only Sudan acquired 200 around 2010. Sudan used them in combat against the South Sudan Army where they appear to have had some successes without suffering casualties. The current number remaining in service is unknown.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Despite the good performance demonstrated by the Type 96 MBT, the PLA began work to modernize its fleet and further enhance its capabilities. In this way, in 2006 a new variant of this vehicle designated as “Type 96A MBT” (ZTZ-96A), which is also known as “Type 96G MBT”, was officially presented. The new tank is a completely renovated and modernized model that is considered a full-fledged third generation tank. In fact, both the protection and the electronics are at the same level as that of the more modern Type 99 MBT.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Type 96A/G MBT has an improved 12150ZLD diesel engine that develops 800 hp and allows it to reach 60 km/h on the road, maintaining the same range of 500 km as the Type 96 MBT. Despite an increase in tank weight of 1.8 tons, the Type 96A/G maintains the same undercarriage as its predecessor and the same mobility capacities. Regarding the main armament, the Type 96A/G carries exactly the same 125/50mm ZPT-98 smoothbore gun along with the same autoloader. The secondary armament also consists of a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun and a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and also has 6 smoke grenade dischargers on each side of the turret.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). The updating of electronic equipment has been taken into account in the Type 96A/G MBT and a TCS-2 passive countermeasures system similar to the Russian Shtora-1 system has been included. This system is made up of an electro-optical jammer installed on each side of the turret that interferes with the semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) guide system of the anti-tank missiles as well as the target designators and laser rangefinders. According to some sources, it seems that this system has not been incorporated into all Type 96A/G tanks as standard due to doubts about its real effectiveness against anti-tank missiles. New and more powerful thermal imaging systems have also been installed and the image intensifier for the gunner’s sight has been improved, also including a laser suppression system.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). The fire control system has also been improved and an automatic tracking system similar to that of modern Western tanks has been included, giving the Type 96A/G MBT hunter-killer capability. The ability to fight at night or in low visibility conditions has also been greatly improved, being able to detect and track targets at a distance of 2,000 meters, compared to the mere 800 meters of the Type 96 MBT.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Although the Type 96A/G MBT has significantly increased its combat capacity, the most important improvement has occurred in its protection, by incorporating a new domestic FY-4 ERA modular armor package in the front hull and the new fully welded turret. This ERA armor is a Chinese copy of the Soviet “Kontakt-5” ERA armor and offers protection similar to that of the Russian T-90 MBT. Apparently, German, American and Chinese reports carried out between 1996-99 during live fire testing, affirm that this reactive armor is capable of protecting the vehicle even against American M-829A2 APFSDS (depleted uranium) rounds fired from 1,500 meters away.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). The FY-4 ERA bricks have been installed in the glacis front, in the front of the turret (arrow-shaped), and over the storage racks located on the sides of the turret that give it a look almost indistinguishable from the Type 99 MBT. With the addition of this armor, it is likely that the Type 96A/G MBT will have a level of protection very similar to that of the heavier Type 99 MBT, and turret protection is claimed to be similar to 670mm of RHA.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Although the Type 96A/G MBT was presented in 2006, it entered service in 2007, but there is no record of public appearances until the parade held in Beijing in 2009. Production took place between 2005 and 2010 but the exact number manufactured is unknown. It is estimated that must be greater than 1,000 units, which of course remain in service currently. In general terms, this model is considered the best tank in the PLA inventory and is assigned to the best regular armored units. There is a variant created exclusively for the export market called “VT-2” that incorporates modern electronic equipment and it is in service in Tanzania, although its number is unknown.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Chinese armored units have participated several times in the famous annual “Tank Biathlon” competition, organized by Russia since 2013 in Alabino proving grounds. In this “mechanized military sport event”, different countries well connected with Russia compete to demonstrate their skills in driving and shooting aboard main battle tanks. Most teams use a tank model borrowed from the organizer, which have normally been Russian T-72B or T-72B3 tanks, but the Chinese team preferred to take their Type 96A/G MBTs in their first participation, which occurred in 2014. Unfortunately, this event was a bitter disappointment for the Chinese troops, as their prized vehicles showed serious mobility limitations compared to the Russian tanks.
(Type 96B MBT image). The mobility problems, due to lack of engine power, shown in the “1st Tank Biathlon World Championship, 2014”, where the Chinese team finished fourth, more than 15 minutes behind the winners, were admitted by the PLA a year later, and it was decided to remedy it. Norinco was required to find a solution before the next “3rd Tank Biathlon World Championship, 2016” took place. After intense work in which the Type 96A/G MBT was revised from top to bottom, it was decided to install a new 1,200 hp diesel engine, thus giving birth to the Type 96B MBT.
(Type 96B MBT image). Type 96B MBT was presented in July 2016 during the “3rd Tank Biathlon World Championship, 2016”, with a new 1,200 hp diesel engine, which according to some sources, could be a copy of the Ukrainian 6TD-2 engine, used in Pakistani Al-Khalid (MBT-2000) and Al-Zarrar MBTs, and the Ukrainian T-84 Oplot MBT among other vehicles. With the new engine, the tank reached 65 km/h on road and its range increased to 600 km, significantly improving its mobility. In addition to the engine, this new variant has received numerous improvements in most of its mechanical components, such as a new transmission, a reinforced and improved suspension and the two exhausts have been relocated from the right side of the hull to the rear.
(Type 96B MBT image). The Type 96B MBT not only has new mechanics, but the main systems of the vehicle have been improved. The gun has been improved and an improved high-performance fire-control system has been included. The communications equipment and the entire computer system have also been modernized and life on board for the crew has been improved with the installation of new ventilation equipment. The protection has not been modified, although the weight of the tank has increased by several hundred kg with the incorporation of the new mechanical components, reaching now 43,000 kg in combat order.
(Type 96B MBT image). The number of Type 96B MBTs built is unknown, although some current Military Balance indicates that the PLA currently has about 1,500 Type 96A/B in service, without specifying how many of each variant. There is also no data on whether the Type 96B MBTs are all new vehicles or are converted Type 96A/G MBTs.
(Type 96A/G MBT image). Although certain Western analysts may underestimate the capabilities of the Type 96 family MBTs due to its lightness and the fact that it is not actually a tank created from scratch, it is actually a vehicle with excellent overall performance for Chinese needs. The vast Chinese territory includes all types of terrain, from high mountains and jungles to deserts, which makes it vital to have an adaptable vehicle, and it seems that the Type 96 MBT more than meets this objective. Furthermore, China does not foresee short-term confrontations with the huge, latest-generation Western MBTs, so having tanks weighing less than 50 tons greatly facilitates logistical and transport tasks. It can be said that the Type 96 MBT is the best possible tank to comply with the Chinese doctrine, more focused on tactical mobility and combined assaults than on frontal confrontations against armored forces.

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