Monday, March 30, 2009
Chinese Type 98 MBT Tank World Next Best Tank
Meet China's new Type 98 MBT. This is a tank that has been under constant development since the late 1980's. The project started out with something called the Type 2000, a Tank destined for export to Pakistan under contract. Early versions were deemed unfit for service in China's war machine... but that has changed. Some items to note, the hull. This appears to be a development of the Russian T-80 MBT, a very formidable and fast platform... probably easily one of the best tanks in the world next to the Abrams, Merkava, and Leopard. Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the Type 98 is the addition of what appears to be a previously unknown active self-defense system. Unlike contemporary Russian active tank self-defense systems like Drozd, Drozd-2, and Arena, which launch projectiles to disable or "shoot-down" incoming anti-tank missiles and projectiles, the Chinese system apparently uses a high-powered laser to directly attack the enemy weapon's optics and gunner. The system includes what appears to be a laser warning receiver (LWR - the dome-shaped device on the turret roof behind the commander's position), that warns the crew that their tank is being illuminated by an enemy range-finding or weapon-guidance laser. The turret of the tank can then be traversed to face the direction of the enemy threat, and the laser self-defense weapon (LSDW - the box-shaped device on the turret roof behind the gunner's position), can be employed against the source of the enemy laser. While the engagement procedure of the Type 98's self-defense laser is unknown, published reports concerning similar weapons describe a procedure where the laser weapon would first use a low-powered beam to locate the optics of the enemy weapon. Once the enemy weapon was located, the power level of the laser would be immediately and dramatically increased. Such an attack would disable the guidance optics of the enemy weapon and/or damage the eyesight of the enemy gunner. The turret-mounted system carried by the Type 98 is very similar to a tripod-mounted laser weapon that was seen for the first time at an arms exhibition in Manila in 1995. Identified at the exhibition as the "Laser Interference Device," it matched the description of a known Chinese laser weapon called the ZM-87. According to its promotional information, one of the ZM-87's major uses is to "injure or dizzy targeted individuals." The ZM-87 can reportedly injure the human eye at 2-3 kms, this rising to over 5 kms using a 7-power magnification device. Additionally, short-term "flaring blind-ness" can be inflicted on the human eye at up to 10 kms. The ZM-87 and the laser weapon carried by the Type 98 should not be confused with electro-optical "dazzlers" like those turret-mounted de-vices used by the Iraqis during Operation Desert Storm. Those Iraqi devices (some of which are believed to have been supplied by the Chinese), are designed to confuse the tracking systems of Western/NATO anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), without directly attacking the controlling optics or the eyesight of the weapon's gunner. The available photos of the Type 96 have also confirmed that the laser weapon can be elevated to a higher angle than the tank's main gun, indicating that the engagement of attack helicopters is possible.
The Type 98 reportedly weighs 50 tons and is powered by a new 1200-hp diesel engine. As far as armor protection is concerned, some initial observations can be made. Generally speaking, the Type 98's turret is larger than the turrets of other PLA tanks. More importantly, the turret has been lengthened or extended forward, creating a noticeable gap between the lower edge of the turret-front and the hull decking. This new gap is most visible just to the right and left of the driver's position (see photo on top of next page). It is very likely that the Chinese decided to increase/improve the turret frontal armor protecting the Type 98 to the point where extending the turret forward became a requirement.
While details concerning the type and design of the Type 98's armor are lacking, there is the possibility that its armor is based on, or influenced by, the Russian T-80U MBT. When the PLA's relatively recent purchase of Russian T-80Us is combined with what was learned during the parade, a Russian armor connection is certainly possible. Like the T-80U, the Type 98 incorporates turret frontal armor cavities (one on either side of the main gun - clearly visible when viewed from above), covered by plates which are fitted flush and bolted to the turret roof. The purpose of these cavities may be to allow the composite contents of each cavity to be easily upgraded and changed during the life of the tank.
The Type 98 is a significant tank for the Chinese and for their potential adversaries. It represents a modern heavy armor threat in an era where some countries seem to be moving away from the proven mobile protected fire-power offered by the MBT. One thing is clear, the Type 98 is a post-Desert Storm tank that incorporates the lessons the Chinese learned from that conflict; lessons that will characterize the next battlefield. As the U.S. Army turns its focus inward and reconsiders the design of its own armored force, it could be a costly mistake to underestimate the heavy threat represented by tanks like the Chinese Type 98 - the Beast from the East.