China’s military is likely to deploy the Type-96B tank as the pillar of its tank fleet, replacing most of its old models, observers said.
Gao Zhuo, a military observer in Shanghai who has close contact with the People’s Liberation Army, told China Daily that the excellent capabilities of the Type-96B qualify it to be the backbone of China’s tank force.
“The Type-96B is the strongest variant of the Type-96 family and is truly an advanced, third-generation main battle tank,” he said. “The PLA will use it to replace the old tanks such as the Type-59 and Type-69 models.”
His remarks came as the Type-96B delivered impressive performances in the ongoing Masters of Automobile and Tank Hardware competition, also known as the Tank Biathlon, at the Alabino training range in Moscow.
The PLA sent several Type-96B tanks to take part in the tank competition, the most watched part of the Russia-hosted International Army Games.
The eight-day individual part of the competition, which involved 54 teams from 17 countries, ended on Sunday, with the Chinese delegation scoring the highest.
All of the PLA’s three teams were to compete in the semifinal that started on Tuesday.
By the end of last year, the Chinese military had more than 7,000 tanks in active service, including about 2,000 Type-96s and Type-96As, as well as about 600 Type-99s and Type-99As, so the majority of the PLA armored force is still equipped with tanks made several decades ago, according to foreign military analysts.
Huang Guozhi, senior editor at Modern Weaponry magazine, said that despite the fact that Type-99 series tanks are more advanced, their high price and limited production capacity mean that it’s unrealistic for the PLA to purchase and deploy them on a large scale.
“Therefore, the Type-96B, with a better price and satisfactory capabilities, is very attractive to the Chinese and foreign militaries. It is the best option for the PLA to modernize its armored forces,” he said.
According to an article posted by China North Industries Group Corp on its WeChat social media account, the Type-96B－compared with its predecessors in the Type-96 family－has a high-performance 125 mm smoothbore gun, an improved, more powerful engine, newly developed transmission gear and a state-of-the-art fire-control system.
Yu Shuo, a tank researcher in Beijing, said the Type-96B is among the latest achievements by the nation’s land arms industry. He suggested that too much emphasis should not be placed on the results of the Tank Biathlon, as the experience gained is more important to the PLA.