TYPE 96B China’s Deadly Tank Force

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Type 96B is, as its name suggests, an upgraded version of the Type 96A Main Battle Tank. It appeared for the first time in 2016 when it participated in the annual Tank Biathlon contest on the Alabino polygon in Russia. The event took place in July and August 2016 and China won the second place with the Type 96B and its crew only defeated by the Russian team. Even though both vehicles look roughly similar in shape, the Type 96B has a number of upgrades over the older Type 96A variant. First, according to Chinese sources, it has thicker turret armor. Its exact performance is not known and given the experimental nature of the vehicle, it likely won’t be for some time. The same goes for the hull front that now features a somewhat different ERA kit layout (the ERA is of the FY4 type). Some Chinese sources claim that the frontal turret protection levels increased from Type 96A’s 670mm of RHAe to 700-750mm RHAe, while the hull has a protection equivalent of up to 1100mm of RHAe versus HEAT rounds and 650mm RHAe versus kinetic rounds. How much of this is actually true is not known, but the Type 96B is generally considered to have the frontal protection equal to the newer Type 99 models. The turret is also recognizable from the older Type 96A by the presence of such elements as: New laser rangefinder above the gun New gun optics New weather sensor at the back of the turret These changes are connected to the presence of a new, more advanced fire control system for the 125mm smoothbore gun, making it more accurate compared to its predecessor and decreasing its reaction time. It only takes roughly 6 seconds from the discovery of the target to the first shot. The vehicle is also rumored to use brand-new APFSDS shells, capable of penetrating more than 700mm of armor at 2km.

The engine part of the vehicle has also been overhauled. The original 730hp 12150ZLC V12 turbocharged diesel engine of the Type 96A was changed to the smaller but more powerful 150HB 8-cylinder diesel, rumored to produce anywhere between 1000hp and 1300hp (sources vary). The most common Chinese source number seems to be 1200 hp. In any case, the maximum speed of the vehicle was increased from 57 km/h to 70 km/h and the agility of the vehicle was increased as well. To accommodate these changes, the engine deck and rear of the vehicle were overhauled – the Type 96B engine part is recognizable from the Type 96A one by being vertical and featuring two radiator grilles as well as two round engine exhausts. The suspension was also updated – Type 96B is recognizable from Type 96A by a different layout of roadwheels, especially noticeable by the gap between the third and the fourth one. Apart from the abovementioned changes, the vehicle also features a number of minor upgrades such as the design of the side skirts and the mud guards, new double-pin tracks, new headlights and so on. Not much else is known about this new Type 96 variant, nor are there any announced plans for the Chinese military to convert its fleet of Type 96A tanks into Type 96Bs. According to some Chinese sources, the Chinese military isn’t really happy with the tank and the development of the Type 96 platform will continue. The Tank Biathlon event is, however, an excellent method of testing such experimental vehicles in practice and it’s quite possible that the Type 96B or other future variants of the Type 96 will appear there in the future.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is slated to induct large numbers of a new variant of the third-generation ZTZ-96 (Type-96) main battle tank (MBT), designated ZTZ-96B, into its ranks, Chinese military experts with close ties to the PLA have noted. The upgraded ZTZ-96B will become the new mainstay of China’s armored ground force, which consists of over 7,000 main battle tanks.

“The Type-96B is the strongest variant of the Type-96 family and is truly an advanced, third-generation main battle tank,” Ghao Zhuo, a Shanghai-based military analyst told China Daily. “The PLA will use it to replace the old tanks such as the Type-59 and Type-69 models.” The PLA operates over 5,000 Type 59 and Type-69/79 models of all variants, manufactured.

The Type-96B is an improved variant of the Type-96A MBT, manufactured by China’s top tank maker China North Industries Corporation (Norinco). Over 2,500 Type-96A MBTs are estimated to be currently operated by the PLA.  It is unknown how many of those underwent upgrades to the Type-96B variant. As I noted elsewhere (See: “China Reveals New Main Battle Tank”), there is little information publicly available about the upgrades.

“According to unconfirmed Chinese media reports, the ZTZ-96 B variant is equipped with an improved communications system and could have been fitted with a new engine. Improvements have purportedly also been made to the tank’s exhaust system, suspension, and running wheels,” I explained in July. IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly speculated that the tank also features a new improved ventilation system but detects no other visible changes to the MBT’s turret, optical sensor or the main 125 millimeter gun.

According to a Norinco post on its WeChat social media account, the tank is equipped with an improved high-performance 125-millimeter smoothbore gun, a more powerful engine, a brand new transmission gear and an upgraded fire-control system. As I explained previously, China first publicly revealed the new MBT variant at this year’s International Army Games, organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense and held from July 30 to August 16:

Last year, China lost to Russia in the competition (See: “Russia Beats China in This Year’s International Army Games”). China participated with four ZTZ-96A MBTs. In 2014, Chinese PLA tank crews complained that the Type 96A with its 780 horsepower diesel-engine is underpowered in comparison to Russian T-72B3 MBTs (See: “Russia to Host World Military Games: China Brought its Own Tank”).

Consequently, it could be possible that the new MBT variant brought to Russia has been fitted with a new 1,200 horsepower liquid-cooled diesel engine. However, this is speculation. Should Chinese tanks perform better during this year’s games it might be an indication that the ZTZ-96s engine underwent an upgrade.

All three PLA tank teams made it into the semifinals, which were kicked off on August 9. Regardless of the outcome of the competition, Chinese military analysts believe that the ZTZ-96B is more likely to become the new workhorse of the PLA’s armored force than more advanced Type 99 (ZTZ-99) and Type 99-A third-generation MBTs of which around 600 are currently in service, citing the tanks’ high price tag and China’s still limited production capability.

“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,” Huang Guozhi, the senior editor of a Chinese defense magazine said. China’s export of MBTs has also been steadily increasing over the years and it is actively promoting new tank models. (See: “Can This Chinese Tank Beat Russia’s T-14 Armata?”).

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