July 17, 2011:
Earlier this year, photos began to appear of a new model Type 99 Chinese tank. This was the Type 99G, which replaces their current M-1 killer, the Type 99A2. This is not the long promised "next generation" tank (smaller and lighter than the 60 ton Type 99). The new tank design is to have a crew of two and rely on missiles as its main weapon. The new tank will have many more sensors and an active defense (small missiles taking out incoming anti-tank missiles). The sensors will enable the two man crew to see what is all around them, and be connected electronically with other tanks, and units, in the area. This enables a "Battle Management System" to provide the tank with good awareness of what's going on around it, and makes it possible to find and destroy targets quickly.
Instead, the Type 99G has better armor and electronics. There is a new turret which allows for easily replacing composite armor panels (especially to install better armor). There is a new fire control system and a new engine. But it's still a Type 99 vehicle. Meaning it's equipped with a 125mm main gun, an auto-loader and a three man crew. The Type 99G has a 2100 horsepower diesel engine, instead of the 1500 horsepower one in other Type 99s. All models are 11 meters (34 feet) long, 3.4 meters (10.5 feet) wide and 2.2 meters (6.8 feet) high.
It was only three years ago that China completed development of the Type 99A2. This model had improved reactive armor, as well as fixes to the engine, electronics and mechanical components. This is China's most powerful tank, and is based on the Russian T-80 (which is itself based on the T-72).
A lot of Chinese believed that, on paper, the latest Type 99 models are a match for the American M-1. For protection, the Type 99A2 has 500-600mm of armor, plus two layers of reactive armor, giving it the equivalent of 1,000-1,200mm of armor. The Type 99G armor is supposed to be even better. China believes the maximum penetration of the M-1 120mm gun is 810mm. China believes that the protection on the M-1 is 600-700mm, and states that the Type 99 main gun can penetrate 850mm (or 950mm with a new shell design.)
However, China has only produced about 800 Type 99s (of all models) so far, versus over 9,000 M-1s. There are several reasons for this. First, the cost (about $2.5 million per tank). This is more than twice as much as other Chinese built tanks cost. There are some practical considerations, as well. The Type 99 is too heavy for many Chinese bridges, not to mention railroad equipment. Most Chinese tanks are closer to 40 tons, while the Type 99 is closer to 60 tons. In the last three year, the Type 99 was seen to get a few improvements (like an active defense system seen on a few vehicles), before the greatly improved 99G arrives.
The performance data on the latest models of the Type 99 (also called the ZTZ-99) is not official. There is very little in the way of official weapons performance data coming out of the Chinese government. At the same time, the Chinese military leaks real, and inflated, data for PR purposes. While China is not a democracy, in this age of the Internet, public opinion can have an influence when the military budget is being put together each year.
Developing the Type 99A2 indicated that more would be produced, and existing ones probably upgraded. The Type 99G is a further development of the same design. But China seems to believe that developing the new, two man, tank is the ultimate option. This would leapfrog other nations, like the United States, which have thousands of M-1 tanks.