Armor: Chinese Tanks In North Africa


August 3, 2010: Without any fanfare at all, Morocco has bought 150 Chinese VT1A/MBT 2000 tanks. These are export versions of the Type 98/99, although they also look similar to the Type 90/Al Khalid (a Type 90 variant developed by China and Pakistan for Pakistani service). The most modern tanks China has are the Type 98 and 99, which come close to matching early models of the U.S. M-1. Compared to the Type 98/99, the VT1A is a 14 percent lighter  (at 49 tons) tank. It has a three man crew and an auto-loader for its 125mm gun. There is a 7.62 coaxial machine-gun and a 12.7mm machine-gun on top of the turret. The 1200 horsepower engine moves the VT1A at road speeds of up to 70 kilometers an hour. Range on the road is 450 kilometers. Armor is a combination of composite and ERA (explosive reactive armor). The VT1A lacks the most modern ERA and some of the electronics found on the latest Chinese models (98 and 99).

The Type 98/99/90/VT1A vehicles are all "improved T-72s." Lots of improvements, though, many of them similar to what's found in the Russian T-80UM2. The workmanship on these vehicles is a little better than on the T-80UM2, but the Chinese don't have as much experience building tanks. This has shown itself in the numerous technical glitches that have shown up. The basic T-72 design has been around for over 30 years and has proved reliable, although not particularly effective on the battlefield. That was mostly due to poor crews. The Chinese moved to volunteer crews and more intensive training, which makes any tank more effective.