Armor: Marine Assault Gun

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July 31, 2018: The new Chinese ZTQ 05 light tank has shown up in the bluish camouflage used by the Chines marines. The Marines do not use the ZTQ 05 as a tank but as an assault gun, with its 105mm gun providing close (line of sight where the gunner can see the target) artillery support. The new marine brigades each have two marine infantry battalions and one armor battalion. The armor battalion contains Type 96A medium tanks as well as ZTQ 05 light tanks operating mainly as assault guns to help the marines fight their way off the beach as quickly as possible. Tanks often operate as assault guns for the infantry but the marine ZTQ 05s will carry mostly high-explosive shells and use crews trained to handle assault gun jobs.

There are believed to be about 300 ZTQ o5s in service already. Army units are using the ZTQ 05 as a light tank in areas where the terrain is too difficult for heavier tanks. Thus in 2017 army units in Tibet, on the Indian border, were seen using ZTQ 05s. Earlier in 2017, ZTQ 05s were seen with army units operating in the mountainous areas near the Vietnam border. In 2017 it also became known that the Chinese military had officially recognized the existence of the ZTQ 05 and gave it a name; Xinqingtan. Before 2017 the ZTQ 05 was something of a mystery and some experts believed it was just another experimental vehicle. China produces a lot of those and not all make it into production, even just for export.

At the end of 2016 photos appeared on the Internet showing many ZTQ 05s on rail cars, painted in army colors and headed for delivery to units in southern China. This indicated that the military had placed an order after five years of testing and tinkering with the design. Although pictures of the ZTQ 05 have been showing up since 2011 it was not until late 2016 that details of the rather sophisticated turret were visible. The ZTQ 05 was designed for rough, mountainous terrain as found in Tibet and the mountainous jungles on Vietnamese border. By late 2016 it was also clear that the ZTQ 05 was in mass production.

The ZTQ 05 replaces the 21 ton Type 62 (WZ131) that entered service in the 1960s and some are still used as a light reconnaissance tank. The Type 62 looked like a scaled down Russian T-55 (or Chinese clone the Type 59) with much thinner armor (35mm/1.4 inches in the front). This provided protection from most artillery fragments as well as most machine-gun fire. The Type 62 had a four-man crew and an 85mm gun. Over 1,500 were built before production ceased in 1989. There were stories in Chinese media during 2013 indicating that the Type 62 was being retired and some officers were not happy with that because at the time there was no replacement.

First mentioned in 2010, it is believed that the ZTQ 05 began to undergo intensive testing and evaluation in 2014. The tank has a 105mm gun, improved armor protection and running gear that is more efficient and easier to maintain. A tank this size could carry about 36 105mm rounds as well as ammo for the 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine-guns carried. The ZTQ 05 is heavier, at 35 tons, than the 21 ton Type 62. There are also many other improvements as armor design has advanced greatly since the 1960s. Then again the armor piercing capabilities of artillery shells and heavy machine-guns have become deadlier. It appears that the ZTQ 05 has modern armor and other protection. So far China has released very little official data on the specification of this new light tank. The vehicle is widely known because cell phone photos have been taken more of them were transported to distant places (like Tibet) on railroad flat cars or moved around on tank transporters for tests in different parts of the country.

The turrets were often covered with netting to conceal details, although a few other photos have appeared with a clear (but not as detailed) view of the turret. This turret detail revealed the TZQ 05 was using a smaller version of the modern turret used in China’s most modern tank, the Type 99A2. This tank first appeared in 2007 and quite a lot of detail was visible. These turrets (ZTQ 05 and T-99A2) are of modern design and the latest photos show more detail, confirming the presence of numerous of sensors. There appears to be modular armor (reactive or other lightweight types) for parts of the vehicle. Overall the vehicle is most definitely a modern design and the Chinese will probably eventually offer it for export. At that point, the details will be revealed.

Although China still borrows (and often improves on) a lot of Russian armored vehicle tech China is also pulling even with and even ahead at times of Russia. More importantly, new Chinese designs are mass produced for widespread use in the Chinese military as well as export to a growing list of satisfied customers.

 


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