Armor: China Listens And Learns

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December 26, 2018: China has been very successful at using Russian weapons designs but not the by copying original Russian models but by checking with users (often Chinese troops) to discover likes and dislikes as well as desired changes. As a result, the Chinese copies are increasingly a major improvement over the Russian original. Case in point is the new (2018) Chinese QN-506/ZPT 99 Fire Support Vehicle. This is built on the chassis of a Type 59 (Russian T-54) tank with the original turret removed and replaced with a smaller one that is filled with weapons and sensors. The three man crew (driver, commander and sensor operator) are within the body of the vehicle. The commander and sensor (vidcams, thermal imager) operator also operate the multiple weapons that are remotely controlled from inside the vehicle. These include a 30mm autocannon, a 7.62mm machine-gun, four QN-502 ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles), 20 70mm laser-guided missiles (similar to the several models used in the West), four vertically launched S570 missiles that are actually small propeller-driven loitering missiles with a range of 10 kilometers that can act as reconnaissance aircraft for about 10 minutes before being sent against a target or self-destructing. There is also a quad-copter on board that can fly out to ten kilometers from the vehicle and return. The vehicle also has an APS (active protection system) for protection against RPGs and ATGMs. ERA (explosive reactive armor) is added to protect against tank shells and inside the vehicle there is a modern fire suppression system. The ZPT99 is marketed for counterterrorism operations, especially in urban areas. The small crew and complexity of the 30 ton ZPT99 (which is a track laying vehicle) means it, like an aircraft, needs a crew of maintainers to keep all the sensors, weapons and tracked vehicle operational.

The ZPT99 was inspired by the earlier (2002) Russian BMPT 72 Terminator 2, which is similar in design to the ZPT99 but uses the chassis of a T-72 tank, has a crew of five, weighs 48 tons and has fewer weapons and sensors. The BMPT has four ATGMs, two 30mm autocannon two 30mm automatic grenade launchers and a 7.62mm machine-gun. Terminator 1 was designed in the 1990s and quickly evolved into Terminator 2. Since they depend so much on export sales, Russian weapons manufacturers now pay close attention to user comments.

The Russian military received some evaluation models of the BMPT and some of these were sent to Syria in 2016. Russia placed an order for several dozen BMPT in 2017. Between 2010 and 2016 the manufacturer sold 320 BMPTs to Kazakhstan and Algeria.

The ZPT99 is a far superior design because the Russians started out designing the BMPT as a tank escort vehicle while the Chinese saw that the most effective use of such a design is as a counterterror or irregular warfare weapon. Russia seems to realize this as Terminator 3 is to be built on the Armata common chassis used for the new Russian T-15 infantry fighting vehicle (and T-14 tank). Terminator 3 will have more weapons and will function more like the ZPT99. But the ZPT99 is available now and Terminator 3 won’t be showing up until the mid-2020s and the way the Chinese operate there may already be a new model of the ZPT99 by then if the design proves useful enough to the buyers.

 


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