Special Operations: Chinese Airborne Armor


June 16, 2020: In early 2020, the Chinese airborne forces began receiving a new infantry armored vehicle, the VN3C. The 35,000 troops in the airborne forces are considered “special operations” troops and units acquire specific skills using equipment designed for that purpose. One of those specialties is airmobile (via helicopter) or airborne (on large, fixed-wing transports) operations. China has been building more helicopters, large air transports and armored and unarmored vehicles designed for delivery via parachute. Wheeled vehicles survive parachute delivery better than tracked vehicles.

All this explains why this new 4x4 wheeled vehicle replaces the tracked ZBD03 that entered service in 2005. The VN3C is heavier (9 versus 8 tons), faster (120 kilometers an hour versus 68), has longer range (800 versus 600 kilometers) and is easier to maintain. Armor protection is better and weapons are more powerful. The turret is unmanned and acts as a multi-weapon RWS (Remote Weapons Station) with the weapons operator inside the vehicle. While the two vehicles are the same dimensions, the VN3C carries seven (crew of 3 plus four troops) while the ADB 03 seats five passengers. Both vehicles armed with a 30mm autocannon, 7.62mm machine-gun and ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). Both are amphibious. The VN3C has updated versions of the 30mm cannon and ATGMs. In both vehicles, the autocannon is stabilized for accurate firing while on the move. Both vehicles can be delivered by parachute or by cargo aircraft (three per aircraft).

When the ZBD-03 first appeared, it was believed to be based on the Russian BMD, but it was later discovered the Chinese vehicle was a new design based on Western vehicles. Since the late 1990s, China has been relying less on light tracked combat vehicles and more on wheeled versions. Tracked vehicles require a lot more maintenance than wheeled ones and advanced cross-country wheeled vehicle technology has made it possible to design wheeled combat vehicles that perform off-road nearly as well as tracked ones. This is especially important for airborne units that will often find themselves cut off from land-based supply lines for days or weeks, so the lower fuel and spare parts requirements of wheeled vehicles are a major plus.


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