Categories
Modern Vietnamese Armor

PTH 130-K255B 130 mm Self-Propelled Gun

Socialist Republic of Vietnam (2021)
Wheeled Self-Propelled Gun – 1 Prototype Built

On October 28th, 2021, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAV) published Military Engineering Academy – Opportunity and Inspiration, a documentary broadcast nationwide through the Vietnam National Defense TV channel.

In the documentary, the prototype of a new Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) could be seen performing mobility and firing tests. The official name of this new vehicle is Pháo Tự Hành 130 ly – Khung Gầm KrAZ-255B, abbreviated to PTH 130-K255B. This can be translated into English as: KrAZ-255B-mounted 130 mm self-propelled field gun.

The PTH 130-K255B during tests of maximum slope. Screenshot captured from the documentary of the Vietnam National Defense TV channel.Source: militaryleak.com

Genesis of Vietnamese Self-Propelled Guns

The People’s Army of Vietnam is equipped with several outdated artillery pieces of Soviet and Chinese production, but also US-produced artillery pieces . These were captured from the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) in 1975 and put back into service afterwards because of the stocks of ammunition captured.

Small quantities of 105 mm M2A1 and M101 howitzers and 155 mm M114 are still in service today, used almost exclusively for training. Soviet 152 mm M-30 howitzers, 122 mm D-20, D-30, D-74, and 130 mm M-46 howitzers are also still in use. The M101 were extensively used also in self-propelled guns while of the M114 is mainly used for training due the presence of only few exemplars.

These outdated artillery howitzers need to be replaced or upgraded, but the limited finances of the PAV do not allow the replacement of large quantities of artillery pieces with modern Russian artillery pieces. Thus, at the end of the 2000s, the engineers of the People’s Army of Vietnam took steps to increase the mobility of some artillery pieces by mounting them on the chassis of heavy duty trucks.

Until 2014, the PAV did not possess any self-propelled artillery pieces, apart from 30 2S3 ‘Akatsiya’ Soviet-built tracked self-propelled guns received prior to the 2000s. Other than these, the Vietnamese Army also have in its ranks 100-150 2S1 ‘Gvozdika’ in service.

The PTH105-VN15 wheeled self-propelled gun during firing training at a military range in 2019. The PTH105-VN15 is on a 4.5-ton Ural-375D 6×6 Russian truck with a 105 mm M101 howitzer mounted on the cargo bay.Source: kienthuc.net.vn

On January 15th, 2014, a wheeled self-propelled gun based on the heavy duty 4.5-ton Ural-375D 6×6 truck chassis, sporting the 105 mm M101 howitzer, was successfully tested. The vehicle, called PTH105-VN15 (Pháo Tự Hành 105 mm Việt Nam Model 15) was produced in small numbers in three different variants, M1 to M3. Shortly after, Vietnamese engineers also tested another self-propelled gun on the same Ural-43206 hull, armed with an 85 mm D-44 gun, the PTH85-VN18 (Pháo Tự Hành 85 mm Việt Nam Model 18).

The Vietnamese Army greatly appreciated the qualities of these wheeled self-propelled guns based on truck chassis and planned to develop a new self-propelled gun armed with a 130 mm howitzer. In 2017, the development of the new self-propelled gun was announced based on the experiences gained with the PTH105-VN15.

In March 2021, website source VietDefense leaked news of the development of a larger caliber self-propelled gun, but no photos or other information were released.

The PTH85-VN18 in the Z751 Factory during the last factory tests before military testing.Source: pinterest.com

Design

The KrAZ-255B Chassis

For the new self-propelled gun, the chassis of the Ural-375D truck was not enough, because the weight of the gun and the stress of the recoil are much greater. The chassis chosen is that of the heavy duty 10-ton 6×6 KrAZ-255B off-road truck produced by the Soviet Kremenchuk Automobile Plant from the 1960s, present day Ukraine. It was heavily modified by the Vietnamese Union Enterprise Z751 – General Department of Engineering Research and Development plant. The truck has a maximum load capacity of 10 tonnes.

The engine is the standard YaMZ-238 V8 turbocharged diesel, delivering 240 hp at 2,100 rpm. It has a capacity of 14.86 liters and was produced by the Yaroslavl Motor Plant. It is connected to a 5-speed YaMZ-236N manual transmission. The new SPG probably retains the KrAZ-255B’s Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), with the ability to change tire pressure to increase grip on different terrains. The original dimensions of the truck were 8.64 m in length and 2.16 m wide. The modifications made mean the SPG is certainly dozens of centimeters longer.

A KrAZ-255B of the Vietnamese People’s Army towing a 130 mm M-46 Field Gun during a firing exercise in Northern Vietnam.Source: zhdate.com

The KrAZ-255B truck has a range of 600 km with a load of 7.5 tonnes, with two diesel fuel tanks for a total of 330 liters. The maximum speed on the road is 70 km/h, with a maximum gradient of +60°. The new self-propelled gun version will probably have a lower maximum speed and a maximum gradient but will retain the excellent off-road qualities of the original chassis, which was, for many years, the backbone of Soviet artillery units, being able to carry heavy loads or tow heavy artillery pieces without too much difficulty even on rough terrains. The Cuban Jupiter V, a similar vehicle on the same frame, for example, has a weight of 20 tonnes and maintained a speed of 70 km/h, but with a reduced range of 450 km due to its weight.

Instead of the classic position of the engine compartment, in front of the cab, the vehicle has the engine at the front, with two small cabins on the sides. The one on the left is for the driver, being wider, with a better field of vision and better comfort during driving. In the right cabin is the seat of the vehicle’s commander, who has a slightly narrower cab.

Aerial photo of the self-propelled gun during firing tests. The modifications done to the KrAZ chassis are clearly visible.Source: zhdate.com

Behind the new cabin is the cargo bay, with a spare wheel in the center, the travel lock and two large ammunition boxes. One stores 130 mm projectiles, while the other has casings with separate charges. On the sides of the two ammunition boxes are two steps that are opened downwards when the vehicle is in firing position in order to facilitate the work of the gun operators.

Behind the ammunition boxes, there is a basket, probably for the transport of the spent casings, and a couple of tool boxes that are probably used for spare optics and railings for the gun operators.

Finally, there is the gun mounting and two rear hydraulic jacks. These slightly lift the two rear axles of wheels of the vehicle when in firing position, decreasing the stress of recoil on the structure of the truck. On the back, there is also a platform with two railings and two side steps to facilitate access for the gun crew. When the vehicle is in motion, this platform is recessed inside the frame.

Analyzing the tactics of the People’s Army of Vietnam, it can be hypothesized that this vehicle, if it ever enters service, would be used in shoot-and-scoot artillery tactics. Exploiting its speed, its off-road characteristics, and the rapidity with which it can be deployed, Vietnamese units could use the dense forests to position the vehicle, well sheltered, open fire with a few rounds from a safe distance, thanks to the long range of the cannon, and then after raised the rear legs, move to another position, so as to confuse the enemy and avoid counter-battery fire.

The PTH 130-K255B 130 mm Self-Propelled Gun after the first shot, surrounded by gun crew and technicians.Source: militaryleak.com

The thickness of the armor of the vehicle’s cabin is not known, but it can be assumed that the vehicle has bulletproof armor and glass, at least frontally. It should be able to withstand the small arms and artillery shrapnel, in order to have a minimum of protection in the event of an enemy attack or counter-battery fire. The vehicle should also be able to protect the crew from anti-personnel mines and small Improvised Explosive Devices thanks to the armored cab and to its ground clearance of 360 mm.

Similarities with Cuban Projects

The Cubans were able to gain experience with Soviet artillery in some of the wars they participated in Africa, especially the Angolan Civil War (1966-1990). Due to the US embargo, the nation of Fidel Castro had to make do with what it had and, based on the experience gained in African conflicts, developed what is now known as the Jupiter series of wheeled self-propelled guns.

As soon as the Vietnamese PTH appeared, some sites that deal with news from the international military world could not help but underline the similarity of this self-propelled gun with the Cuban Jupiter V 130 mm Self-Propelled Gun.

The Cuban Jupiter V during a public display near Havana, Cuba.Source: military-today.com

The Jupiter was also produced on the KrAZ-255B 6×6 hull and appeared in Cuba before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also armed with the powerful 130 mm M-46 and is only the latest in a series of Cuban wheeled self-propelled guns, including the Jupiter IV, also on the KrAZ-255B 6×6 hull and armed with a 122 mm M1932/37 L/45, better known as A-19, and the Jupiter III, also on the same chassis but less heavily modified and armed with a 122 mm D-30.

In April 2012, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, visited Havana. Also present in the Vietnamese commission that arrived in the Republic of Cuba was the Chief of General Staff of the People’s Army of Vietnam, Phan Văn Giang, who had the opportunity to see some of the products of the Cuban war industry, including their Jupiter series self-propelled artillery vehicles and T-34-based vehicles, such as the 122 mm AAAP-T-122 D-30 and the 130 mm AAP-T-130 versions.

A poor quality photo of the Chief of General Staff of the People’s Army of Vietnam, Phan Văn Giang, during his visit to Cuba. A Cuban officer is showing him a 122 mm AAAP-T-122 D-30 self-propelled gun poster and behind them there is a Jupiter V and a 122 mm D-30 barrel, probably from a Jupiter III. Source: zhdate.com

Given the similarities between the Jupiter V and the PTH 130, it is fair to assume that Vietnam took its cue or had the help of Cuban engineers in developing the new SPG. This thesis is supported by a statement by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces Deputy Minister Joaquin Quintas Sola, who emphasized the need for the two Socialist countries to share military technology when he visited Hanoi on September 18th, 2012, meeting with Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, the Prime Minister of Vietnam.

The Jupiter models were first discovered by Western media in a parade in 2006. At that time, Vietnam was looking for a solution to make their US-made howitzers more mobile, and the Cuban Jupiter III and the Vietnamese Ural-375D 105 mm self-propelled gun are also very similar.

Armament

The armament is a 130 mm M-46 L/55 towed field gun, with a horizontal sliding-wedge breech and hydro-pneumatic recoil. The gun is of Soviet origin, developed between 1946 and 1950 on the basis of the 130 mm M-36 naval gun and produced from 1951 until 1971. Vietnam received 519 units during the Vietnam War, split between the M-46 and Type 59 (the Chinese copy of the gun) version.

Keeping the original mounting, the gun has an elevation of +45°, while the original depression of -2.5° is no longer possible due to the vehicle’s cab. Despite losing the wheeled carriage, the artillery piece probably maintains a limited traverse of 25° to the left and 25° to the right. Firing at higher traverse angles would probably cause the vehicle to become unstable and potentially overturn.

A 130 mm M-46 field gun during live fire exercises in Vietnam.Source: thaibinhtv.vn

In the documentary released by the Vietnam National Defense TV, the crew are not seen loading the howitzer. In one scene, 11 people are seen operating around the vehicle, including soldiers and men in civilian clothes, probably technicians and journalists. If the number of gun crew is limited to six, as on the similar Jupiter V, this means that the vehicle is not able to carry all of them, as the cabin has a maximum capacity of just 2 or 3 people. This means that the remaining gun crew have to be transported in a separate vehicle, probably with a reserve of ammunition or take seats on the rear part of the vehicle.

Weighing 3,880 kg (of which 80.5 kg of muzzle brake) without the wheeled carriage, the howitzer has a very long range, up to 27.5 km with the standard High-Explosive – Fragmentation (HE-Frag) ammunition and 38 km with the Rocket Assisted Projectile (RAP). Its rate of fire is probably similar to that of the standard M-46 field gun, ranging from 6 to 8 rounds per minute.

The moment when the 130 mm gun opened fire during the PTH firing test.Source: militaryleak.com

Fire Control System

For now, no Fire Control System (FCS) is seen onboard the vehicle in the released video. However, it cannot be ruled out that Vietnam has mounted (or plans to mount) an FCS on the self-propelled gun to increase the accuracy of the gun.

During its recently concluded 10th Military Congress, Vietnam unveiled its national upgrade for the Soviet-built, truck-mounted 122 mm multiple rocket launcher BM-21 ‘Grad’, 350 of which are in service with the PAV.

The new version, called BM-21M-1, will be automated with a new FCS that automatically calculates launcher elevation, wind speed, and other data for a much more accurate shot. The time to fire is also reduced from 14 minutes to 1.5 minutes. The crew of the upgraded BM-21M-1 is reduced compared to the original BM-21 ones.

If the PTH-130-K255B is also equipped with a Fire Control System in the future, this self-propelled gun could become much deadlier than it already is, remaining in service for several years, just like the T-54M3 & T-55M3.

The truck-mounted 122 mm multiple rocket launcher BM-21M-1 Fire Control System panel.Source: zhdate.com

Ammunition

The M-46 can fire different types of projectiles developed during the decades, not only by the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation, but also by Israel, China, and Iran. These are mainly High-Explosive (HE), High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-Frag), Armor Piercing (AP), Rocket Assisted Projectile, Illumination, and Smoke rounds.

However, Vietnam produces its own line of 130 mm ammunition. However, few details are known due to the few sources available. However, it can be assumed that the ammunition produced by Vietnamese companies has similar or comparable characteristics to the Soviet 130 x 845 mm R rounds.

A photo of the exhibition of the Army Game 2021, where the row of artillery rounds is visible. The second one from left, with M46 written on it, is a 130 mm High-Explosive shell produced in Vietnam.Source: twitter.com

The explosive projectiles have a full weight (projectile plus separate charge) of 59.10 kg, of which 33.40 kg of the projectile and 3.64 kg of explosive. These projectiles have a muzzle velocity of 930 m/s and a range of 27.5 km.

Armor-piercing projectiles with a similar weight and muzzle velocity can penetrate a 245 mm thick 90° inclined steel armor at 1,000 m, 210 mm at 2,000 m, and 150 mm at 4,000 m. The maximum effective range of the armor-piercing projectiles is 4 km.

The Rocket Assisted Projectile, more precisely Extended Range Full Bore – Base Bleed (ERFB-BB) rounds, weigh 32 kg with a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s and a range of 38 km.

Export Possibilities

A vehicle with similar characteristics has been seen in Syria, produced in a semi-improvised manner in small numbers (minimum three) by specialized workshops. The heavy-duty truck chassis is an IVECO TRAKKER of Italian production with 4 axles (probably 8×4 or 8×8). It too is armed with a 130 mm M-46 gun mounted in the rear, has rear jacks to decrease the stress of recoil on the frame, ammunition boxes, and an armored cab.

The existence of such a vehicle in Syria underlines the necessity, for some nations, to possess a self-propelled gun with the same characteristics as the PTH 130. Therefore, the Vietnamese SPG could also be quite successful if proposed for export to African or Asian nations which cannot afford to buy expensive wheeled self-propelled guns, such as the French Caesar, the Israeli ATMOS, or the Serbian Nora B-52. However, this is only a hypothesis because Vietnamese military vehicles usually are not exported.

The IVECO TRAKKER 8×8 heavy duty truck with the M-46 130 mm field gun in Syrian service.Source: twitter.com

Conclusion

The PTH is an inexpensive and easy-to-produce solution for a nation like the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which has a limited defense budget.

Trials have reportedly been positive and mass production of this self-propelled gun could begin in the future to equip People’s Army of Vietnam units with a powerful, mobile, high range artillery piece.

This self-propelled gun is also probably developed with the help of the Cubans, perhaps starting a new series of joint developments between the two Socialist nations. Sharing designs and technologies in the military could lead to a modernization of the armored components of the two nations.

PTH 130-K255B 130 mm Self-Propelled Gun. Illustration by Brian Gaydos.
PTH 130-K255B 130 mm Self-Propelled Gun, gun elevated. Illustration by Brian Gaydos.

PTH130-K255B 130 mm Specification

Engine: YaMZ-238 V8 diesel supercharged, 210 hp at 2,100 rpm
Fuel:Diesel in two 330 liter tanks
Armament:130 mm M-46 L/55
Production:1 prototype

Sources

https://soha.vn/phao-tu-hanh-130mm-made-in-vietnam-buoc-nhay-vot-ve-co-gioi-hoa-hoc-ban-tot-cuba-20211101111937508.htm

https://www.zhdate.com/news_military/483297.html

https://militaryleak.com/2021/11/05/vietnamese-peoples-army-unveils-new-truck-based-self-propelled-howitzer/

https://www.armyrecognition.com/defense_news_october_2021_global_security_army_industry/vietnam_military_technical_institute_unveils_and_tests_pth130-k225b_130mm_spg.html

https://www.asiapacificdefensejournal.com/2021/10/vietnam-unveils-indigenously-converted.html

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/vietnam/pth105.htm

Article written thanks to the help of Twitter account Lee Ann Quann
https://twitter.com/AnnQuann

Categories
Modern Vietnamese Armor

T-54M3 and T-55M3

Israeli Tanks Socialist Republic of Vietnam/Israel (2016-Present)
Main Battle Tank – 305 Planned To Be Converted

The T-54M3 during a public demonstration. Source: Facebook sw-ke.facebook.com

The T-54M3 is a joint Vietnamese-Israeli project which began in 2009 that led to the development of two distinct prototypes with similar characteristics but produced with different budgets. The two vehicles have the same teams behind them. However, in this article, the Israeli T-54M3 and the Vietnamese T-54M3 will be treated as two separate projects.

The new MBT (Main Battle Tank) aims to keep the Vietnamese T-54s and T-55s in service by making them more competitive against vehicles of their generation or more modern ones.

A total of 3 prototypes were produced, one by Elbit Systems, and 2 by the Z153 Vietnamese industrial plant.

After the development phase was finished, 3 pre-series examples were built, which were practically identical to the finalized serial version. The People’s Army of VietNam (PAVN) has requested the upgrade of 305 T-54s and T-55s that are still (as of June 2021) being delivered. Delays have occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic and bureaucratic problems.

People’s Army of Vietnam

After the Vietnam War (1964-1975), Vietnam operated a fleet of 70 T-62s, a few thousand T-54s and T-55s, hundreds more Type 59s and a large number of T-34-85s and SU-100s. These were accompanied by a small group of M41 and M48 Patton tanks captured from the US Army and the Army of the Republic of VietNam (ARVN) and returned to service after overhauls.

T-54s and T-55s stored in a depot in Vietnam. To this day, these vehicles still account for over 50% of Vietnam’s armored force. The second tank is equipped with 4 ‘Starfish’ style wheels and a ‘Spider’ one. Source: twitter.com

During the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979) and the occupation of Cambodia (1978-1989), the PAVN realized that most of its equipment was no longer able to face a war against other comparable or larger nations.

In the following years, due to the high cost of maintaining such a fleet of armored vehicles, the number of tanks was reduced to 850 T-54s or T-55s, 300 PT-76s, 50 T-34-85s (used for training) and a small number of ASU-85s. The numbers of T-62s and Type 59s remained unchanged. The other vehicles were put in reserve.

During the late 1990s, it was decided to try to upgrade the fleet of T-54s and T-55s. Around 2015, purchase negotiations began with Russia for the acquisition of a total of 64 first-hand T-90S and T-90SK, all delivered by February 2019. In 2020, the People’s Army of Vietnam announced its intention to buy several T-72B1MS. It is unclear if, given the Covid-19 pandemic, negotiations are moving forward or if the funding has been canceled to prioritize medical research and prevention.

Seeking help

Vietnam did not have any local options for the development of upgrades for its outdated fleet of T-54, T-55 and Type-59. Thus, it turned to foreign countries.

In the early 90s, the Slovenska Vojska (Slovenian Army) started an upgrade program of its T-55s with the support of the Israeli Elbit Systems. This led to a new version called T-55S1, equipped with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), a 105 mm gun, a new engine, a new Fire Control System (FCS) and other modifications.

The Slovenian T-55S1. This project interested the PAVN in the 1990s. From this, Elbit Systems started to develop the T-54M3. Source: worldwardefence.blogspot.com

After several attempts with other nations, Vietnam turned to Israel. At an unknown date and an unspecified location in Israel, Vietnamese representatives were presented with an example of the Tiran-5Sh.

The Tiran series were updated Israeli versions of the T-54, T-55 and T-62 captured from the Arab armies during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. The Tiran-1 to Tiran-5 were modified T-54s or T-55s, while the Tiran-6 were modified T-62s.

However, Israel was not satisfied with the 100 mm D-10T rifled guns of the T-54/T-55, so it developed the “Sh” version. This version, applied to the Tiran-4, Tiran-5 and Tiran-6, the tanks were deprived of their old Soviet 100 mm or 115 mm guns and re-equipped with surplus British Royal Ordnance L7 or US M68 105 mm guns that fit very well in the small interior space thanks to the rounded breech.

A Tiran-5Sh ‘1א’, the first tank of the 1st Platoon of the 1st Battalion of an unknown Tank Brigade in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War. Source: pinterest.com

Israel hoped to sell its Tirans, which were slowly being removed from service, to Vietnam. However, Vietnam already had a large number of such vehicles and was not interested in buying new vehicles except for some spare parts.

The Vietnamese were impressed by the Tiran-5Sh and immediately showed interest in asking Israel to produce an updated T-54 prototype. Bureaucratic delays and probably some internal resistance from the People’s Army of Vietnam slowed down the request.

People’s Army of Vietnam officers in civilian clothes inspecting a Tiran-5Sh in Israel. Source: pinterest.com

There is also a possibility that a Tiran-5Sh was sent to Vietnam at some point in the 1990s for testing and evaluation. This hypothesis is supported by a photo with a Vietnamese caption of a Tiran-5Sh in Vietnam, probably the same one that was analyzed by Vietnamese officials in Israel.

Despite the existence of the picture, there is no concrete evidence to prove this hypothesis. The IDF has never claimed to have sent a Tiran to Vietnam and Vietnam has never claimed to have a Tiran.

Another fact that supports this thesis is the signing in the 1990s of a contract between Israeli firms, such as Elbit and NIMDA, and the Vietnamese army for the development of a package of updates for the now obsolete M113 Armored Personnel Carriers of the PAVN.

The incriminating photo shows a Tiran-5Sh in Vietnam. The caption mentions: “105 mm M68 gun on T-54B tank”. Source: pinterest.com

The Israeli prototype: the T-54M3

In 2009, Vietnam finally requested a prototype upgrade of the T-54 from Elbit System. With the help of NIMDA, Elbit started to develop the design starting from the previous Slovenian T-55S1. In 2010, images began circulating of the Israeli-produced prototype that had been presented to Vietnam a few months earlier.

The new T-54M3 significantly improved the T-54 and T-55 vehicles. In addition to a number of modifications and a different camouflage scheme, the Elbit Systems prototype can be distinguished by the serial number 153 on the sides of the turret.

The Israeli T-54M3 prototype on the left and a standard T-54 on the right, probably at the Z153 plant. Source: reddit.com

Armament

As on the Tiran Sh, the Israelis removed the Soviet D-10T2S and the tank was rearmed with a 105 mm cannon. The origin of the gun, however, is very uncertain. Some sources mention the use of the British Royal Ordnance L7 or its US version, the M68. However, a decision from Elbit to use a foreign 105 mm gun would be odd, as the Israeli Military Industries (of which Elbit is a subsidiary) produces the M64 L71A L.52, also a copy of the Royal Ordnance L7. This was the main armament of the Merkava Siman I and II tanks. It is probable that some journalists were unaware or ignored the existence of the Israeli-produced cannon.

Whatever 105 mm cannon the T-54M3 employs, it can fire any type of 105 mm ammunition developed by NATO. The gun is equipped with a thermal jacket to prevent the thermal distortion of the barrel.

A photo showing the 105 mm cannon and its thermal sleeve. In this photo, the SLERA plate mounted on the front hull plate is visible. The lower front plate has no additional protection in order to reduce weight and to allow the use of the KMT-5M roller demining system. Source: twitter.com

The anti-aircraft machine gun was replaced with a more modern 12.7 mm NSV of Soviet origin. The coaxial machine gun remained the original 7.26 mm PKT.

The NSV 12.7 mm machine gun of Soviet origin on a Russian T-72. Source: reddit.com

On the left side of the turret, a 60 mm C07 Commando mortar was mounted externally, as on the Tiran, Magach, M-51, and the Merkava Siman I. The mortar can be used to fire fragmentation ammunition against infantry, illuminants for night actions, and smoke to create smoke screens at up to 1,800 m in order to support the actions of other units or to indicate a target to artillery.

The Soltam 60 mm mortar with its target practice round. Source: pinterest.com

The smoke launcher system mounted on the rear side of the turret is the IMI CL-3030 IS-6 Self-Screen Laying System. This fires 12 smoke grenades (six per side) with a charge of 850 grams of Red Phosphorus (non-toxic), creating a smokescreen lasting 1 to 2 minutes at 50 meters from the tank, 4 to 8 meters high and about 60 meters long (obviously, all these values depend on the wind speed).

This system is connected to a Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) that automatically activates the smokescreen in case the vehicle is illuminated by a laser beam or through the control panel of the tank commander, who can activate the system manually.

The Israeli prototype stored in a depot near a BTR-50PU command amphibious vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

On the roof of the turret is the MAWS6056B (Military Automatic Weather Sensor) Idram-SA anemometer of Swiss origin (the same one mounted on the Leclerc MBT). This can be lowered and raised in order to measure the wind speed, the wind direction, the ambient temperature, and the atmospheric pressure. The data it captures is used to automatically adjust the cannon fire and can be sent to other armored vehicles in the area of operations to increase the accuracy of all vehicles.

Protection

At the back, there is slat armor meant to defuse HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warheads with piezo-electric fuzing, usually fired from the RPG family of anti-tank rocket systems

Attached on the lower side of the slat armor are the Venus Hair Ferns, steel chains with steel balls at the end. These chains were also used on the Merkava MBTs and are also meant to protect against RPG rounds.

At the front, both the hull and the turret are probably protected by Self-Limiting Explosive Reactive Armor (SLERA) of the latest generation, very similar to that mounted on the Israeli Merkava Siman IV.

The turret side of the Israeli T-54M3. Source: armyrecognition.com and author highlights.

The protective qualities of the SLERA are not known. Being derived from the armor of the Merkava, it can be assumed that it is capable of resisting ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) such as 9K111 Fagot or 9M113 Konkurs. Composite material skirts were mounted on the sides of the hull to protect the running gear and lower the amount of dust kicked up by the vehicle.

Some surfaces of the vehicle, such as the front of the hull and the turret, are covered with Anti-Reflection Coating aesthetically similar to sand on the surface of the tank. This lowers the amount of light reflecting off the surfaces and offers a good grip for the crew climbing into the tank. The vehicle is then painted with low IR paint to decrease the thermal signature.

A nice close-up of a T-54M3 showing very well the Anti-Reflection Coating on the ERA bricks. Source: pinterest.com

The radio system was replaced with a new one of Russian origin, the compact RF2050 multi-band system with increased resistance against radio-electronic warfare.

Powerpack upgrade

Due to the increase in weight, now estimated at 40-42 tonnes, the engine was replaced with a German one. Information is lacking except for the power output, which is 1,000 hp.

This is probably an MTU 881 8-cylinder diesel engine of 1,000 hp at 2,700 rpm, guaranteeing a higher speed than a standard T-55 thanks to the 200 hp more.

The new engine is connected to a transmission and gearbox of Ukrainian origin, although the data and models are unknown.

A driving computer system is also installed, allowing the vehicle to calculate the tilt and the speed of the vehicle. That computer is installed on the driver’s position, with a hydraulic power steering system allowing the steering column, brakes, and clutch to be much easier to operate.

For the safety of the crew, the fire suppression system was replaced with a new automatic system capable of self-diagnosis, also of Russian origin.

New powerful Fire Control System

The Fire Control System is the TIFCS-3BU, stabilized on two axes, produced by the Spanish Indra Sistemas. The system includes a TSGS-54BU laser rangefinder, also stabilized on two axes, and a thermal camera for day and night vision in the 3-5 um or 8-12 um range. The commander has the possibility to see the view from the gunner’s optics and, in case the gunner is out of action, to aim and shoot. Finally, a complex update of the servomechanisms for faster movement was undertaken.

The old TDP-K or T-S optical sights (depending on the tank version) are retained in the remote event that the FCS gets incapacitated.

All of these upgrades significantly increase the chances of hitting a target at any range, day or night and in any weather, even on the move. According to VietDefense, this new FCS has similar characteristics to that of the more modern T-72B3. Indra Sistemas has specially developed the FCS to take up little space and to be mounted without having to modify the turret structure of several Soviet T-series tanks.

The FCS of Indra Sistemas. Source: Idra Sistemas

Unfortunately, Indra Sistemas did not give any information about the possibility of the new FCS to fire ATGMs of the 3UBK10-1 and 3UBK23-1 series, as on the T-55M.

The vehicle was tested with excellent results in late 2011, when it proved to be able to sustain high speeds and to be able to fire even on the move with high accuracy.

The T-54M3 prototype during testing in Vietnam in late 2011. The man without a uniform on top of the vehicle is probably an Elbit Systems technician. Source: facebook.com

The Vietnamese T-54M3

The Israeli project was too ambitious for the People’s Army of Vietnam, as the price was estimated at between US$3 and almost US$4 million per unit. This price was slightly lower than the cost of the T-90S and T-90KS that the PAVN has in service for some years now.

Armament

Israel and Vietnam decided to ‘simplify’ the project by canceling the adoption of the Royal Ordnance L7 gun, partly because Vietnam still has significant stocks of Soviet 100 mm ammunition. The adoption of the new gun would have meant the purchase of new ammunition stocks. The thermal sleeve was retained.

Protection

The side skirts and Self-Limiting Explosive Reactive Armor also cost too much. It was therefore decided to replace the modern Israeli SLERA with a less expensive version of ERA produced by the Vietnamese Institute of Propellants & Explosives (IPE), developed after 2009.

The development phase of the Vietnamese ERA ended in 2015-2016, but the ‘first generation’ weighed too much and barely protected the armored vehicles from RPG-7s. Thus, Senior Lieutenant Hoang Trung Kien along with Major Nguyen Vu Hung’s team (which had developed the first generation) developed the Second Generation ERA allegedly capable of resisting 9M14 Malyutka ATGMs.

The ERA is divided into 30-cm explosive bricks weighing 3.5 kilograms, with a 550-gram RDX explosive charge. According to the IPE, this new ERA is capable of nullifying the penetrating effect of an anti-tank projectile or ATGM with a maximum penetration of 500 mm. The second-generation ERA is also much lighter than its predecessor. The IPE estimate is that the additional weight on the tank is just over 1,000 kilograms.

The Vietnamese 2nd Generation Explosive Reactive Armor used on the T-54M3 and T-55M3. Giáp Phản Ứng Nổ Thế Hệ II in Vietnamese means Explosive Reactive Armor of IInd Generation. Source: facebook.com

The decision to retain the 100 mm cannon and use a less expensive ERA resulted in a decrease in vehicle weight and consequently a modest increase in top speed. To decrease the price even more, the PAVN removed all the equipment considered superfluous, such as the CL-3030 IS-6 smoke launchers, the C07 Commando external mortar and the 12.7 mm NSV, keeping the old DShKM.

Technicians and mechanics at the Z153 facility work on the chassis of a T-54 or T-55 to upgrade it to the M3 standard. Behind, on the right side, the turrets of two T-54s and an already upgraded turret are visible. Source: pinterest.com

Before the start of production, the new Vietnamese-made ERA had to be completed, which required significant effort and caused delays. Once the development and testing phase was over, the Z153 plant, controlled by the Vietnamese government, produced two prototypes of the Vietnamese version of the T-54M3 and T-55M3. Once these passed tests, three pre-series examples were produced in 2016. The People’s Army of Vietnam has allocated funds for the conversion of 305 T-54s and T-55s, the equivalent of 10 armored battalions.

PAVN officers watch workers at work on the assembly line during an official tour of the Z153 plant. The tank does not yet have a thermal sleeve. Source: pinterest.com
Photo taken on the same occasion. From this angle, the Anti-Reflection Coating on the top of the ERA is well visible. On the roof of the turret, the anemometer, covered by a waterproof cloth, can also be seen. On the back is the slat armor with the Venus Hair Ferns. Source: pinterest.com

Delivery to PAVN

It is not known at what exact time the vehicles finished assembly, but the first examples were delivered to training schools. Around April-May 2019, the official delivery to the first armored units took place.

On June 26th, 2019, the first official firing test took place. This was captured by Vietnamese National Defense Television cameras. During these show tests, the vehicle demonstrated excellent maneuverability and increased engagement power compared to the standard T-54 or T-55 models.

The T-54M3 during its first official showing on June 26th, 2019. The DShKM on the roof of the turret can be seen. Source: pinterest.com
The People’s Army of Vietnam High Command inspects the T-54M3 after the test. Source: facebook.com

The delivery rate was slowed down in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to bureaucratic issues. Vietnam had only ordered 105 FCS from Indra Sistemas to equip the Vietnamese prototypes and 3 pre-series vehicles, while the other 100 were for production vehicles. As the PAVN order was for 310 units, Vietnam has had to order another 205 FCS in different batches from the Spanish company with the relevant spare parts and production time.

T-54M3s and T-55M3s waiting for their FCS, parked in a storage area of the Z153 facility. Source: facebook.com

In late 2020, production resumed at a steady pace. Despite the lack of FCS, the Z153 plant continued to convert T-54s and T-55s and some are still awaiting FCS before they can be delivered to the Army. Dozens of photos of updated T-54s and T-55s flooded the web in early 2021. The conversion of all the 310 vehicles will probably be finished in early 2023.

A MAZ-537 of the last production series transports a T-54M3 or T-55M3 through the streets of a large Vietnamese city. Source: facebook.com

The units that received the new vehicles immediately began an intense cycle of training to learn how to use the new Fire Control System. This is many generations ahead of that used on the standard T-54 and T-55 and very different from that of the T-90S.

Some T-54M3s and T-55M3s during a demonstration. Source: facebook.com

One factor that is often overlooked is the use the PAVN intends for these armored vehicles. Detractors of vehicles such as the T-54M3 and T-55M3 or the Korean Chonma often do not consider their role within the Army.

The People’s Army of Vietnam, in case of war with a neighboring nation, plans to use its updated T-54s and T-55s in an infantry support role. They are also intended to support the actions of the more modern T-90S (and, in the future, perhaps also to the T-72B1MS). It is not expected that they will face other tanks. If they do, the new FCS will allow them a much-improved chance of hitting the target first, even on the move.

Armored vehicles of the People’s Army of Vietnam. From right to left, T-90SK, T-90S, T-54M3, T-54M, T-55M and PT-76. It is unclear why the T-62 and ASU-85 are not shown. Source: pinterest.com

Camouflage and markings

The Israeli prototype had an interesting and unusual three-tone camouflage scheme, dark green base with black and orange stripes. This pattern has never been used by the IDF or the PAVN.

The Vietnamese prototypes and production examples are painted in a three-tone camouflage scheme quite common on Vietnamese vehicles: light green, dark green and black spots, very suitable for the rainy environments of Vietnam.

As mentioned earlier the tanks were covered with Anti-Reflection Coating and painted with special paint to decrease the thermal signature.

On the turret, the symbol of the PAVN, a yellow star in a red circle with yellow border with the identification number, in white, are painted on the side.

On the Israeli prototype, the PAVN symbol was replaced by a prominent yellow star.

Two ready to be delivered T-54M3 number 326 and 328. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusions

The Israeli T-54M3 is a very expensive upgrade to the T-54 and T-55 that makes the vehicle capable of dealing with Armored Fighting Vehicles much more modern than venerable Soviet tanks. The Vietnamese T-54M3 and T-55M3, on the other hand, are cheaper versions of the Israeli T-54M3. While not nearly as powerful, they mitigate some of the obsolescence of the ‘T’ series tanks within the budget of Vietnam and will keep these vehicles in service.

Standard T-54 in People’s Army of Vietnam service, for comparison.
Israeli T-54M3 prototype with its curious three-tone camouflage.
Serial modification T-54M3 in service with the People’s Army of Vietnam. Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

T-54M3 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.00 x 3.37 x 2.40 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready ~40 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner and loader)
Propulsion Unknown, German origin, 1000 hp
Speed ~55 km/h
Range ~400 km
Armament 100 mm D-10T2S rifled cannon, 1x 7.62 mm PKT 1x 12.7 mm DShKM
Armor Explosive Reactive Armor front and turret sides
Total Production 310 planned, including 2 prototypes and 3 pre-series vehicles

Sources

asian-defence-news.blogspot.com
www.armyrecognition.com
defence.pk