People’s Republic of China (1997-Present)
Main Battle Tank – Around 1,000 Built
The ZTZ96 or Type 96, officially ZTZ1996式主战坦克 (ZTZ1996 Type Main Battle Tank), is one of the many main battle tank (MBT) models currently used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). First publicly unveiled during China’s 1999 National Day Parade, it was the first PLA-operated tank to truly fit the idea of a modern MBT, featuring integrated composite armor, a large-caliber smoothbore gun, and decent mobility. Although a major upgrade from the numerous T-54 derivatives fielded before it, the ZTZ96 still lagged behind the best MBTs of the time such as the T-90, M1A2, or Leopard 2A5. The tank would see a sizable production run of around 1,000 units from 1997 until 2005, after which it would be supplanted by the superior ZTZ96A. With the recent rapid decommissioning of older Type 59 models, the Type 96 is now the second most common MBT model in service with the PLA, beaten only by the Type 96A at an estimated 1,500 units. Despite this, press and media coverage of the tank are scarce, instead focusing almost exclusively on the ZTZ96A and ZTZ99A in regards to MBTs.
A Cold War Army in a Modern Era
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) entered the Cold War with a significant disadvantage compared to the world’s leaders in terms of military equipment. Without a previously established industrial base, it was necessary for China to rapidly industrialize, which it managed to accomplish thanks to Soviet aid. However, even as China built a strong and independent domestic defense industry, its delayed start combined with the various turmoils of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) only served to maintain or even widen the gap between the PRC and its counterparts.
From when it first entered service until the end of the Cold War, the bulk of the PLA’s tank force had been composed of the old Type 59 Medium Tank (59式中型坦克), a licensed version of the Soviet T-54A. While the tank would see gradual upgrades through the 1980s, these modifications were not a proper substitute for a new generation of tanks. The same could be said about its derivatives, such as the Type 69 and Type 79, neither of which were serviced in large numbers.
To the outside observer, it would seem as though Chinese tank development had completely stagnated for some 30 years. However, the PLA’s inability to suitably replace the Type 59 with a modern main battle tank was not from any lack of trying, as there was in fact plenty going on behind the scenes.
Distant Ancestors: The 122 Project
The story of the Type 96 starts with China’s first attempt at developing its second generation medium tank. The project kicked off in December 1969 with a meeting of the 5th Ministry of Machine Building (第五机械工业部; abbreviated ‘五机’ or ‘Wǔ Jī’, meaning ‘Fifth Machine’). There, the plan for China’s second generation of domestic medium tank was created, intended to succeed the then-unfinished Type 69, China’s first generation medium tank. This initiative was partly influenced by the capture of a T-62 tank during a border conflict with the USSR in March of that same year. On 4 February 1970, the office of the Central Military Commission (CMC; 中央军事委员会) approved the creation of a new medium tank project, dubbed 122, under the campaign name ‘Two Four’ (二四会战办公室). Development officially began in March and was further expedited by the ‘704’ campaign (704会战办公室).
By September of 1970, the first prototype would be constructed, colloquially referred to as the ‘Triple Hydraulic’ prototype for its three hydraulic systems. The complexity of these hydraulics was revealed immediately, which resulted in the design being scaled back. In November, construction of the first ‘Triple Mechanical’ prototype would begin, with two being completed by the beginning of 1971. Both vehicles would be tested extensively throughout 1972 and 1973. Despite the fact that the 122 prototypes offered a significant upgrade over existing Chinese tanks, the development of the 122 Project would be canceled in 1973 by the 5th Ministry of Machine Building, shifting their efforts towards the development of subcomponents rather than the vehicle as a whole. This decision can be partly attributed to the chaos and turmoil caused by Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which made further development difficult.
The suspension of the 704 Campaign could not have come at a worse time. Although the T-64 had existed prior to the 122 Project’s establishment, the widespread proliferation of the T-72 in the 1970s truly set the stage for what was required of a second generation main battle tank. This, as well as the fact that many Western third generation MBTs would be completed by the end of the decade, meant that China was lagging further behind than ever.
Second Generation: The 784 Campaign and Type 80
Rebirth of the 122: The 784 Campaign
In February 1977, almost immediately after Mao’s death, the PLA reported its technical and tactical interests for a new main battle tank design and sent them to the Science and Technology Committee of the Central Military Commission (中央军事委员会科学技术委员会). This would restart China’s second generation tank program, and in April 1978, the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND; 国防科学技术工业委员会) and 5th Ministry of Machine Building gathered for the ‘784’ meeting in Datong, Shanxi (大同, 山西). This meeting outlined the development goals and technical requirements for the ‘new’ second generation tank design.
The more well-known designs to result from the renewed efforts were the 1224, 1226, and 1226F2, produced by Factory No. 617 and the 201st Institute. These were more ambitious projects which were redesigned from the ground up and would go on to influence China’s third generation tank design, culminating with the ZTZ99.
However, it is the family of more conservative designs that eventually led to the Type 96. The 1223, built in 1978 by Factory No. 617, was by comparison very modest. It was a modification of the Type 69, fitting a new hydropneumatic suspension to the chassis and possibly a new 730 hp turbocharged engine as well. The suspension would also utilize a new set of smaller-diameter road wheels. Although it was not China’s first experiment with hydropneumatic suspension, the design would prove unsatisfactory for service.
As the 1970s progressed, China also began to turn to the West for assistance with its military modernization. As part of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (邓小平) Four Modernizations (四个现代化), the strategy of ‘The West for China’ (西为中用) was adopted not only to enhance China’s military capabilities but also improve political ties with the West against the Soviet Union. At the Fourth National People’s Congress (第四届全国人民代表大会) in 1975, the CMC was placed in charge of developing and procuring the equipment for a comprehensive modernization of the military. To fulfill this, the CMC recommended the acquisition of advanced equipment from foreign powers. Opposition to Western collaboration as well as bureaucratic infighting led to the plan stalling out until Deng managed to gain full control in 1977. After a series of additional meetings by members of the government and military, the decision to procure advanced Western military equipment was finalized.
Although the initial sale of technology was slow, a visit in 1978 by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Neil Cameron, initially to market the Harrier VTOL fighter, helped kick start increased trade with China. Although there was heavy resistance from within the UK, its allies, and even the Soviet Union, several deals would be completed in 1979. Additional NATO countries, namely West Germany and France, would also engage in the arms trade starting in 1980. This became known in China as the ‘Three-Seven Project’ (三七工程). The initial scope of the intended sales is hard to imagine today. The aforementioned Harrier fighters, along with Pegasus Mk. 103 jet engines, Chieftain tanks, HOT, MILAN, and Swingfire anti-tank missiles, Boeing 414 (CH-47D) and Westland Lynx helicopters, Maestrale-class frigates, Wadi M’ragh-class missile corvettes, and more were all considered at some point during the talks, although none were ever delivered. Moreover, China expressed interest in German armor, including the Leopard 2, as well as Italian Agusta helicopters and OTO-Melara automatic guns, but these were ultimately denied. Nonetheless, China still obtained a lot of modern equipment. The 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7, advanced fire-control systems, new NBC protection systems, high-powered radios, modern engines and transmissions, and more were all obtained starting around 1979, with more collaborations to come.
In 1979, the 1225 prototype was constructed on the basis of the 1223 design. The 1225 removed the faulty hydropneumatic suspension and replaced it with a more conventional torsion bar system, as well as adding an additional set of road wheels for a total of six per side. The 1225 also introduced the new 105 mm rifled gun, although it is unclear if any other equipment from the Three-Seven Project was included. By November 1980, the tank would be added to the national development plan as the Type 80 Main Battle Tank. The industrial designation of WZ122 was assigned, inherited from the original 122 Project which had begun over a decade prior. Development of the vehicle was headed by Fang Weixiang (方慰先) of Factory No. 617 with assistance from Factories Nos. 447 and 616, as well as the 201st Institute.
Some sources instead refer to a vehicle called the “121A” or simply just a “Modified Type 69” instead of the 1225. It is probable that they are referring to the same vehicle, as the descriptions of the vehicle and the production dates are generally in line with each other.
Starting in 1981, prototypes of the new Type 80 began construction, with a total of 12 built over the course of the next few years. These vehicles would be tested extensively throughout the 1980s. Based upon the Type 80, the Type 80-I variant was created and was assigned the industrial designation WZ122A. It replaced the older fire-control system with a modern FCS featuring integrated day/night sights and a laser rangefinder as well as an improved NBC suite. In January 1986, the 5th Ministry of Machine Building, now named the Ministry of Ordnance Industry (兵器工业部), issued six research plans related to the finalization of the vehicle. In March, a new prototype was constructed, with testing concluding in September with flying colors. In February 1988, the Military Product Determination Committee of the Central Military Commission (中央军委军工产品定型委员会) would approve the Type 80-I for service as the ZTZ88 Main Battle Tank (ZTZ88式主战坦克).
While it featured improved firepower, mobility, and fire-controls, the base armor of the tank was not much more effective than the T-54 it traced its roots back to. While there were small revisions to accommodate the various equipment changes, the only notable modification to the armor profile was changing the slope of the front glacis from 60º to 68º. The relatively weak protection would lead to composite armor being developed for the Type 80/88 series in the form of bolted add-on plates for the upper glacis.
The Type 88 would be improved as the Type 88B (WZ122E), which featured a new image-stabilized FCS, and the Type 88A (WZ122G), which further added a longer-barreled gun. These two designs would still be more or less out of date upon their introductions in 1995 and 1996, respectively. However, no suitable replacement was ready to enter service at the time.
In March 1985, the Ministry of Ordnance Industry held a meeting in Beijing to determine the future of Chinese export tanks, as the successful Type 69-II was soon to be discontinued. At the ‘8503’ meeting, it was decided to adapt the Type 80 tank, which was still in development, into China’s new export tank.
The Type 80-II (BW122) was the export variant of the Type 80 primarily for the Middle Eastern market, based largely on the Type 80-I. Compared to the base Type 80, it featured a number of internal changes, such as the addition of an air compressor, automatic cleaners for the driver’s periscopes, new radios, a new NBC system, improved night vision sights, and fans to cool the crew compartment. The most distinct visual change was the addition of slat armor around the turret, while it kept the smoke grenade arrangement of the Type 80. Compared to the Type 69-II, China’s previous export tank, it featured improvements in all areas. The new gun, fire-controls, engine, and optional composite armor made it a clear superior to the Type 69.
In 1987, it would be sent for trials in a “certain foreign country.” It is uncertain which country this is, although the two most likely candidates are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Despite decent performance in Chinese tests, it would not be seen favorably by its prospective customer. The tank encountered issues with the sandy and dusty environment, throwing its track on at least one occasion. Maintenance was also extremely lengthy, taking eight hours to remove, disassemble, and replace the engine, which was insufferably slow compared to the 30 to 60 minutes of the AMX 32, which was supposedly trialed by the same country at that time.
Around this time, Pakistan also began formally expressing an interest in a large-scale collaboration with China to develop its next two generations of main battle tanks. While Pakistan deemed the Type 80-II superior to its existing inventory (M48 Pattons, Type 59, and Type 69-II medium tanks), it was considered insufficient to combat India’s newly-acquired T-72M1s.
Rising Storm: The Type 85
With the Type 80-II failing to prove itself as a suitable replacement, China began constructing an improved variant of its premier export tank. The revised design would take shape as the Type 85 series, with the most prominent change being the replacement of the old T-54-style cast turret with a new mostly-welded turret featuring modular composite armor.
The new turret also saw the turret ring diameter enlarged to 2,100 mm and the inclusion of a bustle. Overall the turret would also be around 100 mm shorter than the cast dome of its predecessors, meaning it offered a lower profile while improving protection and ergonomics. It came with a new ISFCS-212 image-stabilized fire-control system, integrating day and night sights as well as a laser rangefinder into one system. The original Type 83 105 mm gun would be elongated by more than 800 mm to 6,195 mm long, or 59 calibers, offering higher muzzle velocities and improved penetration, as well as bypassing a trade agreement not to export L7 copies for the first 15 years after acquiring them. The new mount for the gun also allowed it to be removed through the front of the turret, the first for any Chinese tank. The turret was likely designed with larger caliber guns in mind, as development of 125 mm smoothbore guns had already begun by this time.
As the Type 85 was meant specifically for Pakistan, the tank’s heating system was removed and a hydraulic steering system was installed using the available space. A hydraulic oil tank for the steering system also replaced the rear internal diesel and oil tanks. Other features included an automatic cleaning system for the driver’s optics, which used pressurized air from an onboard air compressor to blast water across the vision blocks. This was not a technology used on domestic tanks at the time.
The first design to come out of the new project was the Type 85-I ‘Storm-1’ (风暴-1), possibly assigned the industrial designation WZ1227. It would be primarily focused on the installation of the new turret, placing it upon a modified Type 80 hull. It retained the same 5-speed transmission and 730 hp engine as the Type 80, but with a redesigned power coupling system for improved maintenance as it was a large drawback of the Type 80. The tank also featured an enlarged cooling fan, increasing the diameter from 760 mm to 780 mm. The rearrangement of internal equipment saw the engine deck raised by around 100 mm, giving it a distinct hump. There would be minor external changes as well, such as new fenders and external fuel tanks. A single prototype would be constructed by the end of 1987.
In 1989, its successor, the Type 85-II ‘Storm-2’ would be built, with the industrial designation WZ1227F2 or WZ1228, depending on the source. Focusing more on improving the somewhat limited mobility of the Type 80 series, the Type 85-II would introduce a new 800 hp engine, the 12150-800, based on the 12150L-series of engines found in previous Chinese MBTs. Furthermore, it would feature a new ZK03 semi-automatic hydraulic gearbox with six forward and one reverse gear, as well as substituting tillers for a steering wheel. This allowed the tank to reach a new top speed of 60 kmh. The new engine and transmission would result in the engine compartment being elongated by 135 mm, resulting in a more refined appearance compared to the Storm-1’s bulge. The new automotive equipment would also necessitate an improved cooling system, exchanging the single large-diameter fan for two 475 mm diameter fans. The various changes would add a decent amount to the tank’s weight, going from 39.5 tonnes on the Storm-1 to 41 tonnes on the Storm-2.
According to an interview with the chief designer, Fang Weixiang (方慰先), the tanks were also designed to mount explosive reactive armor (ERA) on the side hull. The ERA would be mounted on the sheet metal side skirts found on the front end of the tanks, which could also be found on other Chinese designs of the late 1980s and 1990s.
The Storm-2 in particular would be a significant step up over the Type 80-II. It had responded to all of the shortcomings of the Type 80 noted by Pakistan, improving firepower, mobility, protection, and more. Two examples of the tank would be sent to Pakistan for testing in 1990. Unfortunately, the Storm-2 would be plagued by gearbox issues, with it outright breaking several times during the trials. This massive failure as well as the still relatively inadequate firepower led to the tank being rejected, but with Pakistani interest remaining high.
In some sources, a vehicle known as the Type 85-IIA is mentioned, with two common but contradicting descriptions of what the vehicle is. In both cases, this vehicle is typically assigned the industrial designation WZ1228, although it is uncertain if it is a real designation.
One interpretation is that the Type 85-IIA is actually the Storm-2 while the Type 85-II is the Storm-1. This is largely based on the idea that Chinese export tanks are indexed with ‘-II’ (e.g. Type 69-II, Type 79-II, Type 90-II), and therefore the original Storm-1 should be the Type 85-II. However, this is known to be incorrect. Across multiple interviews with Fang Weixiang (方慰先), who was responsible for all Chinese export tanks of the era, he stated explicitly that the names Storm-1 and Storm-2 correlate with the Type 85-I and Type 85-II, respectively.
The second common interpretation is that the Type 85-IIA is the intermediate step between the Storm tanks and the Type 85-IIAP. It is typically described as having a 125 mm main gun and a revised turret, and sometimes with an extended hull. Whether or not this is true is largely unconfirmed. Prototypes of the Type 85-IIAP with older sensors, machine guns, and without hull composite armor appear to have been built, but whether or not they were actually called Type 85-IIA is not supported by any documentation or interviews. The name is likely derived from the assumption that the Type 85-IIAP must be a variant or derivative of a vehicle named Type 85-IIA.
The Romanian T-72
Shortly after Romania acquired a batch of 31 T-72s from the Soviet Union, China would also find out about this delivery and eventually obtain one of the vehicles, exchanging it for military aircraft. This vehicle would be delivered in 1979 or 1980 and be thoroughly examined and evaluated under the name ‘Type 64’. The primary contribution of the T-72 to China’s tank development at the time would be the gun and autoloader. In due time, the 125 mm smoothbore gun alongside the carousel autoloader would become the primary weapon for China’s new generation of tanks, replacing the old 120 mm smoothbore used in the 122 Project and surpassing the 105 mm rifled guns developed in the 1980s.
Despite the significance of the 125 mm gun, the composite armor it featured likely was less important to China’s tank development. On 7 October 1977, the ‘77107’ meeting was held, which sought to conduct research into the effectiveness of composite armor against contemporary Chinese anti-tank weapons. The result of the 77107 Campaign would be ‘681’ composite armor, which would be further developed into ‘683’ composite armor and used on the Type 80, 88, and 96. Seeing as the 77107 Campaign predates the delivery of the T-72 by at least two years, the design of Chinese composite armor during this period could not have been based directly on the T-72’s, which is evident in their structural differences.
Although the T-72 would only lend its firepower to the tanks of the Type 85/96 family, its overall design would serve as the basis for China’s third generation main battle tank, the Type 99.
Domesticated Export: Type 85-IIAP and Type 85-IIM
China would continue development of the Type 85 series to make them competitive with the latest second generation tanks of the time. Over the next two years, the Storm design would be adapted to fit the 125 mm Type 85-II smoothbore tank gun along with a carousel autoloader derived from the Romanian T-72 The turret would be modified to accommodate the larger gun and reduced crew, although the overall shape and protection remained unchanged. The organization of the fighting compartment was also changed to accommodate the new autoloader and ammunition placement.
In place of the optional composite add-on plate used by the Type 80 and Type 88, the new tank received an integrated composite armor array on the upper glacis. This array was most likely the same composition, known as ‘683’ composite armor, thus offering no tangible improvement to protection (see Layout & Design#Armor Protection for more details). The armor was designed to be resistant to 105 mm Type 83 APFSDS (armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) rounds, equivalent to M111 (Israel) or DM 23 (Germany), and the 110 mm 505-83 standard shaped charge warhead, used specifically for armor testing.
Despite overall upgrades to the tank, essentially all the automotive improvements of the Storm-2 had to be reverted as the catastrophic reliability and complexity issues experienced by the powertrain were too great to ignore. The associated equipment, such as the steering wheel, were also removed, leaving the original 730 hp engine and 5-speed transmission to power a 41-tonne tank. However, this change was accepted by Pakistan in the short-term, with the goal of a 1,000 hp engine replacing it in the future.
In June 1991, the first prototype was subjected to preliminary testing, and from July to October, it would be trialed in Pakistan. The design was ultimately accepted, but it was far from being without fault. The early vehicles were plagued with issues, such as turbochargers overheating and catching fire, as well as malfunctions in the autoloader, laser rangefinder, and fire-control system. It was agreed that the manufacturer would make incremental improvements and fixes to the tanks throughout production.
The first batch of the new Type 85-IIAP would be ready by the end of 1991 and the first 200 vehicles would be delivered in 1992, as per a contract signed in 1990. An additional contract signed in 1994 would see a further 50 kits delivered, as well as the construction of 25 vehicles at Pakistan’s own Taxila plant.
Despite the agreement to resolve the many technical issues encountered with the prototype and early production vehicles, problems with engine overheating and autoloader failures were still common even later into production. Much of this was due to China’s lack of experience designing tanks for hot desert environments and poor manufacturing tolerances on the new autoloader technology.
The Type 85-IIAP saw other design changes over the course of its production, including different mounts for the machine gun and two different types of commander’s periscope. Some vehicles were constructed with a raised engine deck, giving the tank a slight hump. The exact timeline of these changes is not known with certainty.
The Type 85-IIM would be China’s domestic development on the basis of later-model Type 85-IIAPs. It is unclear if there are any notable differences between the two tanks—some sources state that they are two names for the same vehicle, while others claim that the turret composite armor was upgraded, although this is likely not the case. The Type 85-IIM would be exported to Uganda and Sudan, known locally as ‘Al-Bashir’ to the latter. They would notably see success fighting against South Sudanese T-72AVs in the 2012 Heglig Crisis, destroying 4 tanks for no losses of their own.
Typically, the industrial designations BW122C and BW122D are given to the Type 85-IIAP or Type 85-IIM. While it would make sense that each designation is attributed to each vehicle, there are also claims that the BW122C applies to earlier-production Type 85-IIAPs, while BW122D applies to later Type 85-IIAPs as well as Type 85-IIMs.
Adoption by the PLA
At the time of its creation, the Type 85-IIM was the best tank China had in serial production, and, as a result, it would be selected for domestic service in 1995. The Type 85-IIM would become known as the Type 88C (or ZTZ88C) locally—industrial designation WZ122H—although with a few minor changes. The most significant change between the models was the introduction of an improved gun constructed from higher-strength materials and with a fully chromed barrel. As with the Type 85-IIAP and Type 85-IIM, there is some speculation that the make-up of the composite armor in the turret was also improved, but the validity of this claim is uncertain. Other changes were largely focused on modifying the export tank to meet domestic military standards, such as the inclusion of a heating system.
Externally, the Type 88C is nearly identical to the Type 85-IIM and later-production Type 85-IIAPs. Besides some of the details mentioned previously for the Type 85-IIAP, the only other difference that may exist is the lack of a cylindrical housing to store the crosswind sensor, although on most examples it is present.
The Type 88C would be completed and finalized by the end of 1996. Prior to the tank’s inauguration, the Type 88C would be renamed ZTZ96, or Type 96, and adopted for service in 1997. It would then be publicly unveiled during the 1999 National Day of the People’s Republic of China, celebrating the country’s 50th anniversary.
Layout & Design
The design of the hull is relatively simple and straightforward, retaining much of its T-54 heritage. It is of welded construction with a well-sloped upper and lower glacis. The sides are flat except for a small bulge to allow for the turret ring, while the rear plate is slightly sloped with a beveled corner at the top where it connects to the engine deck plate. The hull floor has a shallow “U” shape with bulges for the torsion bars. The side plate behind the idler wheel is also recessed, although it is not clear if the armor is thinner or if the plate is simply set inwards. On the left side of the lower hull, behind the second return roller and above the fourth road wheel, there is a small circular exhaust port for the heater.
The upper front glacis features an array of composite armor and has headlights and a splashboard mounted on top, while the lower glacis has two towing/lifting shackles. The driver sits to the hull’s left side and has two optics. A compressed air hose threaded through the roof is connected to both vision blocks and combines with a hose linked to the water tank on the left fender to serve as the automatic cleaning device for the periscopes. The hatch, much like on the T-54, is hinged on the rear left corner and swings on a horizontal pivot.
The left fenders have external fuel tanks with a total capacity of 410 L mounted along the length of the entire vehicle, while the right fenders feature stowage boxes and the exhaust system towards the rear. The front of each stowage arrangement has an amber turn signal and green-white convoy light, while the rear has the same lights along with a red brake light. On the front left fender, immediately behind the convoy light and turn signal, there is a narrow rectangular water tank used for the driver’s optic cleaning system. In some photos, an additional rectangular fuel tank can be seen attached on top of the rear left fender fuel tank.
The front fenders each have a rubber mud flap and are capable of folding upwards to allow access to the track and idler wheel. A pin system to lock the folding piece is attached to the sloped structure on each side. A horn is placed above the right rear fender.
There are five pentagonal rubber side skirts mounted along the length of the hull, as well as two smaller ones at each end of the vehicle. Each of the five main panels has a rectangular hole to be used as a step to get on top of the tank. The rear of the tank has mounts for two large oil drums and straps to attach an unditching beam below them. There are also mounting points for two spare track links on the rear plate, as well as clamps for a steel cable.
The engine is oriented transversely in the rear of the tank, directly behind the turret ring, and is separated from the crew compartment by an armored bulkhead. The turbochargers and exhaust pipes exit to the right, with an air filter placed between them. Also to the engine’s right side is a flexible coupling and gearbox that connect it to the main clutch. The remainder of the drivetrain, including the final drives and steering, are placed behind the engine on the floor of the hull. In the rear left, there are oil and hydraulic fluid tanks, while in the rear right, there is a large fan for the air filter, which creates a small semi-circular bulge in the lower rear hull plate. Other equipment in the rear of the engine compartment include an automatic voltage regulator, hydraulic booster pumps, an oil-water separator, an air compressor, and more. On top of all this equipment lie two radiators: a small oil radiator on the left and a large water radiator spanning the remaining width of the vehicle.
The engine deck has four main sets of grilles and shutters, with two narrower openings to the rear and two larger openings towards the front. The narrower grilles are for exhaust, while the front grilles are intakes for the radiators. The right rear grille, which is directly above the air filter, also has an armored hatch which can be closed on top of it, although it is usually left unfolded to the rear. The entire armor plate which contains the grilles can be folded upwards, with the hinge to the front of the vehicle. There are also three hatches, all different sizes, further forward than the grilles. They can each be opened independently or the plate can be removed entirely to allow better access to the engine.
On the underside of the hull, there is one large hatch and a bolted panel, as well as a series of bulges in the armor for the torsion bars and other equipment. Towards the front left, between the torsion bars for the second and third road wheels, there is a large rectangular hatch, likely an escape hatch for the crew. On the rear left, there is a large rounded panel bolted to the bottom of the tank, possibly to access the transmission or the oil and hydraulic fluid tanks. There are also a few other small panels underneath the engine and transmission.
The ZTZ96 is equipped with a four-stroke, water-cooled, turbocharged, direct-injection, 12-cylinder 12150ZLC diesel engine, a distant derivative of the ancient Soviet V-2 diesel. The engine is officially rated at 720 hp at 2,000 rpm, although the majority of sources state that it reaches up to 730 hp.
|12150ZLC Engine for ZTZ96 MBT|
|Dimensions||1,737 x 844 x 910 mm|
|Cylinders||V12 (60 deg.)|
|Rated horsepower||720 hp (536.7 kW)|
|Max. Torque||2,992 ± 98 N⋅m at 1,300-1,400 rpm|
|Min. / Max. rpm||500 / 2,250|
|Fuel Consumption (at rated power)||234 g/kWh (147.750 L/h)|
|Oil Consumption (at rated power)||2 g/kWh (1.263 L/h)|
|Engine life||350 hours|
Compared to older engine designs, it features a new 125JB turbocharger, filtered exhaust system, revised intake system, a stronger crankshaft, and is made from materials with a lower coefficient of thermal expansion and higher material strength, namely M124 aluminum alloy. The engine also includes a heating system for starting in temperatures of less than 5º Celsius.
The 12150ZLC engine is derived from the older 12150L-series engine, which itself was a copy of the Soviet V-54 engine fitted in the T-54. The 12150L originally developed 520 hp and was uprated to 580 hp for usage in the Type 69 medium tank as the 12150L-7.
Development of the 730 hp turbocharged engine commenced in 1973, although it was initially plagued with problems. These issues included fitting the engine into the tank, the extraction of exhaust fumes, issues with fording operations, excessive exhaust temperatures, and a lack of structural strength. These would largely be resolved by 1986 as the engine, in the form of the 12150ZL, was installed on the Type 88 main battle tank.
Fuel & Oil System
The tank is equipped with five internal fuel tanks and four external fuel tanks. All of the external storage is linked to the central fuel system, meaning the crew does not have to exit the vehicle to use them. Three of the primary fuel tanks are stored in the front hull, while the other two are placed around the edge of the ammunition carousel, also serving as wet ammunition racks for 14 propellant charges. The total capacity is 1,641 L, divided as follows—front right: 148 L; front center: 267 L; center right: 207 L; front ammunition rack: 95 L; rear ammunition rack: 114 L; external tanks: 410 L total.
Two 200 L oil drums can also be stored on the rear hull. They can be connected to the central oil system via two small openings in the top of the rear hull plate.
The ZTZ96 is fitted with a mechanical synchromesh transmission which uses tillers for steering. It has five forward gears and one reverse gear, allowing the vehicle to achieve a top speed of 57 km/h forward or around 9 km/h in reverse. The second gear is equipped with a simple synchronizer, while the third, fourth, and fifth gears have inertial synchronizers. The gearbox has a constant ratio of 0.7, meaning the input from the engine is reduced before it reaches the main clutch.
|Gear Number||Gear Ratio||Max. Speed|
The driver controls the clutch via a hydraulically assisted foot pedal at the front of the tank. A manual gear shifter is also used to change gears, both of which are linked to the transmission along the floor of the vehicle.
The tracks are driven each by a 13-tooth sprocket wheel.
Suspension and Wheels
The tank is supported by six pairs of 670 mm-diameter rubber-tired road wheels suspended using a torsion bar system. Each road wheel has an internal friction shock absorber attached to the swing arm, while the first, second, and sixth sets of road wheels have elastic bump stops installed. The sixth (last) road wheel on each side also has its swing arm and shock absorber reversed.
Each wheel has one torsion bar associated with it, running across the entire width of the hull. Each bar is 2,075 mm long and has splines 68.75 mm thick on the fixed end and 66.25 mm thick on the rotating end. The thicker spline is also longer, being 46 mm versus 34 mm for the thinner spline. The first, second, and sixth set of torsion bars are reinforced, being 54 mm thick along their length rather than the 48 mm of the rest. Due to the configuration of the torsion bars, the wheels on each side are offset by 115 mm, with the right side leading and left side trailing.
The road wheels are not evenly spaced, being grouped closer together towards the rear. Despite this, the rearmost pair of torsion bars are still the most susceptible to failure from common wear and tear, as much of the tank’s weight is located in the rear.
The idler wheel is placed at the front of the tank while the drive sprocket is at the rear. There are three return rollers per side, with the front and back rollers being on the inside of the guide horns and the middle roller being on the outside. Ninety-eight single-pin track links are used per side with a single center guide horn. Both rubber-padded and full-steel tracks can be used, although the rubber-padded tracks are only used when driving on paved roads.
The turret is octagonally shaped, including two large composite armor modules on the cheeks. It is constructed from various cast and rolled armor elements, all of which are welded together. The cast portions are found in the trunnion mount, parts of the turret roof, and possibly the underside of the turret bustle, while the side armor, the turret cheeks, and most of the turret roof are made from flat plates of rolled armor.
The trunnion mount is cast as one piece, and includes a hole in the right cheek for a machine gun port. It is not attached directly to the composite armor in the turret cheeks. The machine gun port has a small housing placed over it with screw holes to allow it to be made watertight.
The turret roof is constructed from five main pieces: three welded plates and two cast ‘cupolas’ upon which the hatches are placed. The front of the roof (behind the composite armor) is made of two pieces, the left half having a cutout for the main gun sight. The two cast ‘cupola’ segments are elevated slightly above the rest of the turret and also welded together in the center. Both the gunner and commander’s hatches are placed on each of these plates, while the hatch for the shell ejection system is placed centrally behind them. A small circular plug is often found between the two hatches, the purpose of which is unknown. The rear roof of the turret is a single flat piece of armor. It has various holes for mounting some of the external equipment, such as the crosswind sensor and antenna.
The rear sides of the turret are fitted with slat armor that doubles as a stowage rack. The racks are anchored to the turret right behind the smoke grenades and to a large box on the rear of the turret that contains the ventilator fan. The snorkel tubes are mounted on the back of that box. Typically, jerrycans are stored in the right side stowage racks, while the left has a tarpaulin, although this varies in service. A toolbox is stored on the left rear turret side, within the slat armor.
In more recent years, a new stowage arrangement has been introduced to a large number of tanks. In this new configuration, there are two toolboxes installed on the outsides of each rack, while an additional narrow box is placed horizontally below the fording tube. A third box is sometimes mounted on the right rack, while other times it is fitted on the rear to the left of the fording tube. Other racks for stowing equipment also appear occasionally, but they do not appear to be standardized.
The crosswind sensor is mounted on the left rear of the turret, atop the bustle, and can be folded forward into a small metal cover for protection. The radio antenna is typically mounted on the right rear, with a second mount on the left, behind the gunner’s hatch, which is likely used only by command vehicles. A number indicator and additional convoy light are fitted behind the commander facing the rear. There are three lifting rings, two on the back of the turret and one over the gun trunnion.
The turret ring has an internal diameter of 1,915 mm and an external diameter of 2,100 mm and is powered by an electrical traverse system. If needed, a manual traverse gear can also be used. The traverse rate of the turret ranges between 0.04º and 30º per second, while the gun elevation rate is between 0.04º and 6º per second.
The hatches for the commander and gunner are placed side-by-side, with the gunner seated to the left of the gun and the commander to the right. The commander’s hatch can rotate 360º with the primary periscope on one side and an anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on the other. The hatch opens towards the optic, which is usually facing forward. The gunner’s hatch also opens forward.
The ZTZ96 was the first tank in Chinese service to feature integrated composite armor, as none of its predecessors in the Type 85 family were adopted by the PLA. However, despite the close relationship between the ZTZ96 and Type 85-IIAP/M as well as the Type 80/88, there is uncertainty and debate around the similarities of their respective composite armor arrays.
One claim that often circulates is that the turret armor of the Type 96 is not the same as the Type 85-IIAP/M that came before it (according to others, the change occurred between the Type 85-IIAP and Type 85-IIM). In the biography of Zhu Yusheng (祝榆生), chief designer of the Type 99, it is stated that the Type 85-IIAP and Type 96 use the same second generation turret composite armor, likely referring to 682-2 composite armor. According to that account, it was originally prepared in 1987 and installed in the Type 85-IIAP in 1992 and the Type 90-II the following year. However, due to the fact that 682-2 is still quoted in GJB 4083-2000, which was written in 2000, some believe that Zhu may have mistakenly overlooked a first-generation turret composite (perhaps 682-1, although this name is only hypothetical) that was installed in the Type 85-IIAP but replaced in the Type 96. Regardless of its origins, the 682-2 array is likely to be the composite armor used in the turret of the Type 96.
The hull armor of the Type 96 is also debated. It is likely that the 683 composite array described in GJB 4083-2000 is the armor used by the Type 80/88 family, as it includes a 100 mm back plate, which is the same thickness as the base armor of the Type 80/88. It is thus proposed that the Type 96 (and/or Type 85-IIAP/M), with its integrated composite armor, would no longer be limited by a 100 mm thick back plate, and would therefore have a proper composite array designed specifically for it. However, this is as of yet unconfirmed, and the array’s presence in a standard published in the year 2000 could indicate that the design was still considered up-to-date, and therefore would be installed on new vehicles such as the Type 96.
Although there is uncertainty as to which specific arrays may have been used on the Type 96, the following data about 682-2 and 683 are taken directly from the document GJB 4083-2000.
The 683 composite hull armor is a 5-layer ‘sandwich’ of armored steel, air, and fiberglass materials. The outermost layer is a 20 mm thick plate of rolled homogeneous armor (RHA), followed by a 50 mm thick composite array composed primarily of fiberglass materials. This is backed by another 15 mm armored plate and a 15 mm air gap, which is supported by mild steel spacers. The innermost plate is 100 mm thick, while the entire array is sloped back at 68º from vertical. This is capable of stopping at least 2 direct hits from 105 mm Type 83 APFSDS, which is capable of penetrating 400 mm of armor at a range of 150-200 m. It is also capable of stopping 3-4 hits from the 110 mm 505-83 standard shaped-charge warhead, which can penetrate 480-530 mm of armor.
Based on visual estimates, the lower glacis is at most 75 mm thick, although likely thinner. The plate is also less sloped than the upper glacis, being around 50º from vertical. There is no composite armor behind it.
The turret composite array is more complex than the hull’s, involving a combination of various flat and angled plates in a similar fashion to early M1 Abrams models. The outermost layer is once again composed of 20 mm of RHA. The next layer is a series of 20 mm thick RHA plates sloped at an angle to the main body of the armor, spaced 20 mm apart by mild steel spacers. This is backed by a 10 mm thick aluminum alloy plate followed by a 45 mm RHA plate. Behind this are three 50 mm-thick layers of fiberglass composite, followed by a 50 mm RHA plate, forming the back of the removable composite module. The turret itself has an additional 20 mm plate that is behind the entire composite block. This armor is capable of stopping at least 2-3 hits from 105 mm Type 83 APFSDS and 2-3 hits from the 505-83 shaped-charge warhead.
The gun mantlet and trunnion are made from large cast portions, around 300 to 400 mm thick based on visual estimation. Armor thickness values on the side, rear, floor, and roof are not known with certainty. According to some sources and visual estimates, the side armor of the hull may be up to 50 mm thick, although this is an optimistic estimate. The side armor of the turret near the smoke grenades may be upwards of 80 mm thick, while the rest of the turret is much thinner. The stowage baskets on the rear sides of the turret also double as slat armor. However, without any sort of composite armor or ERA to supplement it, this makes the ZTZ96’s sides some of the least protected among all modern MBTs.
Due to the presence of an autoloader, the ZTZ96 only has a crew of three—a driver, a commander, and a gunner. While the commander and gunner are seated in the turret, as in the T-72, the driver remains seated on the left, a distant remnant of the tank’s T-54 heritage. Due to the relatively compact nature of the tank, the interior is not particularly roomy, with equipment occupying every available corner of the tank.
Like on the T-54, the driver is seated to the front left of the hull. They have access to two periscopes, with one facing directly forward and the other angled towards the front right. The accelerator and brake pedals are to the front of the driver, with two steering tillers to the side of each leg. A manual gear shifter is placed to the right of the seat.
To the driver’s left, there is a small 3-instrument group attached to the roof, which likely contains the combined speedometer-odometer, tachometer, and the thermometer. Other indicators, such as the oil pressure gauge, voltage meter, and more, are located on other panels, mostly on the wall to the driver’s right. To the driver’s front, the radiation exposure alarm and azimuth indicator are typically mounted on the underside of the front glacis. A small fan is also seen to the front right of the driver. The console on the right wall contains the electrical breaker panel for the hull, while the main switchboard is in the compartment behind the wall. At the right of the driver’s feet, there are two pressurized air tanks which are linked to the periscope cleaning system as well as the engine. The driver has a switch with which to control the flow of air. Also on the right, there is a distribution switch for diesel fuel, while to the rear right is the primary fuel filter. On the left wall, there is a box with flashing lights for the NBC alarm system.
The gunner sits in the turret, to the left of the main. The primary gun sight is placed directly in front of them and is connected to the gun cradle by a four-bar linkage. They control the turret with a yoke with two handles, similar to those found on most Soviet tanks, which allows them to select ammunition and fire the gun. The motor for the turret traverse is placed directly ahead of the yoke, while the systems for gun elevation are to the right. There are also backup hand cranks for both gun elevation and traverse. On the hatch above the gunner, there is a single periscope angled to the left. During fording operations, a funnel is placed atop a special port in the hatch.
The primary fire-control computer is located on the turret wall directly to the left of the gunner as well as the breaker panel for the turret. On the roof, to the gunner’s left, a sensor for the automatic fire extinguishing system can be seen. A second sensor is placed on the roof between the gunner and commander’s hatches, positioned slightly to the rear. One of the Halon fire extinguishers is placed vertically behind the gunner’s seat, below the turret ring.
The tank’s commander is seated on the right side of the turret, opposite the gunner. They have access to five periscopes: four unmagnified periscopes aimed to the sides and one forward-facing periscope with magnification and day-night sights. Two hand grips, used to rotate the cupola, stick down to either side of the primary periscope. The hatch also has the QJC88A heavy machine gun mounted on the opposite side from the periscope. The coaxial Type 86 machine gun is also ahead of them, although it is fired electrically by the gunner.
The ISFCS-212 fire-control system on the Type 96 allows the commander to override the gunner in horizontal and vertical traverse using a button on the periscope assembly. It is unclear if the Type 96 also allows the commander to fire the gun or select ammunition. In addition, there are control panels for most of the tank’s internal systems on the right and rear turret wall. To the front right, there is an AM-5088 Radio Frequency Power Amplifier (AM-5088射频放大器) and the control box for the TCR-96 Radio (TCR-96电台). Behind them is the control panel for the T81A Phosphorus Chemical Alarm (T81A型含磷毒剂报警器) system. On the right wall of the turret, there is an octagonal control panel for the electrically-fired grenade launchers. To the rear right, there is a control panel for the Type 85 Automatic Fire Extinguishing and Explosion Suppression System (85式自动灭火抑爆装置). A JKH Relay Control Box (JKH型继电控制盒) is placed on the roof directly behind the commander’s head.
A sensor for the automatic fire extinguishers is placed on the inside of the bulge in the turret roof to the commander’s right, while one of the Halon fire extinguishers is placed to the rear right, partway into the turret bustle.
The ZTZ96 is armed with a smoothbore Type 88C 125 mm Tank Gun (88C-125毫米坦克炮). It is based on the older Type 85-II 125 mm Tank Gun, which itself is a close copy of the 2A46 found on the T-72. The main improvement of the Type 88C over the previous model is its increased durability and chromed barrel.
The 48-caliber (6,000 mm) long gun barrel is constructed from high-strength gun steel and features a fully chromed inner bore. A bore evacuator is placed midway along the length of the barrel with eight vent holes connecting the barrel to the air chamber. A five-segmented thermal sheath consisting of two aluminum plates sandwiching a non-metallic interior is placed along the length of the barrel, which can be removed if needed. The thermal sheath reduces warping of the barrel caused by temperature changes, which can affect the gun’s durability and accuracy.
The gun is stabilized in two planes and has elevation angles of -6.5º to +14º, which can be elevated by either an electric motor or the gunner turning a hand crank. The gun is equipped with a semi-automatic breech block with an extraction system for shell casings. The spent casings are grabbed by a mechanical arm and ejected through a hatch in the roof of the turret. Typically the gun is fired electrically via a button on the gunner’s control yoke, but it can also be manually fired if needed. A recoil guard also surrounds the gun breech to prevent injury to the commander and gunner while firing.
The recoil system consists of a recoil brake and hydraulic recuperator mounted side-by-side below the gun breech. On the right, the brake consists of a cylinder filled with fluid and a piston with oblique holes. When the gun is fired, the piston is pushed through the fluid, which resists its movement, and reduces the force of the recoil. The hydraulic recuperator is mounted on the left and consists of two concentric cylinders with a piston within the inner cylinder. When the gun is fired, the piston is pushed backwards, displacing the hydraulic fluid within. It exits the inner cylinder through holes at the opposite end and is forced into the outer cylinder. This increases the hydraulic pressure, which eventually pushes the piston back and resets the recoil system. The recoil length is typically 270-320 mm, with a maximum length of 340 mm.
The gun has a minimum barrel life of 500 rounds when firing APFSDS, HEAT-FS, and HE-FS in a 4:3:3 ratio. The theoretical maximum range is around 9,400 m, although the practical accurate range is around 2,200 m.
The Type 88C is capable of firing all types of Chinese 125 mm APFSDS, HEAT-FS, and HE-FS and is likely compatible with most other types of 125 mm smoothbore ammunition. The DTW-125 and DTC10-125 shells are the primary APFSDS rounds used by the PLA, as far as photographic evidence goes. The older and weaker 125-I and 125-II M were likely export-only types as there appears to be no documentation of a service name.
The HEAT-FS options include DTP-125 and DTP10-125, while high explosive rounds include the older DTB-125 and more recent DTB12-125. The DTD10-125 anti-fortification shell also exists, although it has not been seen in use with the ZTZ96 specifically. Some websites also claim the tank is capable of firing the GP125 (or GP7) ATGM, although this is not confirmed by reputable sources. It is uncertain if the tank’s fire control system contains proper equipment to guide the laser beam-riding missile.
Chinese 125 mm Smoothbore Gun Ammunition (Armor-Piercing)
|Name||Type||Muzzle Velocity||Complete Round Length||Complete Round Mass||Projectile Length||Projectile Mass||Armor Penetration at 2 km|
|125-I*||APFSDS||1,730 m/s||1084-1086 mm||21.47 kg||554-555 mm
672-678 mm (with secondary charge)
|7.34-7.37 kg (with sabot)||220 mm/61.65°
|125-II M*||APFSDS||1,700 m/s||1088 mm||22.6 kg||680 mm (with secondary charge)||11.8 kg (with secondary charge)||220 mm/66.4°|
|APFSDS||1,740 m/s||1088 mm||21.36-22.6 kg||680 mm (with secondary charge)||7.44 kg (with sabot)||220 mm/68.5°
|APFSDS||1,760 m/s||–||–||–||–||220 mm/71.12°
|HEAT-FS||905 m/s||–||–||675-678 mm||18.5 kg||180 mm/68°|
|GP125 (GP7)||ATGM (Tandem)||–||–||–||690 mm||19 kg||240 mm/60° w/ ERA|
Chinese 125 mm Smoothbore Gun Ammunition (HE & Anti-Fortification)
|Name||Type||Muzzle Velocity||Complete Round Length||Complete Round Mass||Projectile Length||Projectile Mass||Explosive Mass (TNT)|
|HE-F-FS||850 m/s||1106 mm||34 kg||676 mm||23.2 kg||3.051 kg|
* Export model/export name
The ZTZ96 utilizes an automatic loader placed directly underneath the turret. It is a 22-round carousel which uses the same design as the T-72’s AZ-172 autoloader, with the warhead stacked horizontally over the propellant. To load a shell, the carousel will rotate to the selected shell type, elevate the rack, push the projectile into the breech, elevate the rack again, push the propellant in, and then retract. In order to load the gun, it must be elevated and secured at exactly 4.5º elevation. The autoloader provides a rate of fire of 6-8 rounds per minute (7.5-10 seconds per round) depending on the conditions. The loader is limited to a 15º incline in any direction and 15-25 km/h over undulating terrain. Spent shell casings are automatically ejected through a port on the rear roof of the turret.
The tank can store a total of 40 rounds of ammunition. In addition to the 22 in the autoloader, fourteen propellant charges are stored in fuel tank ‘wet racks’ surrounding the autoloader—eight in the rear and six in the front—as well as four additional charges in the fighting compartment—one under the gunner’s seat, one under the commander’s seat, and two stored vertically behind the commander, next to the autoloader’s elevation system.
As for the warheads, five are placed horizontally above the hull fuel tanks, to the right of the driver, one is placed vertically behind the gunner, next to the autoloader’s elevation system, and two are placed behind the commander, alongside the aforementioned propellant charges. A further two are mounted horizontally on the rear right wall of the fighting compartment, while two groups of three are mounted horizontally against the rear bulkhead, beyond the turret ring. The location of the remaining two projectiles is unknown.
A single Type 86 7.62 mm Coaxial Machine Gun (86式7.62毫米并列机枪) is mounted to right of the main gun. The Type 86 has access to 2,500 rounds in 250-round belts, composed of Type 53 Steel-core Bullets (53式7.62毫米钢心弹) and Type 53 Tracer Bullets (53式7.62毫米曳光弹). The gun is chambered in 7.62x54mmR and fires the same ammunition many earlier Chinese machine guns, including the Type 59 7.62 mm Machine Gun (a version of the SGMT). It has a rate of fire of 250 rpm, muzzle velocity of 830 m/s, a barrel life of 25,000 rounds, and an effective range of 1,000 m. The gun has its original manual trigger and stock removed and is fired electrically by the gunner. The Type 86 is a variant of the Type 80 7.62 mm Machine Gun, a derivative of the Soviet PK machine gun.
A QJC88A 12.7 mm Vehicle-Mounted Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun (QJC88A式12.7mm车载高射机枪) is placed on the rear of the commander’s cupola for anti-aircraft use. It has a rate of fire of 80-100 rpm and maximum ranges of 1,600 m and 3,500 m against air and ground targets, respectively. The QJC88A has elevation angles of -6 to +85º and can be rotated 360º on its mount in addition to the cupola’s rotation. The gun is chambered in 12.7x108mm and shares ammunition with the older Type 54 12.7 mm Machine Gun, utilizing Type 54 Armor-Piercing Incendiary Tracer Bullets (54式12.7毫米穿甲燃烧曳光弹), and Type 54 Armor-Piercing Incendiary Bullets (54式12.7毫米穿甲燃烧弹), the latter having a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s. It can also fire Type 54-1 Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot Bullets (54-1式12.7毫米穿甲脱壳弹), with a muzzle velocity of 1,150 m/s. It has access to 300 rounds total, split into two 150-round belts.
The ISFCS-212 fire-control system consists of a computer, control box, crosswind sensor, elevation sensor, various velocity and acceleration sensors, gunner’s sight, gunner’s controls, turret drive, azimuth indicator, gun stabilizer, and other electronic systems. The ballistic computer allows the tank to quickly and efficiently input range, azimuth, and other data to allow the tank to accurately shoot on the move, with a fully stabilized gun and gunner’s sight. The majority of this equipment is shared with the ZTZ88A and B models as well. In addition, the ISFCS-212 allows the commander to override the traverse and elevation controls for the gun. It is unclear if the commander can also fire the main gun or select ammunition.
|While stationary||2,400 m||1,850 m||1,650 m|
|From stop to moving||2,400 m||1,850 m||1,650 m|
|On the move||2,000 m||1,600 m||1,500 m|
Maximum range with 50% hit probability during daytime in a controlled testing environment using image-stabilized mode. Data from Research on Firepower Application of Type 96 Tank Team in Island and Mountain Offensive Combat.
|From stop to moving||90%||85%||85%|
|On the move||80%||75%||75%|
Hit probability of a target at 1,000 m in a controlled testing environment at night using image-stabilized mode. Data from Research on Firepower Application of Type 96 Tank Team in Island and Mountain Offensive Combat.
The main gun sight is the Type 96 Gunner Stabilized Image Day and Night Sight (96式炮长稳像昼夜瞄准镜). It has a 6x magnification with a field of view of 8º using day sights and 7x magnification and 6º field of view during night. For night fighting, the gunner only has access to image intensification. Thermal viewers were not fully developed at the time and would not appear until the ZTZ96A in 2005. The gun sight has integrated day/night channels, a laser rangefinder, automatic target tracking, and is linked to the fire-control computer as part of the fire-control system. An additional unmagnified periscope is integrated in the left side of the gun’s sight.
The whole sight assembly is connected to the gun cradle via a four-bar linkage, elevating and depressing with the gun. On the outside, the optics are placed in a small armored housing which is itself within a thin metal box. The housing also includes a metal flap that can be closed to protect the gun sight during travel.
The left eyepiece of the gunner’s sight is a “false” eyepiece and houses the BS338 display, which contains information such as distance to target, type of ammunition, reload status, and other data provided by the fire-control computer. The right eyepiece is used to see outside the vehicle, using a system of mirrors to direct light through the periscopic sight.
The commander has access to four non-magnified periscopes and a single magnified periscope mounted on a rotating hatch. It has access to both day and night sights, with the night sight being a simple image intensifier. The day sight has 1x and 5x magnification options with a field of view of 7.5º to 16º. The night sight has a fixed 7.2x magnification and a field of view of 7.5º.
The driver is equipped with two periscopes, one looking forward and one angled slightly to the right. The optics have image intensification for night driving as well as automatic cleaners which use pressurized air mixed with water. They do not have any magnification.
Smoke System & Grenade Launchers
Aside from the main gun and machine guns, the ZTZ96 also features a total of 12 launchers for smoke and fragmentation grenades. The launchers are mounted on the outside of the turret and are in groups of two and four launchers.
Each side of the turret is equipped with six Type 85-I 76 mm Grenade Launchers (85-I式76毫米烟幕发射装置), capable of mounting both smoke and shrapnel grenades. The DTF85 76 mm Smoke Grenades (DTF85式76毫米烟幕弹) have a range of 100 ± 10 m and are capable of bursting in the air above the ground. The smoke screen ranges from 50-100 m wide and can last up to two minutes before dissipating. The DTG-76-1 Anti-Personnel Shrapnel Grenades (DTG 76毫米榴霰弹) have a range of 120 m and also airburst. Out of each set of six grenade launchers, four are reserved for smoke grenades and two for shrapnel grenades.
All the launchers are angled upwards between 22º and 28º. The smoke grenade launchers are angled 4º to 6º outward, while the shrapnel grenade launchers are pointed straight ahead. Although the launch tubes are interchangeable, the projectiles should not be switched around between them as dictated by standard operating procedure.
The engine is also capable of generating smoke screens by injecting diesel directly into the exhaust, creating a large white plume of smoke.
To facilitate its many on-board electronics, the ZTZ96 is equipped with batteries, generators, and other implements to safely deliver electrical power around the vehicle.
The ZTZ96 has four Type 86 6-TKA-180 Battery (86式 6-TKA-180蓄电池) units. Each battery unit contains six 2 Volt batteries in series, while the battery units are connected in parallel groups of two, which are then connected in series, doubling the voltage and capacity. Each individual battery unit has a voltage of 12 V and a capacity of 180 Ampere-hours (648,000 Coulombs) while the combined assembly has a voltage of 24 V and a capacity of 360 A⋅h (1,296,000 C).
Electrical power is generated by a WGFT110K Brushless Silicon Rectifier Generator (WGFT10K 无刷硅整流发电机) installed on the left side of the crankcase. It uses power directly from the crankshaft to generate electricity and has a rated voltage of 28 V, rated current of 357 A, and rated power of 10 kW.
The final component of the power supply system is the LTD6 Voltage Regulator (LTD6电压调节器). It regulates the voltage to a range of 28 ± 2 V, while its overvoltage protection is triggered by an instantaneous increase to 38-40 V or by a continuous, lower overvoltage fault of 30.5-32 V.
The tank is also equipped with an electrical starting motor. With just the push of a button, the QD24-15T Coaxial Starter Motor (QD24-15T型同轴式起动电动机) will be turned on and begin turning the crankshaft. Once the main engine has been started, the motor will be disengaged and shut down by the QKH-2 Starter Control Box (QKH-2起动控制盒). The motor has a rated power of 11 kW, a voltage of 24 V, and a maximum torque of 38 N⋅m.
Type 80 Automatic Fire Extinguishing System
Both the engine and crew compartments of the ZTZ96 are protected by the Type 80 Automatic Fire Extinguishing System (80式自动灭火装置). The system consists of eight LEH1 Flame Sensors (LEH1型火焰感受器), an LKM1 Automatic Fire Extinguishing Control Box (LKM1型自动灭火控制), alarm bells, a JKH Relay Control Box (JKH型继电控制盒), three MLG21A Fire Extinguisher Canisters (MLG21A 型灭火瓶), an engine shutdown system, fans, wires, tubing, and other associated equipment.
Each of the three MLG21A canisters are fitted with a BD-2 Electrically-Breached Valve (BD-2型电爆管), which control which control the flow of the fire suppression chemical. All the canisters are connected to all the nozzles in the vehicle, and the BD-2 can choose to open flow to the crew compartment, engine compartment, or both, depending on the need. The LEH1 sensors use a thermocouple to detect temperature changes, with four placed in the fighting compartment and four in the engine compartment. The sensors also double as the nozzles for the fire suppression chemical, as they are connected via tubing to the MLG21A canisters. When a fire is detected, a signal is sent to the LKM1 control box, which alerts the crew with a light and alarm. If the fire is in the crew compartment, the extinguishers are activated immediately, while in the engine compartment, the engine and fans are first shut down, and only five seconds later are the extinguishers activated. After five seconds without a detected fire, the alarm is disabled and the ventilator is turned on to evacuate any smoke buildup. The system can also be manually activated via a switch on the control box.
Type 85 Automatic Fire Extinguishing and Explosion Suppression System
The tank is also equipped with a Type 85 Automatic Fire Extinguishing and Explosion Suppression System (85式自动灭火抑爆装置). It is fitted only in the crew compartment and uses an array of optical sensors, a control box, and four Halon 1301 fire extinguishers. One extinguisher is placed on the right side of the hull, while another is in the front right of the turret. The third is placed behind the commander in the bustle, and the fourth is behind the gunner’s seat. All three sensors are placed on the turret roof, with one to the gunner’s left, one to the gunner’s right, and one between them.
When a fire is detected, the extinguishers are activated until they are expended or the fire is put out. Five seconds after the extinguishers are shut off, the ventilator will be engaged to clear smoke from the fighting compartment. If needed, the commander can manually activate the system with a switch on the control box.
The nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) protection system, known in Chinese as a Three-Defense System (三防装置), protects the crew from threats posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. It primarily consists of a series of sensors, filters, ventilators, and control devices. The T81A Phosphorus Chemical Alarm (T81A型含磷毒剂报警器) is installed on the right wall of the turret and triggers an alarm when a sensor in the turret roof detects phosphorus-based contaminants in the air. The K-2A Radiation Exposure Alarm (K-2A型报警照射量仪) is placed on the underside of the upper glacis ahead of the driver’s periscopes and is activated when gamma rays are detected. A box with flashing lights is placed to the left of the driver, with red for chemical threats and yellow for nuclear threats. The ventilation fan is placed in the box behind the turret bustle and can overpressure the crew compartment to prevent contaminants from leaking in.
Other mechanisms include a linkage to close the shutters in the engine compartment, sealing the intake and exhausts, and a mechanism to seal the partition between the engine and crew compartments. A small pressure gauge is mounted on the roof between the commander and gunner to indicate if the crew compartment has been successfully overpressured.
The JKH Relay Control Box (JKH型继电控制盒) is the primary control center for the NBC system, as it controls the actuation of partitions and fans, as well as communicates with the fire extinguishing systems. When a threat is detected, it can use the fan to overpressure the crew compartment and seal off the engine to prevent excess contaminants from entering.
The ZTZ96 can be fitted with fording equipment suitable for depths of up to 5 m and crossings as wide as 600 m. During normal operations, the tank is equipped with a bilge pump with a capacity of 116 L/min, installed in the rear right corner of the fighting compartment, the ZTZ-2 Azimuth Indicator (ZTZ-2型航向仪), placed in front of the driver, seals for the turret ring, hatches, chemical sensor inlet, etc., and a bulkhead overflow baffle. To prepare for deeper fording operations, the air intake funnel, seals for the main gun and machine gun, one-way valves for the exhausts, and seals for the air intakes and exhausts must be installed. The intake funnel additionally has an extra light and antenna mounted near the top.
For external communications, the tank is equipped with a TCR-96 (TCR-96电台) FM radio with a frequency range of 30 to 87.975 MHz. It utilizes a 3.2 m long whip antenna placed on the turret roof and has a maximum range of approximately 35 km on high power.
A CYY-173 Intercom (CYY-173车内通话器) system is fitted to the inside of the tank for the crew members to communicate with each other. It is capable of supporting four crew members and an infantry telephone, although in practice only the 3 tankers’ headsets are used. It is compatible with a variety of Chinese tanker helmet-headsets, including but not limited to TMT-4.
The PLA regularly conducts combat exercises where tanks are fitted with additional equipment to simulate gunfire. A pyrotechnic gunfire simulator is typically found placed over the base of the barrel, similar to MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) used by the US military. At the end of the barrel, a laser is attached, while a light (usually red or blue) is placed above the turret directly behind the gunfire simulator. Various small receivers are placed around the sides and rear of the turret, while a smoke generator is placed on the rear turret roof.
This system essentially operates as a game of laser tag. Vehicle crews simulate gunfire with the pyrotechnic launcher while also firing the laser. When one of the receivers detects a laser, it registers a ‘hit’. Once a target sustains a certain amount of damage, it will be ‘knocked out’ and the smoke will be released to mimic a destroyed vehicle. The light atop the vehicle is typically used to indicate which team—red or blue—the vehicle belongs to.
This type of training equipment is found during opposing force (OPFOR) exercises where there is no live fire. The same equipment is used on various other vehicles, including all main battle tank models and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as on infantry themselves.
During live-fire exercises, metal cages may be placed on the roof to catch spent shell casings. Based on photographic evidence, the cage varies slightly between units and is likely not a standard piece of equipment.
Camouflage and Markings
The Type 96 has been painted in a decent number of the various camouflage schemes available to the PLA. However, not all schemes have been seen, with some notable patterns from the early 2000s not being applied.
Standard Tricolor Striped Camouflage
The first camouflage scheme the Type 96 was seen in was a tricolor striped camouflage, with a sandy yellow base and alternating stripes of a light green and a dark grayish-green color. Typically, the gun barrel is entirely light green, although in some instances it is divided between the colors. The road wheels are each painted a solid color, with some vehicles including all three camouflage colors while others are left in the base color. This camouflage was very widespread on the Type 96, and a large number of tanks today can still be found in this scheme.
A rare variant of the tricolor camouflage uses a much lighter base color, being a pale off-white as opposed to the darker sandy yellow color. This pattern was common on the Type 96A in the late 2000s, but is almost never seen on the standard Type 96.
Tricolor Spotted Camouflage
Another less common scheme is a spotted tricolor camouflage. Rather than stripes, this pattern uses large, irregular spots and also allows the two green shades to border each other. In many cases, the colors used appear to be slightly darker and lower contrast, which is common among more recent camouflage patterns. It is uncertain exactly when this camouflage began being applied, but it likely dates to the early 2010s.
Due to the less standardized nature of the spotted camouflage, it also has many smaller variations on the design, especially in regards to the proportions and distributions of the different colors.
Desert Tricolor Striped Camouflage
In at least one instance, a striped desert camouflage was seen on the Type 96. The majority of the camouflage is a sandy yellow color with thin dark green and light brown stripes. These were mainly seen in 2016 during joint crew training exercises with Kazakh troops, although it is probable that they were not painted just for the occasion.
Digital Grassland/Woodland Camouflage
In the early-to-mid-2010s, digital camouflages began to appear on some Type 96 tanks, most commonly in a grassland/woodland pattern. The exact sizing and groupings of the pixels of each color varies greatly from vehicle to vehicle, and it typically comes in either a tricolor or quadricolor variation. In all cases, the base color is a medium green color, which makes up anywhere between 30% and 70% of the total coverage depending on the vehicle. In both the tricolor and quadricolor camouflages, there is also a dark green, while the third and fourth colors may be either an orangish-brown or a tan color. Typically in quadricolor camouflages, the dark green and brown are equally distributed, while the tan is sparse.
Digital Desert Camouflage
Digital desert camouflage has also been seen, but it is quite rare. It uses a light sandy yellow for the base color and a mixture of dark sandy yellow and light green to form the digital pattern. The exact proportions vary depending on the coat, with the green ranging from 5% to 25% of the total coverage.
Although some PLA vehicles have been painted in snow camouflages before, they are exceptionally rare, with tanks usually just sporting their summer and autumn camouflages during the winter months. There is yet to be any photographic evidence of a Type 96 being painted in white or light gray to match winter conditions.
There is only one national marking that will ever be found on a Chinese tank—the red and yellow star of the People’s Liberation Army. The emblem is typically placed on the front face of the turret cheeks, covering about one-half to two-thirds of the vertical space available. On occasion, the star will be significantly smaller, typically when the tactical number is also on the front face, although the exact placement and sizing of the star does not appear to be standardized.
In older photos, the star is typically seen with a dashed yellow border, indicating it was likely painted with a stencil. Stars without the stenciled border are more common in recent photos. In a few photos, the PLA star may be missing altogether. This is likely due to the tank being recently repainted and the decal not yet being reapplied.
The tactical numbers of tanks are most often found on the turret’s side, but occasionally, also on the turret’s front. They are always written in a bold white font with gaps from stencils. Often, one number is partially obscured by the smoke grenades.
In many photos, tanks use a three-digit tactical number, which are almost exclusively painted on the turret sides. In a few early photos, the number may also be accompanied by a letter. These are likely parade markings that identify each formation within the parade. For example, during the 1999 National Day parade, the Type 96s were part of the second tank formation, with the letter B, while the Type 88B and Type 99 were the first and third formations, with the letters A and C respectively.
Since recent military reforms were enacted, all tanks that have been repainted have also been assigned a new set of tactical numbers. These new numbers are four digits long and are still typically placed on the turret’s sides, although the font is generally lighter and narrower. This number identifies the specific vehicle within the unit. They may also be accompanied by a smaller code, typically two letters followed by two numbers. These identify the larger military formation that the tank’s unit is a part of.
In rare instances, there will be a star and tactical number placed on the rear hull. These are only seen on repainted tanks with updated numbering.
The majority of the other markings found on the Type 96 are technical markings, such as red and white bars or stripes. These decals are primarily for safety purposes and serve no tactical purpose. They may be found in many different places, including the front and rear fenders, side hull, and turret.
Exact production figures on the Type 96 are not known, although the number is likely to be around 1,000, with higher estimates being around 1,200.
According to data from the IISS’s The Military Balance, around 800 vehicles were already in service by the year 2000. The figure for 2007 is given as 1,200 units, possibly including the then-new Type 96A. The figure for 2010 had jumped up to 1,500, while in 2012, around 1,800 Type 96 variants of all types, including the Type 96A, were claimed to be in service. Since 2016, the claimed figure for the Type 96 sans suffixe has stood at 1,000 units.
Production took place solely at Factory No. 617 in Baotou, a part of Inner Mongolia No. 1 Machinery Group Corporation, itself a subsidiary of Norinco Group. It would begin production in 1997 and continue until around 2005. Due to the similarity with the Type 85-IIM it was derived from, the initial production volumes of the Type 96 were likely high due to the minimal amount of retooling required.
The ZTZ96 entered service in 1997 and was first publicly seen during the 50th Anniversary National Day Parade in 1999, where it accompanied the ZTZ88B and the first generation ZTZ99. From then on, it would gradually enter service within the PLA Ground Force’s armored divisions, forming the backbone of their tank brigades. Following major military reforms in 2017, the ZTZ96 now operates in the tank companies of China’s new heavy combined arms brigades.
Unlike more specialized designs, such as the ZTQ15, the ZTZ96 is in service with every Military District and the majority of their respective Group Armies. It is also capable of being stored on various types of landing craft and hovercraft to reinforce amphibious landings. It is, however, not operated by the PLA Amphibious Forces or the PLA Navy Marine Corps, which rely exclusively on light tanks and amphibious assault vehicles for their armored support.
During the mid-to-late 1980s, China saw a restructuring of its military forces, replacing its old corps system with 24 group armies that the PLA is now known for. At the time of the ZTZ96’s introduction, each group army was typically equipped with one armored division or brigade and three infantry divisions. Tanks would be distributed in both armored and infantry divisions, with tank divisions having three armored regiments while infantry divisions would have just one. In some cases, the infantry division would only have a battalion-sized armor unit or none at all, depending on its readiness.
Armored regiments typically had three battalions of 31 tanks, while infantry and mechanized regiments had just one. Tank companies were typically equipped with 10 tanks. The idea of a “reinforced” unit also existed, which would add additional mechanized infantry to a tank unit. For battalions, this saw the addition of 20 ZBD86 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to the 31 tanks, and for companies, this would be 6 IFVs.
During this time, the PLA also utilized a number of brigades, including tank units. Their exact structure is unknown but was likely to be roughly equivalent to a single tank regiment with additional support units accompanying it.
In 2017, China saw a nearly complete reorganization of its army. Largely abandoning older Soviet-style divisions and regiments, the PLA switched its principal deployable unit to the brigade, not dissimilar to the American model.
China’s only tank-equipped units are its Heavy Combined Arms Brigades, excluding amphibious units. The brigade features four combined arms battalions, each with two tank companies. The headquarters company is likely equipped with two tanks, while each tank company has fourteen vehicles. Two of the tanks are in the company’s headquarters, while the remainder are distributed across three 4-tank platoons.
Based on available photographic evidence, battalions almost always operate one specific model of tank. It is extremely rare to see the ZTZ96 alongside any other model of tank outside of display and ceremonial purposes. Furthermore, older tanks also tend to be grouped with older IFVs and other vehicles. For example, ZTZ96 is often paired with the ZBD86 or ZBD86A IFV, while newer tanks typically operate alongside ZBD04 and ZBD04A IFVs.
The ZTZ96 has not yet been seen operating in any full-scale foreign exercises to date. ‘Peace Mission 2010’ (和平使命-2010) and ‘Vostok 2018’ (Восток-2018) saw China represented by the ZTZ99, while ZTZ96A tanks were sent to ‘Tsentr 2019’ (Центр-2019). However, in 2016, Kazakhstani troops were invited to participate in joint exercises with the PLA, which included training on Type 96 tanks.
By the time of the first International Army Games in 2014, the Type 96 was already too old to compete in Tank Biathlon, with the Type 96A representing the People’s Republic at Alabino. However, it does serve in auxiliary roles for other competitions that require tanks.
The ZTZ96 has made multiple appearances in the ‘Rembat’ competition of the International Army Games. In the Rembat (Ремонтный батальон, Remontniy battalion) competition, the Type 96 is the target of maintenance and recovery crews, most often being towed out of ditches by Type 96A Tank Recovery Vehicles.
The ‘Open Water’ (Открытая вода, Otkritaya voda) competition hosted at Vantovy Training Ground on the Oka River, which centers around pontoon river crossings, has also used Type 96 tanks in the past. Much like in Rembat, they serve primarily as a competition objective, being the cargo that needs to be transported.
Type 96 tanks also appeared in the 2021 and 2022 International Army Games’ ‘Suvorov Onslaught’ (Суворовский натиск, Suvorovskii natisk) competition, although only as display pieces. As the Suvorov Onslaught is hosted in Xinjiang, China, units from the Western Theater Command often participate in the opening ceremony and remain on display throughout the competition. The tanks themselves do not participate in the competition, which is meant for IFV crews.
Army Armored Forces Academy
The ZTZ96 periodically appears in the hands of the PLA’s Army Armored Forces Academy (军装甲兵学院), most recently in Iron Cavalry Sword 2022 (铁骑亮剑-2022) exercise hosted in May of that year. This, however, is not unique treatment, as the Armored Forces Academy has been seen operating tanks from the oldest Type 59 through the newest Type 99A.
Transportability and Recovery
At only 41 tonnes, the ZTZ96 is relatively lightweight among main battle tanks, being comparable to the Soviet T-72 in most regards. On land, it is transportable by every main tank transporter of the PLA, including but not limited to the Taian TA4360. It is also capable of crossing temporary bridges, including tank- and truck-mounted launched bridges as well as pontoon bridges.
By rail, a single Type 96 can fit on a standard 13 m flatbed car rated for 50 or more tonnes. , Although the rail cars are narrower than the tank—3 m versus 3.4 m—this is not known to be an issue when transporting the tanks.
Over water, the Type 96 can fit on most, if not all of China’s heavier tank landing ships and hovercraft, including, but not limited to, the Zubr/Type 958, Type 726, and Type 271. As the Type 96 is only operated by the PLA Ground Force, these are not used in direct assault amphibious operations but rather to bring tanks to shore after a beachhead is established. It has also been seen transported by large civilian ferries during some exercises.
China fields a diverse array of armored recovery vehicles, of which the heaviest are capable of towing and moving the Type 96. The old Type 84 ARV, based on the Type 79 MBT, as well as the newer Type 96A ARV are the two most common models seen alongside the Type 96. Depending on the exact requirements of a recovery operation, an individual ARV may be enough to move the Type 96.
The ZTZ96, while certainly a successful design for the PLA, would only see one main variant based on the original vehicle—the ZTZ96A. The ZTZ96A would itself become the basis of every other vehicle in the ZTZ96 family, ranging from additional MBT variants to engineering and armored recovery vehicles. Due to the structural differences between the ZTZ96 and ZTZ96A, such vehicles will not be covered in detail here.
Shortly after the ZTZ96 was finalized, an improved version would begin development. This new version of the tank would see upgrades across the board, with new FY-4 explosive reactive armor, a new thermal imager for the gunner, upgraded fire-controls, and uprated 800 hp engine installed, among other changes. Early prototypes would also feature a soft-kill active protection system, likely based on the Ukrainian Varta or Russian Shtora system.
Structurally, the new tank was slightly modified when compared to the original ZTZ96. Although most of the hull was the same, the shape of the rear was changed to accommodate the new engine and also streamline the design. The turret was also changed, with some of the exact angles and shapes of the side armor being adjusted. Much of the design and testing would be conducted in the early 2000s and be ready for production by 2005.
The new tank, named ZTZ96A (industrial designation WZ122R) would enter service by the beginning of 2006, being featured in news reports and later online as the ‘ZTZ96改’ or ‘ZTZ96G’ (Standing for Gai, meaning modified). It would again be shown in the 2009 National Day parade where it would be identified as the ZTZ96A. Since then, the ZTZ96A has become the most numerous tank of the PLA with an estimated 1,500 units in active service.
The ZTZ96A would serve as the basis of the ZTZ96A1, designed specifically for the 2015 Tank Biathlon with an upgraded engine, and the ZTZ96B, which saw a complete overhaul of the propulsion system and improvements to the fire-control system and possibly armor as well. The export modifications of the ZTZ96A and ZTZ96B would be the VT2 and VT2B, respectively, featuring only minor differences from their base models. Tanzania is the only known buyer of the VT2 thus far, being first seen in 2021.
In addition to the ZTZ96A, there exist images of other Type 96 tanks with non-standard modifications.
The first such vehicle is a heavily upgraded variant seen in a NORINCO brochure, being used to market ERA. The vehicle is equipped with FY-1 or FY-2 ERA, steel side skirts for mounting additional ERA, a larger housing for the gunsight (possibly a thermal sight similar to the Type 96A), an attachment point for what is likely a dozer blade, grilles over the headlights, and an additional box placed next to the engine deck. The exact origins of this vehicle are unclear—it’s possible that it is an early prototype of the Type 96A, or possibly a dedicated export variant of the Type 96 that predates the VT2.
Another interesting example is a Type 96 (or Type 85-IIM) fitted with the optics and fire-control systems from the MBT-2000. These include a new gun sight with a thermal imager as well as a commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITV). This tank has alternatively been described as having the turret taken directly from the MBT-2000. However, there are some identifiable differences between the two turrets, such as the row of bolts atop the composite armor cheeks.
The third vehicle is more of a curiosity. It appears to be a standard Type 96 but with a set of rectangular panels—thought by some to be ERA—covering the rear hull. Regardless of what it is, the purpose of such a structure is entirely unclear.
Due to structural changes in both the hull and turret, it is not possible to directly convert a ZTZ96 into a ZTZ96A by simply replacing or adding parts. However, the relatively simple design of the tank gives it plenty of room for upgrades.
In the 2000s, a new 900 hp 12V150ZLE engine was developed parallel to the 800 hp 12V150ZLD that would eventually be installed into the ZTZ96A. The 12V150ZLE would not be adopted initially but would later appear on the ZTZ96A1 in 2015 to supplement the tank’s mobility. Since the 12V150 series engines are all very similar in dimensions, it may be possible to retrofit older ZTZ96 and 96A tanks with the 900 hp engine, albeit with some modification.
Another modification featured on the ZTZ96A1, as well as on the derived ZTZ96B, are a set of lightened road wheels. These have small perforations to reduce the weight. The wheels are almost certainly compatible with the basic ZTZ96 and could potentially be introduced as old equipment wears out.
Fire-Controls and Optics
As seen in some of the special variants listed above as well as with Pakistan’s T-85UG, it is possible to replace the ZTZ96’s old gunner’s sight with an updated thermal sight. Although the upgrade would undoubtedly require some amount of labor, as the thermal sight is larger than the original sight, the upgrade is still rather straightforward and would not require a total rebuild of the tank.
Upgrading the commander’s optics may end up being significantly more difficult. As it appears on other Chinese tanks, the CITV requires a dedicated mount on the turret roof, something the Type 96 lacks. The space between the commander’s cupola and the back of the composite armor is limited, and such an installation would likely be too impractical and expensive on a large scale.
Another possible upgrade is to the tank’s armor protection through ERA. Numerous of the Type 96’s relatives, both Chinese and Pakistani, have been equipped with various types of ERA from the first generation FY-1 to the heavy FY-4. Examples include the Type 85-III, Type 90-II/Al-Khalid series, Type 96A, and more. Retrofits of steel side skirts with ERA mounts are also possible, as seen in the NORINCO demonstrator. Nevertheless, no such modifications have been undertaken for the Type 96 in PLA service.
In recent years, NORINCO has also developed the GL5 hard-kill active protection system, which was experimentally fitted to a Type 85-IIAP/M as a demonstrator. Due to the structural similarity between the Type 85-IIAP/M and Type 96, it would be possible to fit the APS to the latter. However, the PLA does not operate the GL5 APS, so it is not a likely upgrade.
In addition to a new gunner’s optic, Pakistan has also installed mounts for dozer blades and mine trawls onto their Type 85-IIAP tanks. Both types of equipment are very rare in the PLA—the only vehicles commonly seen with mine trawls are those directly involved in mine clearance, while the ZTZ99A is the only tank in service with a dozer blade.
Other modifications and systems have been proposed to improve the effectiveness of the ZTZ96 as well. Various diagnostic tests and minor electronic enhancements have been proposed, but there is no evidence suggesting anything has been implemented.
There are multiple possible reasons as to why the ZTZ96 has not been upgraded yet. As the second most numerous tank in PLA inventory, the cost and labor required to upgrade all 1,000 or so vehicles may not be worth the gain in performance. It is also possible that the PLA deems a possible upgrade to the ZTZ96 unnecessary. For example, with the roughly 1,200 older ZTZ59 tanks of all variants in service, it may be considered a better use of resources to develop a newer generation of tanks to replace the Type 59 in service rather than upgrade a tank that, while somewhat lacking, is still significantly newer. Nonetheless, there is simply not enough incentive at the time for any significant upgrade to the ZTZ96 to take place.
As it stands today, the ZTZ96 is the oldest of the four principal tanks of the PLA Ground Force. The tank marked a major milestone in the progress of China’s armored vehicles, being the first in PLA service to integrate composite armor, a large-caliber smoothbore gun, an autoloader, and modern fire-control system into one package. It was a significant step up from the aging T-54 derivatives that preceded it, offering similar capabilities to the Soviet T-72B.
Despite the accomplishment, the ZTZ96 was about a decade behind the curve when it was first unveiled. When considering the tank has received no known upgrades or retrofits since the 1990s besides its ammunition, its combat capabilities continue to fall behind. Potential adversaries, such as the Japanese Type 90 and Type 10, the South Korean K2, and even the Indian T-90S, raise serious problems for the ZTZ96, as they outclass it in terms of fire-control, armor protection, mobility, and more. That being said, other tanks in the region, such as the M48 and M60 models fielded by Taiwan, older T-72s fielded by India, the Japanese Type 74, and M48A5Ks of South Korea are still numerous and largely surpassed by the ZTZ96. Even if the overall performance of the tank grows ever more dated, it should not be outright dismissed or overlooked. And, all things considered, almost all of these shortcomings were at least partially addressed through the ZTZ96A, which has seen additional iteration and improvement since the mid-2010s.
As of now, the Type 96 will likely remain one of the cornerstones of the PLA’s tank fleet. When the history of the ancient Type 59 is considered, it is unlikely that the Type 96 will see decommissioning for at least another decade, if not more, as new MBT models continue to be developed.
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||6.549 m x 3.460 m x 2.320 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||41 tonnes|
|Engine||730 hp 12150ZLC V-12 diesel engine|
|Maximum speed (road)||57 km/h|
|Crew||3 (driver, gunner, commander)|
|Main gun||125 mm Type 88C smoothbore gun|
|Secondary armament||12.7 mm QJC88A machine gun (anti-aircraft), 7.62 mm Type 86 machine gun (coaxial), 4x 76 mm DTG shrapnel grenades|
|Armor||Frontally protected against 105 mm Type 83 APFSDS|
|Total production||Estimated 1,000|
1 – 96式坦克构造图册 (Type 96 Tank Structure Atlas)
2 – 96式坦克动力传动系统性能仿真研究 (Research on Simulated Powertrain Performance of Type 96)
3 – 96式坦克自动装弹机模拟负载研究 (Research on Simulated Load of Type 96 Tank Autoloader)
4 – 抓紧有利 时机 搞好更新换代 (Development Opportunities and Objectives for Updating the 150 Diesel Engine)
5 – 88B式坦克底盘技术状况变化规律研究 (Research on the Changes to the Technical Condition of Type 88B Tank Chassis)
6 – DTC10式125毫米穿甲弹 产品随箱说明书 (DTC10 Type 125 mm Armour-Piercing Projectile Product Manual)
7 – DTW式125毫米穿甲弹 随箱说明书 (DTW Type 125 mm Armour-Piercing Projectile with Box Instructions)
8 – 破甲弹对复合装甲毁伤数值模拟分析 (Numerical Simulation on Damage Effects of Shaped Charge to Composite Armor)
9 – GJB 4083-2000 复合装甲板规范 (Specification for Composite Armor Plate)
10 – Patent CN203758355U 一种应用于坦克的弹药自动装定装置
11 – 对新型主战坦克火力系统的使用和发展要求 (The Proposal about Use and Evolution of New Style Main Battle Tank Fire System)
12 – 基于诊断树方法的ZTZ96式坦克发动机查询系统 (ZTZ96 Engine Fault Locating System Based On Diagnostic Tree Method)
13 – 基于AVR单片机的96坦克炮长瞄准镜测试设备的研究 (Research on Test Equipment for 96 Tank Gunner’s Sight Based on AVR Microcontroller)
14 – 96主战坦克重要零部件失效分析与寿命预测方法研究 (Study on Failure Analysis and Life Prediction Method of Important Parts of 96 Main Battle Tank)
15 – GJB 453-88坦克汽车火炮变形迷彩图册 (Tank, Vehicle, Artillery Deformation Camouflage Guide)
16 – 装甲车辆 构造与原理 (Mechanical and Principle of Armored Vehicle)
17 – ZTZ-98主战坦克专辑
18 – GENERAL CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF TANK T-69 IIG (GUNNERY PORTION)
19 – GJB 3807-1999 125毫米坦克炮规范 (125 mm Tank Gun Specification)
20 – 88型坦克战位急救盒 (First Aid Kit of Type 88 Tank)
21 – 论85—ⅡAP坦克陀螺仪组性能改进 (On Improving the 85-IIAP Tank Gyroscope)
20 – 主战坦克科技知识 (Main Battle Tank Technology)
23 – 装甲车辆自动装弹机规范 (Specification for Armored Vehicle Autoloader)
24 – 装甲车辆抛射式烟幕装置和榴霰弹装置通用规范 (General Specification for Smoke and Shrapnel Grenade Launchers on Armored Vehicles)
25 – Heavy Industries Taxila Tank T-85IIAP data sheet
26 – Heavy Industries Taxila Tank T-85UG data sheet
27 – At the Forward Edge of Battle – A History of the Pakistan Armoured Corps 1938-2016 Volume 2 by Major General Syed Ali Hamid
28 – 九六坦克炮控系统试验平台数据采集系统的开发 (The Development of the Data Acquisition System of the Test Platform of the 96 Tank Gun Control System)
29 – 九六式坦克分队岛屿山地进攻战斗火力运用研究 (Research on Firepower Application of Type 96 Tank Team in Island and Mountain Offensive Combat)
30 – 一二三工程火力系统
31 – 常规兵器产品手册
32 – GJB 5019-2002 装甲材料防护系数测定方法
1 – 军事评论 (May 2021)
2 – 兵器知识 (Issue 7B, 2011)
3 – 全球防务 丛书 第1卷
4 – 中国军力 (Unknown issue)
5 – 现代兵器 (Issue 2, 1990)
6 – 现代兵器 (Issue 6, 2008)
7 – 兵器知识 (Issue 4, 2002)
8 – 兵器知识 (Issue 1, 2002)
9 – 兵器知识 (Issue 9, 2003)
10 – 世界航空航天博覽 (Unknown Issue)
11 – 奇趣百科·军事密码 (Issue 9, 2017)
12 – 坦克装甲车辆 (Unknown Issue)
13 – 国际展望 (July 2004)
14 – https://www.doc88.com/p-1357435664859.html
15 – 国际展望 (Issue unknown, 2005)
16 – https://www.doc88.com/p-8945990652430.html
17 – https://www.doc88.com/p-3886629790001.html
18 – NAAS & Inertial Technology (June 2010 Issue)
19 – 现代兵器 (June 2008)
1 – https://www.sohu.com/a/464191345_120998038
2 – https://www.kepuchina.cn/kpcs/qyz/xsxl/201708/t20170807_215349.shtml
3 – https://tech.sina.com.cn/d/2005-04-11/0907577283.shtml
4 – https://www.163.com/dy/article/FK3BP0H405359990.html
5 – http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2005-02-15/1115266133.html
6 – http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2005-12-09/0716336619.html
7 – http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/pc/2005-09-18/29/1141.html
8 – http://jczs.news.sina.com.cn/p/2006-05-23/1015372157.html
9 – http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2003-12-16/1829171429.html
10 – http://news.sohu.com/2003/12/10/66/news216706699.shtml
11 – http://trishul-trident.blogspot.com/2020/04/first-vt-4mbt-3000-shipment-bound-for.html
1 – US Army TRADOC People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces Quick Reference Guide
2 – The People’s Liberation Army as Organization, Reference Volume v1.0
3 – International Affairs Vol. 57, No. 2 (Spring, 1981) China’s Military Turns to the West
Video and Image
1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kotyuqH70-A
2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8IQ8sGFNVE
3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfdp8ULQiqA
4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ2Jwr_4uqI
5 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjB6RhnyVjM
6 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BuICAxkNiM
7 – https://news.cgtn.com/news/2022-08-22/IAG-2022-China-s-PLA-wins-Suvorov-Attack-Relay-Race-1cHPRmoOdws/index.html
8 – http://www.81.cn/yw/2021-08/22/content_10079652.htm
9 – https://tv.cctv.com/2022/01/13/VIDE8JhtUEqNFLt8KjxVHEmB220113.shtml
10 – https://tv.cctv.com/2022/07/22/VIDEXXmULqZNIeGEePWVZbwU220722.shtml
11 – https://tv.cctv.com/2021/04/01/VIDE4DdgdBPHvnlvCefQ6OOA210401.shtml