The ZTZ99 (also known as Type 99, industrial designation WZ123) manufactured by China Northern Industries Group Corporation (CNGC) is the most advanced main battle tank (MBT) fielded by the PLA. First entering the PLA service in late 2001, the ZTZ99 provides a significant improvement in firepower, mobility, and protection compared to older Chinese-made tanks. As a ‘high-end’ MBT, the ZTZ99 was only built in a small number (~200) due to high unit price (~US$1.9 Million in 1999). These tanks are currently deployed by two elite armour regiments in Beijing and Shenyang Military Region respectively. Some of the ZTZ99’s technologies have been used to upgrade the less expensive ZTZ96 MBT.
The ZTZ99 was a direct result of the PLA’s third-generation MBT programme which first commenced in the late 1970s. An early prototype known as Type 90 featuring a Russian-style 125mm gun with autoloader was built and tested in early 1990. However, close observation of the 1990s Gulf War made the PLA realise that the tank was still no match to Western MBT designs such as the M1A1 and Challenger 2. A revised design known as Type 98 featuring a T-72-like hull was first revealed in October 1999 during the national day parade held in Beijing. A further improved variant known as ZTZ99 (originally known as Type 98G) featuring improved armour protection and a more powerful engine was introduced in 2000 and the tank entered service with the PLA in late 2001.
The ZTZ99 MBT shows a mixture of Russian and Western influence in its design and technology. The hull of the tank is very similar to that of the Russian T-72, though the angular welded turret is clearly of Western style. The 125mm smoothbore main gun and the autoloader, which allows the crew of the tank to be reduced to three man, are both believed to be of Soviet/Russian origin. The ZTZ99 carries the Russian 9M119 Refleks (NATO codename: AT-11 Sniper) anti-tank guided missile locally produced in China under license. The tank’s liquid-cooled, turbo-charged diesel engine was said to be based on the German technology.
The ZTZ99 is generally similar to the ZTZ98 (Type 98) MBT, which was briefly displayed during the parade on 1 October 1999 in Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The ZTZ99 was incorporated with a number of improvements. The vertically faced front armour on the Type 98 turret was replaced by Leopard 2A5-style arrow-shaped spaced add-on armour modules. Externally-mounted explosive reaction armour (ERA) modules were added to the hull front and turret to provide additional protection. The original 1,200hp diesel engine used by the ZTZ98 was replaced by a 1,500hp diesel engine on the ZTZ99.
The hull of the ZTZ99 is very similar to that of the T-72, but is about one metre longer. The tank adopts a conventional layout, with the driving compartment at the front, the fighting compartment in the centre, and the engine compartment at the rear. The tank has a crew of three. The driver is seated centre in the hull and forward of the turret, while the gunner and tank commander occupy the turret. The tank commander is situated to the right of the main gun and the gunner sits on the left side. The tank commander is also responsible for operating the 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on turret roof of the turret. Tank crew is protected by a over-pressure collective NBC protection and a fully automatic fire suppression system.
The turret and hull are of all-welded steel armour construction. The front arc on the turret can be added with a layer of composite armour, or arrow-shaped spaced add-on armour modules. The armour package is of modular design, enabling damaged sections to be replaced or upgrades installed throughout service life. With the arrow-shaped add-on armour modules on the turret front and explosive reactive armour (ERA) modules on the turret and hull, the tank’s front armour protection is equivalent to 1,000~1,200mm of steel armour.
Despite a Western-style welded turret in appearance, the inside layout of the ZTZ99’s turret is very much of Russian style. The ZTZ99 directly inherited the Russian 2A46M autoloader design, with the extra ammunitions placed inside the fighting compartment. This arrangement makes the tank highly vulnerable to catastrophic fire once being penetrated, a lesson learned in many conflicts in which T-72s and T-80s have participated. China has yet been able to produce a Western-style bustle autoloader for its MBT.
It has been long speculated that CNGC has been developing a further modified version of the ZTZ99, possibly known as ZTZ99G. A photo released by the Chinese official Xinhua News Agency in February 2008 revealed an improved variant of the ZTZ99 that features newly designed observation and active protection system (APS). The commander viewer of the new tank appears to be slightly larger than that of the basic variant ZTZ99, suggesting a possible independent commander thermal imaging viewer. The electro-optical countermeasures device on the original ZTZ99 has been replaced by a new design being placed at a higher position. The pole laser warning receiver on the basic variant ZTZ99 is also missing and possibly replaced by the small box-shape installed by the commander hatch.
Type Tracked, armoured
Crew 3 (commander, gunner, driver)
Weight 54 tonnes
Engine 150HB liquid-cooled, turbocharged diesel
Engine power 1,500hp
Fuel capacity N/A
Transmission Mechanical, planetary
Suspension Torsion bar
Track Metallic, with removable rubber pads and rubber-tyred road wheels
Cruising range 400km, or 600km with external fuel tanks
Maximum speed (road) 80km/h
Maximum speed (off-road) 60km/h
Average cross-country 35~40km/h
Fording depth 5m with snorkel
Main weapon 125mm/51-calibre smoothbore gun (41 rounds) with autoloader
Auxiliary weapons 1X 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun (300 rounds)
1X 7.62mm coaxial machine gun (2,000 rounds)
Self-defence Optic-electronic countermeasures suite
Radio Receive/transmit, telephone, laser communications and IFF
NBC protection Collective, over-pressure
Fire suppression Automatic