LWI - Land Warfare

Chinese light tank now comes with active protection

8th August 2019 - 10:16 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Hong Kong

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Norinco’s VT5 light tank, a platform dedicated to the export market, is set to receive a hard-kill active protection system (APS). 

Such a system detects incoming projectiles and automatically launches countermeasures to disrupt or intercept them before they can strike the vehicle. 

The Global Times newspaper in China quoted a military expert as saying: ‘Compared to a heavy main battle tank, a light tank like the VT5 carries lighter armour, meaning weaker passive protection. Using an active protection system would be a great choice.’

Shephard reported in 2017 that Norinco was developing the GL5 APS, so this is presumed to be the same system now on offer to VT5 export customers. A key part of the project was making the APS small and light enough to enable installation on vehicles smaller than an MBT.

Norinco demonstrated the GL5 system before dignitaries from 50 countries on 16 August 2017. The GL5 has four radar detector units, four launcher units (fitted with three rockets each) and a control terminal. Each detector and launcher unit mounted on the MBT turret covers a quadrant.

The GL5 is able to counter antitank rockets, antitank guided missiles and high-explosive antitank rounds, designed to ‘reliably damage, destroy or detonate incoming targets at 10m±1.5m from our assets’.

The system’s detection range is 100m, with a radar unit tracking the incoming target. A rocket-powered interceptor is then launched, flying for 7m before detonating its warhead in the path of the incoming projectile. The resultant screen of fragmentation is designed to neutralise the projectile.

The protection zone around an armoured vehicle covers 360º in azimuth and 20º in elevation, according to a promotional video. This reveals the weakness of many APS, that they cannot defend against top-attack missiles.

The Chinese tank is already equipped with a laser warning system that notifies the crew if it is being targeted by a hostile laser beam.

Given that this system is available to the export market, the APS will likely be available for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as well, which operates the ZTQ-15, the domestic version of the VT5. Because of the Type 15 tank’s thinner armour compared to an MBT, an APS would greatly increase its defensive capability.

The first PLA unit to deploy the ZTQ-15 was the 123rd Combined Arms Brigade in the Southern Theatre Command. It is believed to have already been deployed by the 54th Combined Arms Brigade located in Tibet as well.

Given that the ZTQ-15 was widely tested in Tibet during its development, its eventual deployment there is unsurprising. Tibet’s mountainous terrain with few roads and frequent infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels precludes the effective use of heavy MBTs such as the ZTZ-96 or ZTZ-99 families.

The VT5 is 9.2m long, 3.3m wide and 2.5m high. It is operated by a crew of three, and the commander has a panoramic sight for hunter/killer engagements.

The Norinco platform has a top speed of 70km/h and a range of 450km, powered by a 1,000hp engine. The tank thus has a high power-to-weight ratio, making it nimble in difficult terrain such as mountains or soft ground, and it is able to accelerate quickly.

The VT5 weighs between 33t and 36t depending on what armour package is installed. A modular package of composite armour and/or explosive reactive armour can be installed atop the base steel armour.

The turret features a 105mm main gun, one that is able to fire missiles, and the main armament is combined with a fire control system able to take out targets up to 3,000m away. The gun is fed by an autoloader, as is typical for Chinese MBTs, while a remote-controlled weapon station mounting a machine gun is fitted atop the turret.

There are no known export sales of the VT5 to date.

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