A new armored vehicle designed to kill—well, everything—on the battlefield is ambitiously described by the manufacturer as the “New King of Ground Warfare.” Unveiled at the ongoing Zhuhai Air Show, the QN-506 is China’s version of the Russian 'Terminator' tank support vehicle. QN-506 is armed with a machine gun, grenades, a light cannon, two types of missiles, and even drones.
One of the newer concepts in armored warfare is the idea of a tank support combat vehicle. The vehicle was developed by Russia after the end of the Cold War, when the Russian Army sustained heavy tank and armored vehicle losses fighting Chechen rebels. From this experience was born the BMP-T, or 'Terminator.'
The BMP-T was a heavily armored tank hull with a new turret in place of a turret that would traditionally hold a main gun. The new turret featured a 2A42 30-millimeter autocannon, two 30-millimeter grenade launchers, and four Kornet anti-tank missiles. The result was a vehicle that could protect tanks by delivering withering fire against infantry anti-tank teams, and in a pinch destroy enemy tanks. The BMP-T would ride shotgun into battle with Russian tanks, allowing them to focus on killing other enemy tanks.
Now, nearly 20 years after the original Terminator was developed, the Russian vehicle has a Chinese cousin. The QN-506 armored vehicle is designed to fulfill a similar task. It is very heavily armed, with a 30-millimeter cannon, 7.62-millimeter machine gun, four QN-502C anti-tank/anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 3.72 miles, 20 QN-201 mini-missiles, 4 S-507 mini-cruise missiles, and six grenade launchers for close-in defense. It even carries a quadcopter drone for intelligence and surveillance tasks.
The result is a vehicle that can kill enemy tanks, light armored vehicles, helicopters, drones, soft-skinned vehicles, and infantry. The QN-502C missile allegedly can allegedly penetrate 1,000 millimeters of armor and has a top attack mode to penetrate thinner roof armor on main battle tanks. That’s conceivably enough to kill even an Abrams tank. The 70-millimeter QN 201 mini missiles sound like a Chinese version of the U.S. Military’s , a system that installs laser guidance on American 70-millimeter helicopter rockets to give them a “one shot, one kill” capability. QN-201s can penetrate 60 millimeters of steel armor or 300 millimeters of reinforced concrete. The S-507 is a propeller-driven missile, apparently with a camera in the nose, that can fly over the battlefield and home in on targets chosen by the gunner.
The quadcopter drone is the QN-506’s built-in intelligence asset. The drone can fly to a range of 6.2 miles, has a maximum speed of 37 miles an hour, and a fly time of 40 minutes. QN-506 could use the drone to find targets for the S-570 missiles, providing armored forces with their own precision artillery support. The drone could also be used to locate enemy forces before they make with the main Chinese force. Other sensors include a gunshot detection system that can automatically target the source of incoming gunfire.
The amount of weapons and capability packed onto the QN-506 is a little over the top. While each individual weapon system is useful, packing everything onto a single vehicle can create problems. A drone killer will want to be on the front line, to destroy drones as soon as possible, while a tank killer might want to hang back and destroy enemy tanks from behind a screen of friendly tanks. A drone-launching cruise missile carrier vehicle would also want to stay comfortably to the rear. The sniper detection device won’t be very useful to a vehicle operating in the rear.
The QN-506 turret is being displayed at Wuhai on the chassis of a 1950s-era Type 59 tank. That having been said, the manufacturer says it can easily be placed on a newer manned or unmanned armored vehicle hull. Will the People’s Liberation Army buy the system, or something like it? It’s hard to say. The Russian Ground Forces seem enthusiastic about the tank combat support vehicle concept, while the U.S. and NATO armies have avoided such a system. It might be sensible to split up the QN-506’s seven weapon systems among two or more different vehicles. Or maybe not.