Chinese army units working in rugged, mountainous border regions are getting some new firepower now that China's new next-generation light tank has gone into service.The Type 15 tank is smaller and lighter than the existing main battle tanks of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), meaning it can traverse terrain heavier tanks can’t cross.
According to the , the vehicle is equipped with a 1,000-hp diesel engine, which will give it a sprightly 28-to-1 horsepower-to-weight ratio. By comparison, the latest version of the U.S. M1A2 Abrams main battle tank has a 23-to-1 horsepower-to-weight ratio. The Type 15’s high ratio will be useful in mountainous regions, where it could spend a lot of time traveling uphill. Diesel engines are by altitude than gasoline engines, giving them better efficiency at altitude.
The Type 15 is equipped with a 105-mm gun, likely a copy of or a design influenced by the British L7 gun licensed to China in the 1980s. The tank can fire both high-velocity armor-piercing ammunition and breech-loaded anti-tank guided missiles. The anti-tank missiles will make the Type 15 lethal out to 4,000 meters or more, although the missile’s relatively slow flight time and guidance system makes it vulnerable to being shot down by active protection systems on enemy tanks. The relatively small diameter of the missile means only a flank or rear hit on a tank like the M1A2 Abrams would likely cause damage, although it will probably be deadly at all angles to the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle or Stryker armored vehicle.
Why build a tank for the mountains? China and India share a large, disputed border with lots of mountains and not a lot of modern, robust infrastructure to move military vehicles. Roads, for example, may not be wide enough to accommodate a full-size main battle tank, and bridges may not be rated for a 50-ton tank. A lighter tank could go where other tanks can’t, giving the PLA commander on the ground more options for deploying his troops. The vehicle could also be purchased by the Chinese Marine Corps for use in amphibious landings.
The Type 15 is a replacement for the half-century-old , a tank first fielded in 1962. Although the Type 15 does sound impressive, the fact that China is only now getting around to building a new light tank gives one an idea of how high a priority it is. China’s size and military strength means it is practically invulnerable to invasion, and Beijing’s military-industrial complex is concentrating on air, sea, and space—areas where a confrontation with the United States would take place.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the U.S. Army recently handed out contracts to two companies, BAE Systems and General Dynamics, to build up to a dozen prototype light tanks in advance of an order for 504 of them. The new vehicle, known as Mobile Protected Firepower, will serve to increase the firepower of light infantry units, providing a mobile high-powered cannon capable of tackling a variety of threats.