Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 30 March 2021
First in Tibet Military Command, now in Xinjiang Military Command, China has inducted it’s newly developed Type 15 Light Tanks with an aim to achieve a strategic win over India in a rapid reaction combat in plateau region. Will Type 15 light tank as it is also known as ZTQ-15 be a decisive weapon in China’s armory? Is it a worrying signal that China has equipped it’s all weather friend Pakistan with the same export version VT-4 light tank. Pakistan has showcased the VT-4 tank in Pakistan Day parade on March 23rd. Will it also equip Pakistan with VT-5 Tanks?
In this story, I will talk about the strategic significance of Type 15 light tanks, its armament, Design & Protection features, mobility, Command, Control & Communication of Type 15; and Type 15 light tanks variants. In the last, I will also briefly talk about the way forward for India.
Strategic Significance of Type-15 Light Tanks:
India’s Ladakh or China’s Tibet Plateau Region has rarified atmosphere with very low oxygen level and freezing temperatures as low as 45 degree centigrade. Operation of any tank become difficult primarily for regions attributed to engine operation and its weight. Type 15 light tank has overcome both the hurdles. Xi’an Y-20 strategic airlift aircraft can carry two of the Type 15 light tanks or a single Type 99A main battle tank over distances of 7,800km. Type 15 tank has a maximum speed of 70kmph and range of over 400km. The first military unit that received the ZTQ-15 it the 123rd Combined Arms Brigade, 75th Group Army, Southern Theater Command. It is one of the PLA’s elite units and considered to be one of army’s major amphibious units. It is not unreasonable to assume that the 123rd brigade is a part of plan for seizing control of Taiwan. It is intended mainly for reconnaissance and infantry support operations. It can be airdropped and operate in areas, such as mountains, jungles and river regions, that are not accessible to heavier China’s main battle tanks, such as the Type 96 and Type 99.
In January, a regiment attached to the PLA Xinjiang Military Command received the delivery of a batch of Type 15 light tanks while stationed in a plateau region. Immediately after the commissioning, the regiment sent the tanks to a freezing region at 4,300 meters altitude for adaptation exercises, so they can rapidly form combat capability. The number of tanks built or delivered by manufacturer Norinco remains classified and secret.
Compared with the PLA’s Type 96 and Type 99 tanks, the Type 15 with new engine design is of lighter weight, boasts better mobility in high altitude regions with low oxygen levels, and is more suitable for plateau combat. Type 15 light tank also uses new armor materials and stealth technologies, so it has reduced weight but better protection and stealth functions.
It also has advanced fire control and weapons systems as well as extra battlefield situational awareness capabilities, particularly the ability to identify friends or foes.
China may have well started induction of Type 15 Light tanks from early 2019 as a report by a magazine quoted Chinese Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson of Ministry of National Defence. MND confirmed that its forces are being equipped with a new lightweight tank, the Type-15. The Type-15 tank, which was first unveiled to the public at an airshow in 2016, had debut at the National Day military parade in Beijing in 2019. Chinese experts claim the tanks are being mass produced and commissioned into the PLA at a fast pace.
A 2020 assessment from Global Firepower estimates that the Chinese Army consists of roughly two million active-duty troops and 510,000 reserves, a number which is more than two- three times larger than the U.S. Army’s standing active force that stands at 4,80,000 as on date. The assessment also says the Chinese have 33,000 armored vehicles and 3,500 tanks.
A type of wheeled armored ambulance also entered service with the regiment together with the Type 15, and more weapons and equipment suitable for plateau combat are expected to be commissioned in the near future, China’s CCTV reported.
A plenty war stories particularly in Indian context suggest lighter tanks play a decisive role in winning or loosing a war.
Type 15 Light Tank Armament:
The main armament of the VT5 / Type 15 or ZTQ-15 consists of one 105 mm rifled gun with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor which has a maximum firing range of 3,000m. The ZTQ-15 has an effective firing range of 3 km. The main armament also includes an automatic bustle-mounted ammunition loading system. This allows to reduce the crew to 3. In turn a smaller crew allowed to reduce overall dimension of the tank, making it a smaller target on the battlefield. The empty cartridge cases are ejected via a small hatch located at the rear of the turret. The VT5 carried a total of 38 rounds of 105mm ammunition which can include Armour-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High Explosive (HE), and gun-launched anti-tank guided missile. The missile has a maximum range of 5km and is fitted with a tandem HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead able to destroy armoured or tanks protected with reactive armour (ERA).
Its APFSDS round penetrates up to 500 mm of rolled homogenous armor. Such penetration capabilities are not sufficient to defeat modern main battle tanks over the front arc. However this tank can also launch 105 mm anti-tank guided missiles in the same manner as ordinary munitions. These extend the effective range to up to 5 km and have a hit probability of over 90% against stationary targets. Furthermore these missiles have tandem High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warheads and pose serious threat to main battle tanks, and can even target low-flying helicopters. Also the gun can launch ordinary High Explosive (HE) and HEAT rounds for use against light armored vehicles, buildings, field fortifications and infantry.
The second armament of the VT5 includes one remotely operated weapon station mounted on the roof of the turret which is armed with a 12.7mm machine gun and one 40mm automatic grenade launcher. Two banks of three electrically operated smoke-grenade dischargers are mounted on each side at the rear of the turret and coupled to a laser detector. The turret is fully stabilized to offer high accuracy against static and moving targets.
Design & Protection features:
The layout of the VT5 / Type 15 or ZTQ-15 is standard for a main battle tank with a crew of three, including the driver seated at the front center of the hull, gunner and commander in the turret. The length of Type 15 light tank is 9.20 m; Width- 3.30 m and Height- 2.50 m. The VT5 can be fitted with two different armor configurations. The hull and the turret of the VT5 is made with all-welded steel armour which provides standard protection against firing of small arms and shell splinters. To increase the protection, the VT5 can be equipped with advanced composite armour and/or explosive reactive armour. It also uses new armor materials and stealth technologies, so it has reduced weight but better protection and stealth functions At AirShow China 2016, the VT5 was also fitted with slat armour (wire cage armour) on the turret sides and either side of the hull to increase protection against rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. This tank has also got a passive protection system with a laser detector. This system triggers smoke grenade dischargers once the tank is illuminated by a laser beam. This system reduces the chance of being hit by laser-guided anti-tank missiles. The VT5 has a combat weight from 33 to 36 tons depending on the armour configuration and measures 9.20 m in length, by 3.30 m (with armour package) in width, and 2.50 m in height without the remotely operated weapon station.
The VT5 / Type 15 or ZTQ-15 is motorized with a 1,000 hp electronically controlled turbo charged diesel engine mounted at the rear of the hull; and coupled to a hydro-mechanical full automatic transmission with a pivot steering capability and a cooling system. It can run at a maximum road speed of 70 km/h, 35 to 40 km/h in off-road conditions with a maximum cruising range of 450 km. The VT5 can climb vertical obstacles of 0.85 m, a gradient of 60% and a fording depth of 1.1 m without preparation.
The suspension of the VT5 consists of six road wheels with idler at the front, drive sprocket at the rear and track return rollers. The upper parts of the suspension is protected by armour package. The VT5 can be fitted with external additional fuel drums mounted at the rear of the hull to extend the cruising range. The Type 15 tank is easy and flexible to operate and has high mobility, as it is equipped with a new engine designed for plateau missions and an oxygen producer.
The Type 15 is less powerful but also significantly lighter than the Type 99, at 35 tons versus the 58 tons of Type 99. Its lighter frame is accompanied by a hydro-pneumatic suspension system. Also found in Japan’s Type 10 tank, it dynamically adjusts ground clearance to maximize maneuverability and combat efficacy on uneven terrain.
Command, Control & Communication of Type 15:
Standard equipment of the VT5 / Type 15 or ZTQ-15 includes NRBC protection and air conditioning system, computerized firing control system, laser range finder, command-and-control equipment, a tactical command system, battlefield management systems and a navigation system that includes INS (Inertial Navigation System) and satellite communications. The gunner and the commander position are equipped with stabilized day/thermal sights incorporating a laser rangefinder. The VT5 has also a panoramic sight that allows commanders to have all-round surveillance on the battlefield without being disturbed by turret motion. The new Chinese light tank has got a modern fire control system. It includes laser rangefinder, ballistic computer, wind sensor, gunner’s thermal sight and commander’s panoramic sight with thermal vision. Thermal vision allows to engage targets at night and during adverse weather conditions.
VT5 is an export version of the ZTQ-15. It was first publicly revealed in 2016 and is being proposed for possible customers. This tank has a number of differences. Different design similar to the ZTQ-15 that is made for export. There are noticeable design differences. The driver’s hatch on the VT-5 is positioned at the center front hull whereas the ZTQ-15 driver’s hatch is located on the left. The upper front hull of the VT-5 is noticeably curved whereas the ZTQ-15 is straight. The modular add-on armor kits are also noticeably different.
In 2020 Bangladesh became the first customer of this tank. The China-made VT4 main battle tank (MBT) joined the Pakistan Day military parade for the first time in Islamabad on March 25.
Armored recovery vehicle. It was specially designed to support the ZTQ-15 tanks. Images of this vehicle first emerged in 2020. Turret has been removed and replaced by a superstructure. It is fitted with a crane, dozer blade and recovery winch. This machine also carries tools and welding equipment for field repairs.
155 mm self-propelled howitzer. In 2020 images emerged that a new howitzer, based on the ZTQ-15 tank chassis is being tested.
The way forward for India:
There is only way forward to deal with Chinese threat and combat with winning edge is to get FRCV and FICV as soon as possible. Shailesh Kumar, National Defence. Thanks for watching. If you are new to my channel, please subscribe and press bell icon to get notified of new videos. Jai Hind. Vande Matram.