MBT-2000 / VT-1

The MBT-2000 (also known as the VT-1) was China’s first attempt to produce an advanced 3rd-generation main battle tank (MBT) that could rival modern Russian MBT designs. The tank was introduced in 2000 following a decade-long joint development programme between China and Pakistan. The tank has been built locally in Pakistan under license as the Al-Khalid. The Chinese-built MBT-2000/VT-1 is also serving in Myanmar, Morocco, and Bangladesh.

  • PLA designation: None
  • Export designations: Type 90-II, MBT-2000, VT-1, Al-Khalid (Pakistan)
  • Type: Main battle tank
  • Designer: NORINCO North Vehicle Research Institute (201 Institute)
  • Manufacturer: NORINCO Inner Mongolia First Machinery Factory (617 Factory); Heavy Industries Taxila (Al-Khalid)
  • Crew: Three
  • Operators: Pakistan (Al-Khalid, 324), Myanmar (50), Morocco (150), Bangladesh (44)
  • Derivative: MBT-3000/VT-4

Background

NORINCO first revealed its Type 90-II MBT design in 1992. The tank featured a Chinese-made 125-mm smoothbore gun with autoloader and a 1,200-hp diesel engine. The tank was much heavier than previous Chinese-made MBTs, marking a transformation in design philosophy. To save development cost and lower risk, the Type 90-II inherited some mature technologies of previous Chinese MBTs, with 10% of its components coming from the Type 59, 15% from the Type 69, 20% from the Type 85, and the remaining 55% being newly-developed.

As part of a joint agreement with Pakistan in January 1990, China sold some 200 examples of its Type 85-IIAP MBTs to the Pakistani Army and also agreed to help the country to develop its own capability to produce an advanced 3rd-generation MBT locally. Pakistan spent more than US$20 million over the next eight years on the co-development of a model suitable for its needs and on creating a capability to manufacture it locally. The Type 90-II was chosen as the model to be built, and Chinese-built prototypes underwent field testing in Pakistan in August 1991. Some upgrades to the tank’s design were demanded, including a more advanced digital fire-control system and more reliable engine.

Initially the British Perkins 1,200-hp CV12 diesel (used by the Challenger II) with a French SESM ESM500 automatic transmission (used by the Leclerc) were considered for the powerplant, but the project (known as Type 90-IIA) was cancelled due to Britain and France joining the arms embargo imposed on Pakistan for its nuclear testing in 1998. Finally, a version (designated Type 90-IIM) powered by a Ukrainian 6TD-2 1,200-hp diesel engine (used by the T-84) was tested and accepted by the Pakistani Army.

The construction of Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) in Pakistan was completed in 1992, and the plant gained initial through licensed production of the Chinese Type 85-IIAP MBT. Following the decade-long co-development programme, the Type 90-IIM design was chosen as the production version and came to be known as Al-Khalid. About 65% to 70% of the tank’s components are locally built in Pakistan, with the engines imported directly from the Ukrainian supplier. The plant was capable of building 50 examples per year, with some 300 to 400 examples built for the Pakistani Army between 2001 and 2017.

Variants

  • Type 90-II: Early prototype and did not enter production.
  • Al-Khalid: Licensed production variant specifically tailored for the requirements of the Pakistani Army.
  • MBT-2000: Chinese-built version similar to the Al-Khalid in design and configuration.
  • VT-1: Export variant with the option for different configurations in protection, engine, and mission systems.
  • VT-1A: Improved export variant with combat weight increased to 49 tonnes, thermal imaging system, and ‘hunter-killer’ fire-control mode with a maximum range of 2,000 m.
  • Al-Khalid II: Proposed modernised version with integrated battlefield management system (IBMS), improved armour protection and weapons, French-made 3rd-generation thermal imaging system, ATGM tracking/warning system, and Ukrainian electro-optical countermeasures system.

Other Export Sales

As well as being built in Pakistan as the Al-Khalid, the tank has also been offered by NORINCO to the international market as the MBT-2000, which was first unveiled during the 2001 Abu Dhabi Defence Exhibition. More recently, the tank has been marketed under the name VT-1, as part of NORINCO’s VT series of MBTs for the export market.

Myanmar placed an order for 50 examples of the MBT-2000/VT-1 in 2009 and took delivery of these from 2012 to 2013. Morocco ordered 150 examples of the improved VT-1A and received 54 of them in 2010. Bangladesh ordered 44 examples in 2011 and received them in 2013, making the tank one of China’s biggest success stories in the MBT export market.

Conclusion

The MBT-2000/VT-1 has been marketed by NORINCO as a primary competitor to the Russian T-72. The tank uses a similar automatically-loaded 125-mm gun to the T-72, but is more mobile than most standard export T-72 variants as a result of its more powerful Ukrainian engine. Its fire-control and observation systems are also more advanced than those of standard T-72s, making the tank comparable to the T-90S in general performance.

Type 90-II prototype
Type 90-IIM / MBT-2000
Al-Khalid of the Pakistani Army
Al-Khalid of the Pakistani Army

Design

Hull

The tank has a conventional layout, with the driving compartment located at the front, the turret mounted in the middle, and the engine compartment in the rear. The tank’s welded turret accommodates the main gun, auto-loader, and munitions. The rear half of the turret is surrounded by storage racks, which not only offer extra places for the crew to store their equipment but also provide additional protections against HEAT projectiles. On later variants, the racks are attached with explosive reactive armour (ERA) modules.

The tank is operated by a three-man crew. The driver is seated left in the hull and forward of the turret. The tank commander sits on the right side of the main gun, and is also responsible for operating the 12.7-mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on his hatch cupola. The gunner sits on the left side of the main gun. The crew is protected by an over-pressure collective NBC protection and a fully automatic fire/explosion suppression system.

The drivetrain consists of six rubber-tyred road wheels, three return rollers, and a sprocket at the rear on each side. The tracks and wheels are protected by six panels of thick rubber side skirts. External storage for fuel and equipment are provided by encased compartments on the funders, which have been blended into the upper hull.

Protection

The hull and turret of the tank are protected by composite armour plating and maximum thickness is estimated to be around 600 mm on the turret front, and around 450 mm on the glacis plate. The armour package is of modular design, enabling damaged sections to be replaced or upgrades installed throughout service life. On some variants, the original vertically-faced front armour plates on the turret were replaced with two arrow-shaped spaced add-on armour modules. Explosive reactive armour (ERA) modules can be fitted if required.

There are six Type 84 smoke grenade launchers on each side of the turret. Additional smoke can be generated by injecting diesel fuel in to the engine’s exhaust.

Propulsion

The Al-Khalid and its Chinese version MBT-2000/VT-1 are both powered by a Ukrainian 6TD-2 diesel engine – the same engine also used by the Ukrainian T-84 MBT. The engine was demonstrated to be capable of enduring the harsh hot weather conditions in the southern deserts of Pakistan, where British- and French-made engines struggled to cope. In addition, the Ukrainian T-80UD MBT acquired by the Pakistani Army also uses a similar 1,000-hp 6TD-1 engine, which allowed the logistics and maintenance to be simplified.

Developed by Engine Design Bureau of Kharkiv (EDBK), the 6TD-2 can generate 1,200 hp output, giving the 46-tonne tank a power-weight ratio of 26 hp/tonne, much superior to the T-72 (18.8 hp/tonne) and T-90A (20.4 hp/tonne). A modular design of the tank’s powerplant allows the complete powerpack assembly to be removed in 30 minutes in the field.

The tank uses an automatic transmission and a steering wheel control replacing the manual transmission and steering sticks found on earlier Chinese tanks.

Armament

The tank is fitted with a Chinese-made ZPT-98 125-mm/50-calibre smoothbore tank gun with autoloader, modelled after the Russian 2A46. The gun is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve, and is capable of firing APFSDS, HE and HEAT rounds at a maximum firing rate of 6 rounds per minute, with 39 rounds carried inside the turret and hull. It is not clear whether the gun can fire the Russian 9M119M Reflecks (AT-11 ‘Sniper’) gun-fired laser beam riding missile, or its Chinese copy.

Auxiliary weapons include one 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun (2,000 rounds, 1,000-m range), and a 12.7-mm/50-calibre anti-aircraft machine gun (750 rounds, 1,600-m range) mounted on the commander’s hatch cupola.

Fire-Control

Varying configurations of mission systems are found on different variants of the tank. On the Al-Khalid and MBT-2000, the commander is equipped with a dual-axis image-stabilised panoramic periscope sight, and the gunner is equipped with a dual-axis image-stabilised periscope sight, both integrated with laser rangefinder and night vision. The fire-control system has an accuracy of 71% against a moving target up to 1,500 m range while on the move, and has a reaction time of 6 seconds (static-to-static) to 10 seconds (moving-to-moving).

The improved VT-1A (MBT-2000A) can be equipped with the thermal imaging system and has an extended maximum engagement range of 2,000 m. The tank’s fire-control system has the ‘hunter-killer’ capability, which allows the commander to search for the next target whilst the gunner is using his to fire at a target and then line the new target up for the gunner, or the commander can over ride the gunner with a target deemed more threatening.

Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Length (m): 10.067 (gun pointing forward) or 9.687 (gun pointing backward)
  • Height (m): 2.40
  • Width (m): 3.40 (without rubber track skirts) or 3.50 (with rubber track skirts)
  • Combat weight (t): 46 to 48
  • Engine: 6TD-2 diesel, liquid-cooled turbo-charged V12, 1,200 hp
  • Power-weight ratio (hp/t): 26
  • Transmission: Hydro-mechanic with automatic planetary gear box
  • Track: Metallic, with removable rubber pads and rubber-tyred road wheels
  • Suspension: Torsion bar
  • Cruising range (km): 450
  • Maximum road speed (km/h): 65 (road); 45 (off-road)
  • Fording depth (m): 1.4 (without snorkel); 5 (with snorkel)
  • Main armament: ZPT-98 125 mm/50-calibre smoothbore gun with autoloader and thermal sleeve, 39 rounds
  • Rate of fire (rounds/min): 6
  • Gun elevation/depression (°): +14/-6
  • Auxiliary weapons: Coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun (1,000-m range, 2,000 rounds); 12.7-mm air-defence machine gun (1,600-m range, 750 rounds)
  • Fire-control: Image-stabilised with laser rangefinder, onboard computer, and wind sensor input
  • Night vision: Imager intensifier or thermal imaging system
  • Radio: Receive/transmit, telephone
  • NBC protection: Collective, over-pressure
  • Fire suppression: Automatic

References

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