The Type 85 is a second-generation indigenous main battle tank developed from the earlier Type 80. It was intended primarily for the export market but its technology was later used for the development of the Type 96 operated by the PLA.
- PLA designation: Type 85
- Export designation: N/A
- Type: Main battle tank
- Designer: NORINCO North Vehicle Research Institute (201 Institute)
- Manufacturer: NORINCO Inner Mongolia First Machinery Factory (617 Factory)
- Crew: Four (Type 85-I/II); Three (Type 85-IIM/IIAP/III)
- Operators: Pakistan, Sudan
The Type 85 main battle tank was first introduced by NORINCO in 1989 for the export market. The tank was based on the chassis of the Type 80-II but with a redesigned welded composite turret and an indigenous 105 mm rifled tank gun. The Type 85-I used the same 730 hp 12150ZL diesel engine as the Type 80-II, while the Type 85-II used an improved 800 hp diesel engine. The tank did not receive any order from either domestic or international customers.
The Type 85, originally named Hurricane by its manufacturer, was developed in 1985-89 for the export market. The project was entirely funded entirely by NORINCO with no state funding. The tank was based on the chassis of the Type 80-II, but with a redesigned welded turret and image-stabilised fire-control system. The Type 85 has a combat weight of 39 t.
The tank was available in two variants: The Type 85-I (Hurricane-I) was powered by a 730 hp 12150ZL diesel engine. The Type 85-II (Hurricane-II) was powered by a newly-developed 800 hp diesel engine with a semi-automatic gearbox. The original steering handles were replaced by a steering wheel arrangement. The Type 85-II was demonstrated to an unnamed Middle East country in 1990 to bid for its MBT contract, but lost to its competitor due to its highly unreliable engine and overall inferior performance.
Despite the initial setback, the Type 85-II attracted its first potential customer in 1991. The Pakistani Army, who was in search for a successor to its ageing Type 59/69 tanks, showed strong interest in the tank but demanded some major modifications to the design, including more powerful armament, improved fire-control, and 1,000 hp diesel engine. Based on these requirements, NORINCO began to develop the Type 85-IIAP in June 1990.
The first Type 85-IIAP tank was produced in May 1991. The tank was armed with a Russian 2A46-style 125 mm smoothbore gun with autoloader, but was still powered by the same 730 hp diesel engine. A Pakistani Army delegate visited China in June 1991 to inspect the tank. Pleased with the design concept, the Pakistani customer made a commitment to purchase the tank but demanded some 50 modifications to the tank’s design. A modified Type 85-IIAP was sent to Pakistan in July 1991 for demonstration tests. Satisfied with the tank’s performance, the Pakistani Army placed two orders in 1991 and 1992, totalling some 200 examples.
The Type 85-IIAP was the first successful export of Chinese-made tank in nearly a decade, following the sale of the Type 69-II tank to Iraq in the early 1980s. The tank was certified for design finalisation in January 1992, and was also promoted to the international market under the designation Type 85-IIM. The tank was produced under license by the Military Industry Corporation of Sudan as the Al-Bashir, with some 200 examples produced.
NORINCO began to develop the Type 85-III in 1993-95 hoping to win follow-up contracts from Pakistan and other foreign customers. The Type 85-III featured a 1,000 hp diesel engine, which has been designed as a modular powerpack to allow it to be replaced easily. The gearbox of the Type 85-III was modelled after that of the T-72, with much improved reliability. The tank also has the option to be fitted with the externally-mounted FY-4 reactive explosive armour (REA) modules, increasing its combat weight to 44 t.
NORINCO claimed that the Type 85-III was approaching the Russian T-90 in performance. Between 1994 and 95, the tank was demonstrated in a series of field tests in Pakistan in the bid for the Pakistani Army’s MBT contract. During the tests, the Type 85-III suffered a number of engine failures, partially due to its powertrain unable to adapt to the hot weather conditions in Pakistan. The Pakistani Army eventually rejected the Type 85-III in favour of the Ukrainian T-80UD.
Despite the failure in the commercial market, the Type 85-III was used as the basis for the later Type 96 (originally known as Type 88C), which entered service with the PLA in 1997. The Type 96 adopted the armament and fire-control of the Type 85-III, but retained the original 730 hp 12150ZL diesel engine.
The most distinctive feature of the Type 85 family was its welded turret, which replaced the hemispherical cast turret found on all previous Chinese tanks. The front of the turret is protected by vertically faced composite armour plating, which is much more effective against armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) ammunition than the cast turret design. Exact performance of the Type 85’s composite armour plating is unknown, but it is estimated to be comparable to the Russian T-72M. 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.
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 Type 85-I/II is operated by a four-man crew, with the driver seated left in the hull and forward of the turret and the gunner, loader, and commander occupying the turret. The tank commander is situated to the left of the main gun, with the gunner seated to his front. The loader is seated on the right side of the main gun, and is also responsible for operating the roof-mounted 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret.
For the Type 85-IIAP and its subsequent variants, the number of crew was reduced from 4 to 3 as a result of the introduction of the autoloader. The tank commander is seated to the right of the tank, and is also responsible for operating the 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on his hatch cupola. The gunner sits on the left side of the gun. The hull of the Type 85-IIAP has been widened by 100 mm in order to accommodate the autoloader, and the tank’s overall combat weight was also increased to 41 t.
The crew is protected by an over-pressure collective NBC protection and a fully automatic fire/explosion suppression system. For communications, the tank is fitted with a Type 889B or CWT-167B radio.
The drivetrain of the Type 85 is similar to that of the Type 80-II, with 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. On the Type 85-IIAP/IIM, individual external storage boxes and fuel tanks on the fender were eliminated and replaced by encased compartments blended in the upper hull. On the Type 85-III, the welded breakwater on the front of the hull was removed to make way for fittings the ERA modules.
The Type 85-I variant was powered by a turbo-charged, liquid-cooled 730 hp V12 12150ZL diesel engine, with a planetary gear box and hydraulically-operated transmission. The 12150ZL engine can trace its origin to the 12150, which was a Chinese copy of the Soviet/Russian V-54 used by the T-54 tank. The 12150 engine was upgraded in the late 1970s with Germany turbo-charge diesel technology, which increased its output from 500 hp to 730 hp.
The Pakistani Army originally requested the Type 85-IIAP’s engine to be increased to 1,000 hp, but NORINCO’s new diesel engine was still in development. In the end, the Type 85-IIAP/IIM retained the original turbo-charged, liquid-cooled 730 hp V12 12150ZL diesel engine, which only gave a maximum road speed of 57 km/h.
The Type 85 is fitted with an indigenous Type 83-I 105 mm rifled tank gun, which was developed from the Type 83 tank gun used by the Type 80. The Type 83 tank gun was a Chinese copy of the British Royal Ordnance L7 supplied by Austria. As the licensed co-production agreement prohibited export to third-parties for 15 years, NORINCO developed an indigenous version named Type 83-I with a longer barrel for improved range.
The Type 83-I tank gun is capable of firing all NATO-standard ammunitions, including APFSDS, HEAT, HE, and HEAT-FRAG, with 48 rounds carried inside the vehicle. The APFSDS with alloy core round can penetrate 150 mm armour angled at 60 degrees at 1,000 m distance. The hallow-charged HEAT round could penetrate 178 mm armour angled at 60 degrees. The High-Explosive round could produce a blast radius of 20 m.
The Type 85 was fitted with the ISFCS-212 image-stabilised fire-control system based on the GEC-Marconi Centaur technology, which included a laser rangefinder integrated into the gunner’s sight, control panel, ballistic computer, and a sensor for crosswind, tilt and angular velocity. The system, together with the two-way stabilised 105 mm gun and roof-mounted stabilised sights, enabled the tank to engage moving targets while on the move, with a reaction time of 6 seconds time from target detection to firing.
The most significant improvement on the Type 85-IIAP/IIM/III was its introduction of a 125 mm/48-calibre smoothbore tank gun which replaced the original 105 mm rifled tank gun. The 125 mm gun, which is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve and fed by an autoloader, was a Chinese development modelled after the Russian 2A46. The gun is capable of firing APFSDS, HE and HEAT rounds, but not the gun-fired laser beam riding missile as the original Russian design. The image-stabilised fire-control system of the Type 85-IIM was improved for engaging moving targets and with enhanced night vision capability.
Auxiliary weapons include one 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun (2,250 rounds), and a 12.7mm/50-calibre anti-aircraft machine gun (500 rounds) mounted on the loader’s hatch cupola. 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.
Specifications (Type 85-IIAP/IIM)
- Crew: 3
- Length (m): 10.28
- Height (m): 2.30
- Width (m): 3.45
- Combat weight (t): 41
- Engine: 12150ZL diesel, liquid-cooled turbo-charged V12, 730 hp
- Transmission: Mechanical, planetary
- Track: Metallic, with removable rubber pads and rubber-tyred road wheels
- Suspension: Torsion bar
- Cruising range (km): 400, or 690 with external tanks
- Maximum road speed (km/h): 57.25
- Fording depth (m): 1.4 (without snorkel); 5 (with snorkel)
- Main armament: 125 mm/48-calibre smoothbore gun with autoloader and thermal sleeve, 40 rounds
- Rate of fire (rounds/min): 6—8
- Gun elevation/depression (°): +14/-6
- Auxiliary weapon: One coaxial Type 86 7.62 mm machine gun (1,800 m range, 2,250 rounds); one Type 85 12.7 mm air-defence machine gun (2,000 m range, 500 rounds)
- Fire-Control: ISFCS-212 image-stabilised fire-control system
- Night vision: Imager intensifier
- Radio: Type 889B receive/transmit, telephone
- NBC protection: Collective, over-pressure
- Fire suppression: Automatic