The ZTZ-88 (originally known as Type 80) is China’s 2nd-generation indigenous main battle tank (MBT) introduced in the early 1980s. Incorporated with Western weapon, engine and mission systems, the tank saw limited service with the PLA and later evolved into the Type 85/ZTZ-96 series MBT.
- PLA designation: ZTZ-88 (Type 88)
- Export designations: Type 80
- Variants: Type 80, Type 80-II, ZTZ-88, ZTZ-88B, ZTZ-88A
- Type: Main battle tank
- Designer: NORINCO North Vehicle Research Institute (201 Institute)
- Manufacturer: NORINCO Inner Mongolia First Machinery Factory (617 Factory)
- Crew: Four
- Operators: PLA
- Derivatives: Type 85/ZTZ-96
Between 1969 and the early 1980s, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) feared a possible invasion by the Soviet forces deployed along the Sino-Soviet border and in the Mongolian People’s Republic. At the time, the PLA only operated the obsolete Type 59 (Soviet T-54 copy) and Type 69 (improved Type 59), which would have little chance of survival against the latest Soviet tank designs such as the T-62, T-64 and T-72.
As a result of its improved relations with the U.S. and other Western countries in the late 1970s, China was able to obtain some advanced arms technologies from the West. This led to the decision in April 1978 to develop a new-generation MBT that could match the German Leopard II. Two design proposals under the code name WZ1224 and WZ1226 were subsequently produced, but neither made much progress due to the significant technical difficulties facing the development team.
To meet the PLA’s urgent demand for a competent successor to the Type 59/69, NORINCO and 617 Factory proposed a more modest design (WZ1225) based on the design of the Type 69-III, with a newly designed chassis and engine. This proposal (originally named Type 69G) was approved by the PLA in November 1980 and given a new designation Type 80 under the suggestion of the Chinese defence minister General Zhang Aiping. The development programme was headed by 617 Factory, with the participation of 201 Institute, 447 Factory, and 616 Factory.
The Type 80, which was first introduced in 1985, was essentially a hybrid of Soviet-style cast turret, Chinese-designed hull, and Western weapon, engine, and mission systems. Key features of the tank included:
- A redesigned chassis with 6 pairs of smaller road wheels and 3 return rollers replacing the original 5 pairs of large road wheels on the Type 59/69;
- Add-on composite armour plates (hull front);
- 730-hp 12150ZL liquid-cooled, turbo-charged diesel (German technology);
- 37A light spot fire-control system (British Marconi technology) with an external laser rangefinder and image intensifier night vision;
- Type 79 105-mm rifled gun with thermal sleeve (British Royal Ordnance L7 technology, imported from Austria).
The basic variant Type 80 did not enter production. 617 Factory continued to improve the tank with the introduction of the Type 80-I, which featured a new integrated light spot fire-control system incorporating laser rangefinder, optical sight, and night vision, allowing engagement of moving targets in day/night conditions. The original 1st-generaiton image intensifier night vision was replaced with a more advanced 2nd-generation design. The tank also featured an over-pressure collective NBC-production system in complementing to the individual crew NBC kits.
The further improved Type 80-II featured some minor improvements, including:
- An improved 780-hp 12150ZL(Gai) engine replacing the original 730-hp 12150ZL;
- An air compressor on the gearbox;
- Dust removal devices on the observation systems;
- Capability to generate smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel in to the engine’s exhaust;
- A fully-automatic over-pressure collective NBC-protection system, removing the need for individual NBC kits;
- VRC-83 radio and intercom;
- Air-ventilating fans;
- Turret storage racks.
The Type 80-II design was finally certified for production in 1987 and the tank entered service with the PLA in 1988 under the designation ZTZ-88 (Type 88). The ZTZ-80 is generally similar to the Type 80-II, but with the front storage racks on the turret removed to fit the explosive reactive armour (ERA) modules. Some 300 to 400 examples have been delivered to the PLA.
This variant featured a redesigned gun-loading system to allow the firing of the new 105-mm ammunitions. The original 37A light spot fire-control system was replaced by an image-stabilised design.
Another improved variant introduced later than ZTZ-88B, featuring an improved Type 83-I 105-mm rifled gun with longer barrel and better performance, and the indigenous FY series double ERA modules, which can resist both APFSDS and HEAT-FRAG rounds.
The Type 80 was China’s first step to break away from the Soviet influence in its MBT design. The tank would still not be able to compete with the likes of the Russian T-72, but was a significant improvement over the previous Type 59/69 series. The technology and experience of the Type 80 eventually lead to the introduction of the the more successful Type 85/ZTZ-96 series, which still forms the backbone of the PLA’s armoured forces today.
The ZTZ-88 has a conventional layout, with the driving compartment located at the front, a Soviet-style half-egg shape cast turret mounted in the middle, and the engine compartment in the rear. The tank is operated by a four-man crew. The driver sits left in the hull and forward of the turret, and the loader, gunner and commander occupy the turret. The loader is seated to the right of the main gun and the gunner and tank commander sitting in tandem on the left side. The loader is also responsible for operating the 12.7-mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on turret roof.
The drivetrain of the ZTZ-88 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 compartments and boxes located on the funders. There is a welded breakwater on the front of the hull.
The hull and turret of the tank are protected by iron armour plating, and additional protection can be provided by adding removable composite armour plates to the front of the hull. the front of the hull. The turret is surrounded by storage racks on the rear, which not only offer extra places for the crew to store their equipment but also provide additional protections against HEAT projectiles. Wheels and tracks are protected by rubber hull skirts.
There are four 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.
The ZTZ-88 is powered by a turbo-charged, liquid-cooled 730-hp V12 12150ZL diesel engine, with a planetary gear box and hydraulically-operated transmission. The engine was based on the NORINCO 12150L-7 diesel (copy of the Russian V-54 used by the T-54), but has been upgraded with German turbo-charged diesel technology for better performance. With a combat weight of 38 tonnes, the ZTZ-88 has a power-to-weight ratio of 19.2 hp/t, giving a maximum road speed of 57 km/h and off-road speed of 40 km/h.
The main armament is an indigenous Type 83 105 mm rifled tank gun, which is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve. The manually-fed gun is capable of firing Chinese or NATO standard APFSDS, HEAT and HESH rounds, with a maximum firing rate of 7 rounds/minute. The 1,950-kg gun has a muzzle velocity of 1,455 metres/second when firing the APFSDS munition. A total 44 rounds (or 48 on the Type 80-I) are carried inside the turret and hull.
Auxiliary weapons include one Type 59 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun (2,250 rounds), and a Type 59 12.7-mm anti-aircraft machine gun (500 rounds) mounted on the loader’s hatch cupola.
The 37A system consists of dual-axis stabilised optical sight, light spot fire-control, onboard computer, and laser rangefinder. On the Type 88A/B this was replaced by a more advanced ISFCS-212 fire-control system.
- Crew: 4
- Length (m): 9.328 (main gun pointing forward), or 8.597 (main gun pointing backward)
- Height (m): 2.86
- Width (m): 3.372 (with track skirts), or 3.352 (without track skirts)
- Combat weight (t): 38
- Engine: 12150ZL diesel, liquid-cooled turbo-charged V12, 730 hp at 2,000 r/m
- Power-weight ratio (hp/t): 19.2
- Transmission: Mechanical, planetary
- Track: Metallic, with removable rubber pads and rubber-tyred road wheels
- Suspension: Torsion bar
- Cruising range (km): 500 (road)
- Maximum speed (km/h): 57 (road), or 40 (off-road)
- Fording depth (m): 1.4 (without snorkel); 5 (with snorkel)
- Main armament: Type 83 105 mm rifled gun, 44 rounds (APFSDS, HEAT, and HESH)
- Rate of fire (rounds/min): 7
- Gun elevation/depression (°): +18/-5
- Auxiliary weapons: Coaxial Type 59 7.62-mm machine gun (1,600-m range, 2,250 rounds); Type 59 12.7-mm anti-aircraft machine gun (1,000-m range, 500 rounds); Two 4-tube 37-mm Type 84 smoke grenade launcher
- Fire-Control: 37A light spot, or ISFCS-212 image-stabilised
- Night vision: Imager intensifier
- Radio: Receive/transmit, telephone
- NBC protection: Individual (Type 80), or over-pressure collective
- Fire suppression: Automatic
- 新浪网 国防在线. 2003. 中国80式主战坦克. [ONLINE] Available at: http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/pc/2003-09-19/29/358.html. [Accessed 18 June 2018].