The Chinese announced their new Type 99A2 Main Battle Tank. They are boasting that it is an equal to the American M1 Abrams MBT.
Jane’s report on the MBT is now up too.
The Type 99 is a glorified T-72. I’m more interested in it’s computer targeting system, which determines whether the tank is useful in combat or if it’s just for show on the parade ground.
The Tank Chassis is not as important as it once was. I discussed the evolution of sabot rounds and chomham armor and why they made American tanks supreme. The real key was computer technology that allowed the American M1 and its cousin tanks to accurately fire the sabot round from a smoothbore cannon while moving. Tanks these days are platforms for firing killer sabot rounds.
Chobham armor cannot be penetrated with HEAT rounds fired by more accurate rifled cannons. Sabot rounds can penetrate chobham armor but they are notoriously inaccurate and cannot be used without serious computer assistance. Soviet and Chinese tanks lacked such computers.
The Chinese Type 99 is a modified version of the Soviet T-80 (which itself is a modified version of the T-72)
It has thick sloped steel armor. If you look at its photos, the armor looks like it has “tiles” laid on it. These are reactive armor plates. When an explosive projective strikes the plates, they release an explosive charge to counteract HEAT and stops it from penetrating. Reactive armor is very good against HEAT rounds.
Reactive armor is not as good as the ceramic honeycomb Chobham armor, but it’s cheaper and easier to produce for the Chinese. Reactive armor is not as effective against kenetic energy penetrators, like sabot rounds.
How does the Type 99 weapon system work? It has a 125mm smoothbore tank gun, so it is fitted to fire sabot rounds. The old problem for the Soviets and Chinese was that the lacked the computers to hit anything with a smoothbore gun. They were forced to stop using more accurate rifled tank guns and HEAT rounds because they could not penetrate American Chobham armor.
The Soviet/Chinese “solution” to Chobham, awful as it was, was to fit their tanks with smoothbore guns to fire sabot rounds that couldn’t hit anything, but if they did hit something they would at least have a chance at killing it.
The Chinese have been trying to produce better targeting computers for decades now. Their airforce is having similar problems updating their fighters and bombers. The Chinese military is using technology that the US had back in the 1970s.
The Chinese like to exaggerate, but they are certainly making progress in computer technology. If they don’t already, they will soon have the ability to accurately fire sabot rounds. Once that happens, armor advantages are nullified so Chinese tanks will be able to take on American M1s in an even fire-fight.