Hong Kong, China — China has recently exported T85IIM main battle tanks to Uganda, according to a military industry source. But the tanks may be more for display than for defense. “This is a very small batch, intended for a military parade only,” the source said. This would be the first instance for the Ugandan army to employ China-made tanks.
The same type of main battle tank made an appearance at Sudan’s National Day military parade last year. Yet according to the source, the tanks were exported from China much earlier, possibly six or seven years ago, also in small quantity.
Military observers believe that China’s T85IIM will prove attractive to many African countries because it is cheaper than those from other countries, yet still provides sufficient combat power.
The 41-ton T85IIM MBT is fitted with a fire control system capable of maintaining vertical and horizontal stability. The tank fires mainly armor piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot, high explosive anti-tank and high explosive munitions. It uses 730-horsepower engines, which have a power-to-weight ratio of 17.8 horsepower per ton.
In recent years China has reportedly undertaken technological upgrades on the 125-mm APFSD, and the service life of the tank engine has also been improved, which are major steps forward in the country’s tank manufacturing industry.
To date, only Pakistan, Sudan and Uganda are known to have imported the T85IIM serial MBTs. Based on the T85IIM, China has also produced the T96 MBT – which has undergone two major upgrades so far – for its own People’s Liberation Army ground forces. The latest T96A2 MBT is fitted with a simplified thermal imaging system, as well as new-generation modular wedge-shaped armor.
China has also helped Sudan and other African countries upgrade the T59 tanks they imported from China in earlier years to T59D standard. The industry source disclosed details of China’s tank-upgrade programs.
First of all, with help from such countries as France, China has redesigned its third-generation thermal imaging system. Secondly, China has also upgraded its APFSDS munitions.
In addition, China has designed a 1500-horsepower engine, which has been tested on T99A2 MBTs. The reliability and efficiency of its 1500/1200-horsepower engines have also been considerably enhanced, but the export version of the MBT2000 main battle tank is still fitted with the Ukrainian-made 6TD2 1200-horsepower diesel engine.
Research and development on the 1500-horsepower tank engine is partly completed, the source said, with the major problem still being the immense size of the engine system. Because of this, the newly developed engine can only be fitted on a T99A2 MBT for testing.
As part of the testing, the T99A2 MBT has been outfitted with an active protection system similar to the Russian ARENA radar. This new millimeter-wave radar is mainly used to detect anti-tank missiles.
The thermal imaging system fitted on a T99A1 MBT is a second-generation technology; its mechanical scanning is noisy and not highly reliable. This is why this technology was not used for Pakistan’s Al-Khalid tank, co-developed with China.
The Wuhan Gaode IR Technology Group Company has jointly developed 2.5-generation infrared cooling and non-cooling technologies with the French Sofradir Company. Some IR136 third-generation cooling component parts are already used on third generation tanks, probably the T99A2 MBT.
In recent years, a key priority of China’s tank industry has been the upgrading of 125-mm caliber tank ammunitions, particularly APFSDS. China has so far upgraded APFSDS II to APFSDS IIM, both of which have a weight of 23 kilograms, but with different velocities. The APFSDS II has a velocity of 1720 meters per second, while the IIM’s velocity is 1700 meters per second.
The two types of APFSDS munitions have a penetration capacity of RHA220 mm/68.5o and RHA220mm/66.4o at a range of 2000 meters respectively. The 125-mm BTJ1 HEAT munitions have a penetration capacity of RHA180mm/68 o with behind armor effect, while the HEAT munitions displayed in earlier years have had a penetration capacity of RHA80mm/68 o with behind armor effect.
(Andrei Chang is editor-in-chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto, Canada.)