Type 69 / WZ-121 Main Battle Tank
The Type 69 main battle tank (also known by its industrial designator WZ-121) was effectively a Chinese copy of the Soviet T-55 tank and an improved version of the Type 59 medium tank (itself a copy of the Soviet T-54A), with improvements in gunnery and automotive areas. It was a relatively inexpensive and easy to operate tank, but remained largely a 1960s-era design.
To improve the design of the Type 59 medium tanks, in 1963 a tactical and technical requirement was established. Proposals for a next generation medium-sized tank were made in 1963. Development of a new tank was charged to the No. 60 Research Institute and the No. 617 Factory of the Fifth MMB and by 1964 the design was completed. Production of prototypes began in 1965, but unfortunately this was slowed down by the Great Cultural Revolution. Only in 1970 was a trial tank was finally produced. The design of the new tank was eventually completed in 1974 and was designated as the Type 69 Medium Tank. This series was first seen in public in 1982. The new tank featured an 100mm gun, 426 kilowatt (580 horsepower) engine, 2-axis stabilizer, and infrared searchlight. Compared to the Type 59 and Type 59-I tanks, the new Type 69 tanks were improved in firepower and mobility as well as night combat performance. Many of the features of the Type 69 were later incorporated into the Type 59 series first as part of the Type 59-II upgrade program.
The basic 36-ton Type 69 main battle tank had improved armor, a gun stabilizer, a fire control system including a laser range finder, infrared searchlights, and a 100mm smoothbore gun. The vehicle also featured a coating of infrared reflecting paint and armor side skirts. The hull and turret of the Type 69 are very similar to that of the Type 59. As with the Type 59, the hull was made from welded rolled steel plates, with the driver's position at the front off set to the left. The fighting compartment, including the turret ring and turret, were in the center of the hull, and then the engine and transmission were in the rear. As with the Type 59, the turret was cast iron. The crew of four consisted of the driver in front and the vehicle commander, gunner, and loader in the fighting compartment. The interior of the Type 69 was cramped and could be difficult to operate in. The tank's armor protection was the same as the Type 59, using homogeneous steel armor and cast turret.
The Type 69 had both primary and secondary armament. The main armament was a 100mm smoothbore gun with a bore evacuator near the muzzle. The gun had a 5,450 millimeter long barrel, firing rounds at approximately 1,490 meters per second at a maximum rate of fire of 7 rounds per minute. The ammunition load for the 100mm gun was 44 rounds, those being armor-piercing discarding-sabot, high-explosive anti-tank, and high-explosive rounds. The tank's 44 rounds were divided into 19 ready rounds in 2 ammunition racks, plus another 25 additional rounds. A rack near the engine bulkhead held 12 rounds, 2 rounds were fixed to the vehicle's left armor plate, 4 rounds were fixed to the right armor plate, 2 were fixed to the turret ring wall, and 5 were held in the turret's tail. The Type 69's secondary armament consisted of a 12.7mm Type 54 machine gun (Chinese copy of the Soviet DShK) mounted on the loader's cupola, a 7.62mm machine gun mounted co-axially to the main armament, and another similar weapon mounted in the bow. The Type 69 could also lay a smoke screen through the exhaust system on the left side.
The Type 69 had a laser rangefinder mounted externally over the main armament in front of the mantlet, an infrared searchlight on the commander's cupola, an infrared searchlight above and to the immediate right of the main armament, and an infrared driving light on each running board. The fire control system also included a gunner's night sight, day/night observation vehicle length periscope, and a 1969-style gunner's sight. The laser rangefinder had a range of 300 to 5000 meters, accuracy at range of plus or minus 10 meters, and a repetition rate of 7 times per minute. The gunner's night sight was a 500 watt active infrared type with 7x magnification, capable of observing targets out to 800 meters. The day/night periscope had 5x magnification during the day and 6x at night,, and could identify objects at night out to 400 meters. The unit used an active infrared light power rated at 200 watts. Other observation devices were as the same Type 59 tank. The tank also had a gun stabilizer, providing stability and accuracy to a plus or minus 1 mil level.
The Type 69 had a 12 cylinder v-type water-cooled diesel engine, rated power 426 kilowatt (580 horsepower), capable of 2000 revolutions per minute, with a maximum torque of 2,453 newton metres (plus or minus 98 newton metres), a maximum torque speed of 1,300 to 1400 revolutions per minute, and a minimum torque speed of not more than 500 revolutions per minute. Fuel consumption was not more than 238 grams per kilowatt-hour (175 grams per horsepower-hour) and oil consumption was not more than 8.16 grams per kilowatt-hour (6 gram per horsepower hour). The cooling and lubrication system used a duct type radiator. The total fuel capacity of the vehicle was 935 liters, including external fuel drums. The Type 69 could cross a 2.7-meter trench, mount a 0.8-meter vertical step, climb a 60-percent grade, climb a 40-percent side slope, and ford 1.4 meters.
The Type 69 featured a fixed axis transmission, with 5 forward gears and one reverse gear, and the use of multi-plate dry clutch, 2 planetary steering and single-side spur external gear reducer. The vehicle had a torsion bar suspension, with 5 steel road wheels on the left and right side. The first and fifth road wheel on each side had a hydraulic shock absorber. The tank used a single pin-type metal track plate, with 91 links per side.
The Type 69 carried 3 semi-automatic fire extinguishers, one portable fire extinguisher, and was equipped with with a 2-tube electric ignition smoke system. The tank communication devices included an A-220A-type radio and an A-221A-type vehicle intercom system equipped with a GFT 6000-type rectifier and 6 kilowatt generator.
The Type 69 evolved into a series of tanks and was produced with both smoothbore (Type 69) and rifled (Type 69-I and Type 69-II) guns. The first prototype of a Type 69 with a rifled 100mm gun, along with a rudimentary fire control system, was designated as Type 69-I. Only one was made in 1981. After extensive testing, the rifled gun proved to be more accurate and had greater armor penetration characteristics. The resulting production vehicles, introduced in 1982 and designed primarily for export, were designated as Type 69-II. Smoothbore production was discontinued after only 150 such equipped Type 69s were built. A further improved variant, the Type 69-III, which subsequently became known as the Type 79, had an 105mm rifled gun. The Type 69 tank could also lay its own smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into its exhaust pipes on the left side of the hull.
Type 69 tanks were employed in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It was used in combat by both sides during the 1980's Iran-Iraq war. It had also been used by the Iraqi Army in the 1991 Gulf War and reportedly used by the Sri Lankan Army during their fight against the Tamil Tigers. In the Sri Lankan case these might have been confused with an influx of Chinese arms along with the acquisition of modernized ex-Czechoslovakian T-55 tanks. The Type 69 was, however, a broad export success and on some export versions other secondary weapons had been substituted for the Chinese weapons. Thai Army Type 69-IIs for instance used the 12.7mm Browning M2 machine gun in place of the Chinese Type 54.
The PLA's inventory of Type 69 and 79 tanks, according to The Military Balance, experienced a dramatic degree of fluctuation. In 2000, the number of these tanks peaked at around 1,200 tanks. The January-May 2001 edition of Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment: China and Northeast Asia issue put this number much lower, at around 300. It was possible that IISS was counting both active and inactive vehicles. By 2002, IISS' number had declined to around 150 Type 69s and 500 Type 79s. Further reductions by 2003 brought the number of Type 79s down to 300 tanks with no Type 69s remaining in service. At this rate, this type of main battle tank was expected to be phased out by 2005. However, IISS reported that 300 tanks were still in inventory as of 2013.
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