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Type 80 Main Battle Tank
Type 80-II Main Battle Tank
Type 88/A/B Main Battle Tank

In 1987 the existence of a new Type 80 main battle tank was revealed in the Western press, though some sources report the tank was first revealed in 1984. The Type 88 was simply the Type 80 as accepted by the PLA, the Type 80 being primarily designed for export. The tank was believed to have been first introduced to the PLA between 1985 and 1988. The basic Type 88 is generally similar except for the removal of the turret stowage baskets to allow the fitting of an Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) suite.

The Type 80 has a chassis combining a number of features from previous PLA tanks with new Western design elements, an improved fire control system over systems previously in service, and had a turret similar to that installed on the Type 69 MBT, but with different armament. The Type 80/88 is an interesting blend of modern Western technologies to upgrade Chinese weapon systems derived from the 1950s-era Soviet designs. The Type 80 is a hybrid of the Soviet-style cast turret and western technologies including a 105 mm rifled gun, a laser rangefinder, fire-control systems, and a 730 hp turbocharged powerpack.

The Type 80's all-welded hull is divided into three main compartments with the driver at the front, fighting compartment in the center, and the engine and transmission at the rear. The Type 80 has a four-man crew. The tank commander, gunner and loader sit in the turret with the commander on the left, gunner forward and below the commander, and the loader on the right. Composite armor can also be added to the vehicle's front and turret for increased protection. Additionally, the Type 80 has smoke laying capabilities.

Unlike the T-69 and other previous PLA tanks based on the Russian T-54 series, the Type 80 has six dual rubber-tired road wheels on each side with the drive sprocket at the rear, idler at the front and three track return rollers. The first, second, fifth and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock absorbers. Also, there are two optional drum-type fuel tanks that can be mounted on the rear for an increased operational range, a snorkel for deep fording mounted on the loaders hatch when in use, a commander's cupola with a forward-opening hatch cover with two integral periscopes for side observation and three frontal observation periscopes mounted forward of the commanders hatch.

The Type 80 has a loader's left opening circular hatch cover, four forward-firing electrically-operated smoke dischargers on each side and a stowage basket that runs around the sides and rear of the turret, a splash board mounted on the glacis plate and a driver's single left opening hatch cover, in front of which are two day periscopes, one of which can be replaced by an infrared periscope for night driving. Finally, the Type 80 has two circular exhaust outlets on the right side of the hull and armored track skirt plates with hinged wavy bottoms to allow for suspension maintenance.

The main armament for the Type 80 is a Type 83 105mm rifled gun fitted with a fume extractor and a thermal sleeve. The gun is a Chinese copy of the British L7 gun, obtained from Austrian sources. The ammunition load for the 105mm gun is 44 rounds. The 105mm gun fires APFSDS-T, HEAT-T, HESH, and HE rounds. The Type 80s secondary armament consists of a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on the loader's hatch and a 7.62mm machine gun mounted coaxially to the main armament.

A more powerful engine, ballistics computer, laser rangefinder integrated with stabilized sights, sensors and gun stabilization provide firepower and mobility.The Type 80 can cross a 2.7-meter trench, mount a 0.8-meter vertical step, climb a 60-percent grade, climb a 40-percent side slope, ford 1.4 meters without snorkel or ford 5 meters with preparation.

The Type 88 was simply the Type 80 as accepted in service by the PLA, the Type 80 being primarily designed for export. The basic Type 88 is generally similar except for the removal of the turret stowage baskets to allow the fitting of an Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) suite. The Type 88 had two additional subvariants. The Type 88B reportedly came first, and featured an improved loading assembly for the main gun to allow the usage of improved 105mm rounds. The original light spot fire control was replaced by an image-stabilized fire control system. The Type 88A featured the improved Type 83-I 105mm main gun and the FY series double explosive reactive armor plates, which can resist both APFSDS and HEAT-FRAG rounds.

The Military Balance indicated that the PLA steadily increased the number of Type 80 and Type 88 A/Bs. In 2000 the PLA was thought to have roughly 500 Type 88Bs, though in 2001 IISS was unable to identify a specific number. The January-May 2001 edition of Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment: China and Northeast Asia contradicted the Military Balance's 2000 figure, specifying that China had only 400. According to IISS the Chinese had roughly 900 Type 88 A/Bs in inventory in 2002, and in 2003 the number had increased by roughly 100 for a total of a 1,000. Estimates continued to be unclear. The generally reliable Army Guide reports " The batch production stopped in 1995, with about 500 tanks delivered to the PLA under the designation of Type 88/A/B." Another source said that the PLA took very limited deliveries of the Type 88 series, with 400-500 delivered before production was stopped in 1995. According to IISS the Chinese still had some 1,000 Type 88As and Type 88Bs as of 2008.




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