Type 96 / Type 88C Main Battle Tank
The Type 96 incorporated significant improvements over the Type 85, including significant improvements in the three key areas of MBT design: armor, mobility, and firepower. The turret and hull are of all-welded steel armour construction with an additional layer of modular composite armor over the frontal arc. The main armament is a 125mm smoothbore gun, fitted with a thermal sleeve and a fume extractor. Features include a stabilized turret, slaved targeting sight and gun, and an autoloading gun capable of firing APFSDS, HEAT, and HE-FRAG rounds. The gun is also capable of firing the 9M119 Refleks guided missile, though it was unclear whether the Type 96 had the necessary equipment to utilize this capability.
With the addition of reactive armor panels, an improved laser rangefinder, and increased mobility, the Type 96 was the most advanced Chinese main battle tank at the time of its introduction in 1997.
Production of the Type 96 tank continued through the mid-2000s, though the rate of increase seemed to have declined as US Department of Defense estimates became more static. Military Balance indicates that China had roughly 400 Type 96s in 2000, though this estimate may have been incorrect, or lacked confidence as IISS refused to give any individual system estimates in 2001. In 2002 The Military Balance indicated that the PLA had some 550 Type 88Cs and "some" Type 96s. The 2003 edition's stipulation that the PLA has 800 Type 96s may reflect IISS's realization that the two systems were actually the same tank.
The annual report on the Chinese military issued by the Department of Defense in 2002 stated that the total number of Type 96s deployed would reach 1,800 by 2005 but this estimate was decreased to 1,500 in 2003 report, without an explanation for the revision. By 2008 the PLA was reported to have between 1,200 and 1,500 Type 96 tanks. Production of the Type 96 tank reportedly ceased between 2005 and 2006, but production continued after that time of the improved Type 96G (also referred to as ZTZ-96G) variant.
Unveiled in 2006, the Type 96G featured a revised turret armor suite, visually similar to that of the Type 98/99 tanks, and a passive countermeasures system, which appeared similar to the Russian Shtora-1, used for jamming SACLOS ant-tank missiles, laser rangefinders and target designators. A thermal imaging system is also fitted to the gunner's sight, not found on standard Type 96s.
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