Type 98 Main Battle Tank
ZTZ-98 / WZ-123
The Type 98 was first introduced to the public during the parade on 1 October 1999, marking the 50th Anniverary of the founding of the People's Republic China. While initially confused as the Type 96, further study revealed that the 18 tanks on display during the parade were in fact a member of the Type 80 family of Chinese Main Battle Tanks.
The Type 98, also known as by the industrial designation WZ-123, was based on the Russian T-72 and even features a hull design similar to the Russian tank. However, the vehicle incorporated a variety of design changes and an angular turret design more reminiscent of Western tank types.
The Type 98 program was believed to have begun sometime in the early 1990s as the Chinese explored design changes to the Type 90-II.
Armed with a 125mm smoothbore main gun fed by a carousel autoloader the Type 98 weighs roughly fifty tons and was powered by a new 1200-hp diesel engine. The main gun's fire control system is fitted with a stablized independent sight for the commander.
While the hull of the Type 98 resembles the T-72, the turret does not, instead it is "box-like". The turret front is slightly sloped and angled, with the turret sides being nearly vertical, and the turret roof has a slightly domed appearance. The Type 98's turret is larger than those of previous Chinese tanks, and extends forward, creating a gap between the lower edge of the turret and the hull deck.
The Type 98 also includes some type of previously unknown active self-defense system. The two components of this active self defense system are mounted on the turret roof. The LWR (Laser Warning Receiver) is mounted behind commander's hatch, and a high-powered laser weapon mounted behind gunner's hatch which is employed against the source of the enemy's laser illumination.
There was speculation that the Type 98's armor was either based on, or was influenced by Russia's T-80U MBT. This was based on similarities found in the two tanks, including cavities in the turret's frontal armor that were covered by plates, placed flush and bolted to the turret's roof.
It was not initially clear whether or not the Type 98 had enterred full production and it was not clear how widely the PLA plans on fielding the system. Estimates concerning the exact number of Type 98s varied widely. Some sources indicated that only 10 were on display at the 1999 parade though other sources refer to 18. The Military Balance for 2000/01 indicated that there were "10+" Type 98s in the inventory. The 2001-02 edition did not offer a quantity, though the 2002-03 indicated that there were 60. The 2003-04 edition of The Military Balance stated that 80 tanks were in the inventory, indicating a production of roughly twenty Type 98s per year. Unfortunately, no other sources had been able to confirm these statistics, and IISS does not cite their data. Available information indicated that the rate of production for the tanks was roughly 20 tanks per year, though it was possible that this could increase.
It was later shown that the Type 98 was in fact a pre-production series, and that the production tanks, to a similar standard, were in fact Type 99 variants. The Military Balance for 2008 merged the totals for both, suggesting that there were around 130 Type 98s and Type 99s combined.
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