Type 59 / WZ-120 Medium Tank Variants
By the 1980s, the Type 59 medium tank production had stopped, but improvement and modernization work on the vehicles continued. The vehicle also served as the basis for the improved Type 69 tank. Between 1979 and 1995, the PLA introduced the Type 59-I (also written Type 59-1), Type 59-II (also written Type 59-2), and Type 59-IIA (also written Type 59-2A), Type 59D, and Type 59D-I (also written Type 59D-1) medium tanks, as well as the Type 73 armored recovery vehicle. Norinco offered the weapon system upgrades as a separate package for existing Type 59 operators. The vehicle also served as the basis for experiments, both by the Chinese and abroad. An experimental variant was reportedly constructed to test integration of Western technology into Chinese tanks and also as an armament test bed referred to either as the Type 59 Gai or B59G. The Type 59 Gai was said to have at one point been fitted with an indigenously developed 120mm smooth bore gun, roughly similar in capabilities to the US M256. This variant was said to be referred to by the industrial designator BW-120K. The Chinese reportedly subsequently looked to refit the Type 59 with the 125mm gun used on the Type 96G tank, with this variant possibly being referred to as Type 59G.
A Type 59 in the United Kingdom was reportedly fitted with an improved L7A3 gun and a IR18 thermal imager and a Type 59 chassis was also one of many used to test the Marksman anti-aircraft artillery turret. A GEC-Marconi Centaur fire control system was also made available for export customers, and British Barr and Stroud thermal based fire control system could be fitted.
Type 59-I (59-1) medium tank
In 1979, the PLA introduced an improved Type 59 design, featuring a laser rangefinder and automated fire control system, hydraulic power steering system, automatic fire extinguishing equipment with thermocouple sensor, body shielding apron, camouflage antennas, alarms indicating a loss of oil pressure, and easy to open security doors. The No. 617 Factory achieved this by incorporating a new hydraulic booster technology to the door covers and developing a simpler fire control system, laser rangefinder, and automatic fire extinguisher for the new vehicle. These improvements were designed to improve first shot hit rate, protection, mobility, reduce crew fatigue, and improve ease of use and other aspects over the basic Type 59. Older vehicles were subsequently upgraded and deployed with PLA units. Both the Type 59 and Type 59-I tanks were capable of firing tungsten cored armor-piercing, high-explosive anti-tank, and high explosive rounds. The tungsten cored projectile velocity was said to be 1,435 meters per second.
Type 59-II (59-2) / WZ-120B medium tank
In the early 1980s, Type 59 tanks were upgraded with a Type 79 105mm rifled gun, a copy of the British L5, as well as a new 580 horsepower engine, a further improved automatic fire suppression system, VRC-8000 type radio and VIC-I-type vehicle intercom. Work on these improvements initially began in 1981. These improvements were initially be limited to certain existing Type 59-I vehicles, but a final design was completed in 1984. Production of what subsequently became known as the Type 59-II ran from 1982 to 1985, and the vehicles were supplied to PLA units. These vehicles were also known by the industrial designator WZ-120B.
The new 105mm gun could penetrate 150 millimeters of homogeneous steel armor at 30 degrees at 2,000 meters, a significant improvement over the previous 100mm gun. The automatic fire suppression system greatly improves the survivability of the tank. The new radio doubled the distance at which the vehicle could communicate. The tank design in 1981, 1984 finalized the design, production from 1982 to 1985, has been equipped with Chinese troops. The gun could fire armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot, high-explosive anti-tank, and high-explosive squash-head rounds. The standard ammunition load was increased to 38 rounds. Type 59-IIs were fitted a laser range finder and automatic fire control system and used a hydraulic power steering unit . The improved Type 59-Is and Type 59-IIs could also be found with rubber track shoes, improving the tanks on-road driving capabilities.
Type 59-IIA (59-2A) medium tank
By the end of 1984, the China First Tractor Factory and other production facilities began to develop a further upgrade to the Type 59-II, subsequently designated the Type 59-IIA. A prototype was completed by October 1985, and featured an improved 105mm Type 83 gun, derived from the British L7, with a thermal sleeve, a new light spot fire control system with a 2-axis stabilizer, composite armor. The automatic fire suppression system and automatic fire extinguishing devices were improved so that they could be used while generating smoke or firing the onboard smoke grenade launchers, using hydraulic power control devices, or conducting maintenance work.
Type 59D / D-I (D-1) / WZ-120C
Continued upgrade work on the Type 59 continued into the 1990s and by 1995 the Type 59D had been introduced. Also known by the industrial designator WZ-120C, this variant was followed by the Type 59D-I. Both tanks featured a number of basic improvements, most notably the FY Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) suite on the turret and front hull. Fire control components first fitted to the Type 80 were refitted to the Type 59D series, and they were also capable of firing an indigenous gun-launched missile, derived from the Russian 9K116 (AT-10 Stabber) gun-launched missile. The main difference between the Type 59D and D-I was the main gun. The Type 59D had a further improved Type 83A gun (also referred to as Type 83-I or Type 83-1). The Type 59D-I were upgrades of older Type 59-I tanks and featured the older Type 79 gun.
Type 59G / VT-3
The VT-3 MBT is a Type-59 tank with an updated new turret, optical system on top left side and changed from 105mm to 125mm gun - a cheaper cost MBT for developing nations.
In 2010, the first public appearance of a further improved variant of the Type 59 was reported. This new variant essentially consisted of mating the turret of the Type 96G, including its 125mm gun, to the Type 59-II hull. These vehicles were developed for Bangladesh as part of a military assistance program that would also include the delivery of Type 96G tanks. The use of the same turret would allow for Bangladeshi crews to be familiar with their operation prior to the introduction of the new vehicles and would also allow for the same ammunition to be used.
By 2009, China Poly Technology (Poly Tech) started to develop an improved Type 59 variant for export, the Type 59P, which featured further improved protection, mobility, and firepower, appearing to have been developed from the PLA's Type 59D series. For instance, the Type 59P featured a second generation explosive reactive armor suite and had the Type 83A gun, both features of the Type 59D. The Type 59P had a total weight of 37 tons, fitted with a 730 horsepower diesel engine, and a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour.
The Type 59P carried a total of 48 rounds of ammunition, including the latest model of the armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot, armor-piercing, and high-explosive rounds. At the time of its introduction, the Type 59P could not fire the tube-launched laser-guided missiles (with a range of 5,000 meters) like the Type 59D, but it was reported that Poly Tech was investigating whether or not this capability might subsequently be offered for export. The missile used in the Type 59D weighed 19.8 kilograms and was equipped with a tandem shaped-charge warhead, capable of penetrating a reported 650 millimeters of armor. The Type 59P also featured secondary armament in the form of a co-axial 7.62 mm machine gun (with 2,500 rounds of ammunition) and a 12.7mm machine gun mounted on top of the turret (with 500 rounds of ammunition). Four 81mm smoke grenade launchers were fitted to either side of the turret.
The Type 59P also featured a new fire control system, which integrated a night vision sight and laser rangefinder. In addition, the turret was also equipped with meteorological sensors linked to the fire control system. The Type 59P could fire and hit a static targets while stopped within 5 seconds, moving targets while stopped within 7 seconds, and moving targets while on the move within 10 seconds. In addition, Type 59P was also equipped with a new communication systems, navigation equipment, and ventilation filtration devices for operation in Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical environments. While the Type 59P was not on part with modern Western tanks it was offered as a relatively inexpensive upgrade for countries, especially those in Asia and Africa, with existing T-54/T-55 or Type 59 stocks.
Type 73 Medium Tank Recovery Vehicle
A basic armored recovery vehicle, the Type 73, was also developed by the PLA. The Type 73 is at base a Type 59 tank with the turret removed and replaced with a rear winch, hand-cranked hanger, and other recovery devices, including a dozer blade. These vehicles were used for recovering vehicles that had been damaged in battle, trapped in soft terrain, or otherwise rendered immobile without being capable of self recovery. Precautions had to be taken to prevent the Type 73 itself from being immobilized during recovery operations, as it shared the basic mobility characteristics of the Type 59 tank. Sand channels could be used to provide traction in soft terrain and the vehicle's dozer blade could be dug into the ground to provide additional traction when winching out immobilized vehicles. The vehicle was also suited to performing other battlefield repair and maintenance tasks and could be fitted with a detachable A-frame crane capable of lifting up to 1000 kilograms for the replacement of engines and other large components parts.
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