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Vietnamese People's Army (Ground Forces) - Modernization

Vietnam's dependence on the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s for weaponry, military hardware, and technical training assured the Soviets an influential role, if not always a dominant one, in the Vietnamese military's activity and development. At the end of the Second Indochina War, the Soviet Union was supplying about 75 percent of North Vietnam's military hardware (China about 15 percent and Eastern Europe about 10 percent). Without Soviet assistance, Vietnam would have been unable to defend itself against China in 1979. By the 1980s, the estimate was that the Soviets provided 97 percent of such equipment and that the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Poland, and Czechoslovakia together supplied the remaining 3 percent.

During the Cold War the principle advantage to the Kremlin of providing less sophisticated, obsolescent weapons to Vietnam was economic. Large inventories of such armaments already are on hand, and more will become available for redistribution as older materiel is phased put and replaced by more modern weaponry in the Soviet and satellite armies of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union is then in a position to make substantial arms transfers to Vietnam at costs that are affordable to the Kremlin.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought an abrupt end to favourable ‘friendship prices’ and since then Vietnam has been required to pay for military equipment in hard currency or barter arrangements. The Russian Federation remained Vietnam’s main source of sophisticated military equipment. Vietnam made the political decision to give economic development top priority and had therefore not embarked on a broad-based defence procurement and military modernisation program. Efforts to modernize the infantry divisions tend to focus on mobility, attempting to increasing the amount of motorized transportation, however, these moves are hindered by financial struggles.

Although some of the infantry battalions are equiped with BTR-series armored personnel carriers (APCs) and some Class-A divisions have trucks for transportation, the majority of them, about 75%, were still on foot. The Class-A divisions also had artillery and air defenses as well as an armored battalion. The mechanized formations have armor, recce, air defense, artillery and BMP-1 IFV.

In April 2001, Vietnam commenced a modest domestic overhaul of about fifty M113 APCs. The upgrade was carried out by military factory Z-751 in Ho Chi Minh City using spare parts obtained through commercial sources and weapons stocks captured at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s earlier attempt to enlist the services of Singapore Automotive Engineering (now the ST Kinetics division of ST Engineering) had to be abandoned due to the U.S. embargo against Vietnam that was in place that the time.

In the 1980s, the armor of Vietnam started showing signs of degradation. The tanks, more than 2,000 mostly T-54/55, T-62, had become backward as compared to modern tanks in the world at that time. Particularly problematic for armored tank Vietnam forces become more and more serious in the late 1990s, early 2000s. During this period, Vietnam focused on modernizing the air force and the Navy so the armored force was almost abandoned.

Though born more than 60 years ago, the T-55 remained one of the main battle tank common in the army of dozens of countries. Technically the T-55 was very outdated, but many countries cannot afford to replace it with the modern tanks, which are quite expensive. Due to the limited defense budget, Vietnam elected to upgrade the existing tank forces in order to save costs while maintaining combat capability. With the help of Israel and Slovenia, Vietnam cooperated to upgrade T-55 tanksbased on the model of the T-55 that had been successfully upgraded in Slovenia earlier, with the help of Israel, to the T-55S or M-55S1 standard.

According to various sources, as of 2012 Vietnam had approximately 600 to 850 Russian-made T-54/T-55 main battle tanks. Vietnam People's Army planned to upgrade about 10 T-54/T-55 tank battalions, each battalion equipped with 31 tanks.

The T-55 upgrade in Vietnam was based on the prototype M-55S1, specified as T-55M3. This is an upgrade for T-55 which was ageing and obsolete. This upgrade package that included a tank retrofit to reach the standards of a modern battle. The T-55M3 are equipped with a range of modern sensors, digital ballistic computer, search systems and laser targeting devices, observed in the darkness. T-55M3 is equipped with a digital ballistic computer Fontana SGS-55 2-axis stabilization, have the ability to shoot while moving.

Ballistic computer supported by meteorological sensors MAWS6056B allows calculating the effect of wind speed to the shell, thereby hitting targets more accurately. The tank commander has COMTOS-55 command system, allowing commanders to intervene in the selection process the objective of the gunner. Gunner observation system retains a TPN-10, drive with integrated observation system for day/night observation angles CODRIS Fontana 80 degrees during the day and 78 degrees at night, it also integrates more passive night vision system Codris. T-55M3 is equipped with a fire control system 3 EFCS-55B, digital communication systems BROM RC 4.

Armament on the T-55M3 include numerous upgrades. The tank used the 105 mm L7/M68 main gun to replace the 100 mm gun. The L7 can fire a variety of ammunition, including anti-tank round HEAT, round APFSDS armour-piercing shells. The M426 Israeli APFSDS armour-piercing shells could penetrate a thick homogeneous armor 450mm at a distance of 2,000 meters. In addition, optional window 7 gun, anti-aircraft 12, 7 mm, tanks are equipped with additional 60 mm mortar, the same as Israel's Merkava tanks. The addition of the 60 mm mortar enables dealing effectively with high targets in urban warfare or hilly areas.

To enhance protection for the tank, the T-55M3 are equipped with Israeli Blazer reactive box armor created, capable of very good resistance against anti-tank weapons. The rear turret was fitted with the hanging in chains in order to reduce the effect of RPG-7 anti-tank weapons [as seen on the Merkava]. Tanks supplemented by skirts protecting sides of the vehicle. In addition to enhancing armor, T-55M3 tanks are equipped with laser warning system when the tanks were illuminated, the system will alert the crew back and activate smoke grenades side turret to interfere with the line of sight of the enemy anti-tank weapons.

The old engine was replaced by the German MTU MT881 engines of 1,000 HP with a new gear system allows the tank reaches a maximum speed of 60 km/h, 500 km range.

According to unconfirmed sources, Vietnam will upgrade about 300 T-55 tanks to T-55M3. If this information is correct, the armored tank forces, Vietnam will become a lot more powerful. T-55M3 will allow Vietnam to maintain power tank than other countries in the region.

As most modern tank of the Vietnam people's Army, the T-62 could be subject to upgrade combat capability over the T-54/55. The biggest difference between point T-54/55 and T-62 is the new turret and gun offer better performance. However the D-68 115 mm gun on the T-62 was also very backward, especially as being "forgotten" for a long time so the projectiles for the D-68, are part of the older generation. They lack the combat performance of the M-68 guns on the T-55M3, and are not able to engage directly with the modern tanks.

The upgrade on the T-55M3 included reactive Blazer, 60 mm mortars, meteorological sensor MAWS6056B which can completely installed on the T-62 with ease. In particular, the larger turret of the T-62 was able to carry 253MG 120mm type installed on the Merkava tanks of Israel. The option of replacing the D-68 115 mm smoothbore Cannon by 253 MG-120 mm has a number of advantages in comparison with the 125 mm 2A46 guns. The deployment is simpler, requiring no changes on the turret to receive the automatic loader. Easy synchronization with other devices on the vehicle by the same Israeli origin, as can buy a license to produce the kind of high-tech ammunition is much easier than purchasing from Russia.

A new small arms factory is operational in Thanh Hoa, a province in the country’s northeast. It was built with the help of Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI), who allegedly invested $100 million, and is believed to play a crucial role in re-equipping Vietnamese soldiers with contemporary small arms. Foremost is the Galil ACE, a modernized version of the original Galil based on the AK-47.

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Page last modified: 17-08-2014 19:37:29 ZULU