Armor: The Pride Of Pakistan Gets No Respect


November 30, 2012: China has agreed to help Pakistan find export customers for its Al Khalid tank. Pakistan developed this tank with Chinese help and began equipping Pakistani Army units with it back in 2001. But export sales have been scarce. Only Sri Lanka agreed to buy, and only 22 tanks, and that deal has yet to be finalized. Meanwhile China has sold several hundred of its version of the Al Khalid (the MBT-2000) to Morocco and Bangladesh.

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way. Pakistan, after all, has more recent experience in mechanized warfare. In fact, China has not fought a major campaign in over fifty years and only two minor ones (mountain warfare with India in the 1960s) and some border battles in the jungles with Vietnam (in 1979). China has done some air and naval skirmishing with the Taiwanese but nothing as intense as what the Pakistanis have gone through as recently as 1999 (another mountain battle, with India). China has more money and industrial infrastructure than Pakistan, and this has helped Pakistan build up its military-industrial capabilities.

Back in the 1980s, when the two countries began this co-production deal, apparently they believed that Pakistan's stature in the Moslem world would provide a marketing advantage. Alas, the end of the Cold War, plus the spectacular performance of U.S. weapons in the 1991 Gulf War, made "cheap and simple" a much harder sell, especially if it was based on Russian designs. The end result is that China is getting some more arms exports because it is better at making sales. Pakistan has not been a total loser, as they have been able to build up its arms production capability.

Meanwhile, China is now offering a new tank, the MBT 3000, for export. The Chinese Army will begin receiving the MBT 3000 in two years. The 3000 appears to be a MBT 2000 with a slightly more powerful engine, more armor, improved suspension and running gear, and better electronics. While none of the individual changes is radical or greatly improved over MBT 2000, the total number of improvements is substantial. 

The Chinese MBT 2000 (also known as the VT1A) tank is an export model of the Chinese Type 98/99. The MBT 2000 also looks similar to the Type 90/Al Khalid. The Type 98/99/90/MBT-2000 vehicles are all "improved T-72s." There were a lot of improvements, though many of them similar to what's found in the Russian T-80UM2. The workmanship on these vehicles is a little better than on the T-80UM2 but the Chinese don't have as much experience building tanks. This has shown itself in the numerous technical glitches that have shown up.

The basic T-72 design has been around for over 30 years and has proved reliable, although not particularly effective, on the battlefield. That was mostly due to poor crews. The Chinese have moved to volunteer crews and more intensive training, which make any tank more effective. The MBT 2000 is a 49 ton tank with a 125mm gun and a three man crew (plus an autoloader). The MBT 3000 weight only goes up to 51 tons but overall performance and reliability is greatly improved.




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