Tanks "Type 59" on parade. Photo of Wikimedia Commons
The Chinese army is one of the largest and most powerful in the world. Numerous armored forces make a significant contribution to combat effectiveness and overall potential. According to various sources, the PLA has long been a world leader in the number of tanks in combat units. However, the structure of such a fleet has some characteristic features, due to which the quantity does not always turn into quality.
The exact number of tanks in the PLA is not officially announced. However, there are various estimates, intelligence data, etc., allowing us to present an approximate picture. There is a certain range of numbers, but in all cases we are talking about colossal amounts of equipment.
In a recent publication on this subject, The National Interest magazine wrote about the presence of 6900 tanks in combat units (for the red phrase, their number was rounded up to 7 thousand). The authoritative reference book The Military Balance 2020 from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) gives a more modest number - 5850 units. all types in operation, not including storage equipment.
Tanks Type 88A at the opening of the Army International Games-2018. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
However, even according to the most conservative estimates, China is superior to other developed countries in tanks. So, according to IISS, Russia now has 2800 combatant tanks and more than 10 thousand are in storage. There are almost 2400 tanks in parts of the US Army and 3300 are in reserve. Thus, the total active tank fleet of the United States and Russia is inferior in number to the Chinese.
According to The Military Balance 2020, the PLA now operates tanks of six models and ten modifications. At the same time, long-obsolete cars from the fifties and the latest models, which recently went into series, are in service. In this case, the basis of the armored forces, in quantity and quality, is armored vehicles of "middle" age.
In combat units there are still medium tanks “Type 59” of several modifications. "Type 59" entered service in the late fifties and was produced until the mid-eighties. Various upgrades were regularly carried out, however, such tanks were long and hopelessly outdated. According to IISS, to date, their number has decreased to 1500-1600 units. NI cites outdated figures - about 2900 tanks.
Up to 200 "Type 79" tanks remain in operation - modifications of the "Type 59" with various innovations. Due to moral and physical obsolescence, such machines are mainly used for educational purposes. A similar fate awaits the aging 88A / B main tanks, of which approx. 300 pieces
The main armored forces are 2500 MBT "Type 96" and "Type 96A." Tank "96" was developed in the nineties and began service in 1997. According to well-known data, the production of such equipment continues to this day and has not been discontinued due to the appearance of newer tanks.
The third generation of tanks is represented by Type 99 and Type 99A vehicles with a total number of approx. 1100 units Deliveries of serial tanks of this family began in 2001 and are still ongoing. In terms of the combination of technical and combat characteristics, Type 99A is the best Chinese MBT at the moment and can compete with modern foreign models.
A few years ago, the production of the “light” Type 15 tank started. It is intended for operations in remote mountainous and desert areas where full-fledged MBTs cannot work. The Military Balance indicates the presence of 200 such armored vehicles.
Numbers and Fractions
It is not difficult to calculate the share of a particular vehicle in the total fleet. So, about 25-27 percent. tank fleet are obsolete "Types 59" in the amount of up to 1600 units. If we take bolder estimates of the number, then their share rises to 42%. The share of later tanks "79" and "88" is several times smaller - together they occupy only 8,5%.
The reason for optimism is the presence of 2500 modern MBT "Type 96" of two modifications. They make up almost 43% of the park. The newer Type 99s account for nearly 19%. The latest “Type 15” can not yet boast of large quantities and shares. However, they occupy the most important niche that has been vacant for several years and solve special problems.
It should be noted that the total number of tanks in the PLA and the proportion of vehicles of specific types are constantly changing. Outdated and out-of-life equipment is written off, and new machines are replacing it. Due to the high complexity and cost of modern tanks, one-on-one replacement is not possible, and the total number of vehicles is reduced. At the same time, the share of old ones decreases and the number of new cars grows.
Quantity and quality of
Old tanks “Type 59”, “Type 79” and “Type 88” make up a little more than a third of the total armored fleet. The remaining two-thirds are modern designs developed and put into series no earlier than the second half of the nineties. All this gives the PLA tank troops a very specific look - but it gives ample opportunities.
Obviously, in the event of a real war, obsolete tanks of the last century will not be used on the battlefield. Both in full-scale battles and in conflicts of low intensity, the modern Type 96 or Type 99 will be more useful. The development of events in which the “Type 59” will be able to emerge from a deep reserve is unlikely.
Chinese tankers in the exercises "East-2018". Behind the ranks are Type 99 tanks. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
It is noteworthy that the decommissioning of old equipment will hit the quantitative parameters of the troops, but it will sharply raise the average combat efficiency and effectiveness. The PLA has 3600 main tanks of modern types, not counting specialized mining equipment. Even after such a reduction, China remains the leader in the number of combatant tanks. Moreover, such leadership positions can be maintained at the expense of MBTs “Type 96” and “96A” alone - while maintaining a very high combat efficiency.
At least 3600 modern tanks have powerful combined armor, 125-mm guns, advanced fire control equipment, communications and control equipment, etc. On the whole, the fighting qualities of the “96” and “99” tanks are at a fairly high level, and in this regard they can be compared with modern foreign models - perhaps not of the latest modifications and generations.
Accumulation of experience
The PLA has modern armored vehicles, but its effective use can be associated with serious problems. The Chinese military does not have experience operating modern MBT in a real conflict. Tanker training programs are available and in use; strategies have been developed. However, it is not known how much they correspond to real challenges and threats.
In recent years, the PLA often conducts large exercises involving tank formations equipped with modern technology. Such events allow you to gain experience in the absence of wars, incl. due to interaction with third countries. How effective this approach is is unclear.
However, one cannot do without such events. What the lack of experience and the gaps in the training of tankers lead to was shown in the exercises of July 2018, which were widely written by the media last year. During these maneuvers, the connection on the Type 99A could not take full advantage of its materiel and defeat the conditional opponent.
Thus, a very interesting situation is observed in the PLA armored forces. By the total number of tanks, including those that are hopelessly outdated, China is a world leader. If we consider only modern samples, the size of the park is reduced - but leadership remains.
Apparently, Chinese-made tanks can compete with some foreign models, but at the same time lag behind advanced types and modifications. In addition, the PLA has problems with experience and training, which does not allow full use of the strengths of the available equipment.
All this means that the PLA tank forces really represent a serious force that can withstand the most developed enemy. However, the characteristic flaws of various kinds do not allow to obtain all the desired qualities - and therefore the quantity remains the most important factor. As practice shows, this combination of quantity and quality is a good deterrent and protects the country from attack.