main Tanks "Type 88A". Probably, after the start of their production, work began on "9289". Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Currently, the most advanced main battle tank of the PLA is the "Type 99" and its modifications. This is a typical MBT 3 post-war generation with all the necessary features and capabilities. At the same time, various unofficial messages and rumors about the possible development of a fundamentally new tank of the next 4th generation have been circulating for many years.
According to the foreign specialized press, work on the 4th generation MBT started in China in early 1992. Not long before that, the PLA received its first 3rd generation tank, the Type 88, and the industry, represented by the NORINCO corporation, started looking for the necessary technologies and solutions.
In the early stages, the project was designated by the index "9289". No details of this project were published in the official Chinese sources, but various assessments of the assumption and the "leak" appeared in the foreign press. It was reported that the goal of the project "9289" is to create a new MBT, in all characteristics superior to the existing machines in service with the PLA and other countries.
Work on "9289" continued until 1996, after which they were stopped. By that time, developments on a promising tank existed only on paper. The prototype was not built or tested. A possible reason for stopping the project could be the appearance of a new serial MBT "Type 96". In addition, the design of an even more advanced Type 99 was being completed.
Research and design work on the next generation tank resumed in 1999, almost simultaneously with the launch of the production of the next vehicle. On the basis of the project "9289" they began to develop a new "9958". It is known that before the launch of "9958" the army changed the requirements for the promising MBT, but they did not exclude the possibility of using the developments on the previous project. However, the exact technical data remained unknown again.
According to foreign data, the project "9958" resulted in an experienced tank CSU-152. It was built and launched for testing no later than 2003. At the same time, thematic publications provided general information about the possible appearance of this vehicle, its features and combat capabilities. However, no official comments followed this time either.
Almost 20 years have passed since then, but the PRC still does not disclose any data on projects "9289", "9958" and CSU-152. Moreover, even the very existence of these projects is not confirmed - although it is not refuted. As always, China prefers to remain silent about promising developments and focus on serial technology.
The most complete unofficial data regarding the appearance of CSU-152 was published by Jane's. It wrote about a traditional tank with a central fighting compartment and aft engine compartment. The fighting compartment could have a classic look or be uninhabited. Also, the possibility of using a gun carriage with the removal of the weapon outside was not excluded.
It was assumed the presence of a welded armored body with combined protection of the frontal projection. Such a package could be made using ceramic elements or depleted uranium plates, as on foreign armored vehicles. Hull armor could be supplemented with dynamic protection.
The name of the project indicated the caliber of the gun - 152 mm, capable of providing a significant increase in combat qualities. In view of the large dimensions of the shot, an automatic loader should be used with the placement of ammunition in the hull or in the turret. The development of modern fire control facilities was also indicated. They were supposed to ensure the search and destruction of targets in the daytime and at night at increased ranges.
Due to the increase in combat weight, the tank needed an engine with a capacity of at least 1500 hp. and in an improved transmission. With the help of such a power unit, it would be possible to obtain mobility no worse than that of serial samples. Other characteristics were not specified in the publications or were not mentioned at all.
The first reports about the 9958 / CSU-152 project appeared many years ago and attracted the attention of specialists and amateurs of armored vehicles. However, virtually nothing followed. The foreign press no longer published new details.
The official PRC also did not disclose data on these projects, but regularly presented new samples of armored vehicles. So, during the alleged work on "9289", "9958" and CSU-152, two MBTs and several of their modifications for their army were put into series, as well as a number of exclusively export samples. And none of them looked like a hypothetical tank of the next 4th generation, "presented" in specialized publications.
The reasons for this are unclear, and several explanations can be offered. It is obvious that the Chinese industry is constantly working to improve armored vehicles, looking for new technologies and working out more advanced components. Not all research projects of this kind should turn into real projects. It is quite possible that "9289", "9958" and CSU-152 remained at the preliminary study level, and then with their help they launched other projects.
Information about "9289" appeared in the nineties - when work was underway on several real projects. It is quite possible that the fundamentally new armored vehicle that NORINCO was working on at that time was in fact the future Type 99.
It should be remembered that China is getting old not to disclose data on promising projects, and real "leaks" do not happen often. Because of this, it cannot be ruled out that the known information and ratings on the topic "9289" or "9958" are the result of an incorrect interpretation of the information available. Finally, a deliberate mystification of one origin or another is possible.
Tank - to be?
The last serial MBT for the Chinese army is the Type 99, which was put into production in 2000. In the early tenths, its improved version of the Type 99A appeared, and then several of its modifications. Later, new export and specialized armored vehicles were created, but a fundamentally new main tank has not yet been reported. The time that has passed since the appearance of the modern "Type 99" hints at the development of the next MBT - such work can go right now.
What the next MBT will be for the PLA is an extremely interesting question. In recent decades, NORINCO and related companies have managed to close the gap with world leaders and create a number of very interesting and successful tanks. The latest versions of "Type 96" and "Type 99" are created using the latest technologies and components, which allows them to compare with modern foreign models.
The leading tank-building powers are now dealing with the problems of MBT prospects. Russia has already presented a ready-made sample, while other countries are still looking for an optimal look. Probably the same work is going on in the PRC. European countries and the United States have already published some materials on the MBT of the future, and China traditionally keeps its secrets.
Apparently, the "predictions" of the foreign press will come true sooner or later, and the PLA will receive the next 4th generation tank. But what it will be is unknown. It can be expected that it will retain some of the features of its predecessors, and from some points of view it will be similar to promising foreign models. There will certainly be features that are fundamentally new for Chinese technology, incl. determining the growth of fighting qualities.
When will the future Chinese tank appear? Great question. At the moment, NORINCO has focused on the development of export tanks and on the production of armored vehicles of already known types. Probably, the design bureaus of the corporation are also busy with business, and at any moment the most interesting ones may appear. news about their activities and successes.