Type 69/79

The Type 69 and Type 79 are Chinese main battle tanks. Both developments of the Type 59 (based on the Soviet T-54A), they were the first main battle tanks developed independently by China. Their lineage can be seen through the distinct gap between the first and second roadwheels. Other improvements included a new engine, ballistic computers, and laser rangefinders. The more advanced Type 79 was equipped with a 105 mm rifled gun, also seen on the later Type 88 tank.

Type 69/79
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Company Limited
Production Period 1963 - 1974
Origin China
Country Name Origin Year
China 1963
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Bangladesh View
Burma View
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) View
China 1982 View
Iran (Persia) View
Pakistan View
Sudan View
Thailand (Siam) View
Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Company Limited 1963 1974 View

After the Sino-Soviet split, the Soviet Union withdrew its technical staff and support to China's arms industry. China's 617 Factory (Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Co Ltd) was instructed to improve on the T-54A design (Type 59 MBT) in 1963, and created the Type 69. Improvements include a dual-axis stabilized 100 mm smoothbore gun, a new 580 hp engine, and an IR search light. However, the People's Liberation Army was not satisfied with the version, and it did not enter serial production. Some Western analysts[who?] incorrectly identified the Type 69 as a Chinese copy of the Soviet T-55, as opposed to the Type 59 being a copy of the T-54A.

During the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict, the PLA was able to capture a Soviet T-62 MBT. The captured tank was examined, and some of its components, such as the Soviet Luna IR searchlight system, were copied and integrated into the Type 69 design. The Type 69 and Type 79 tanks became the first independently Chinese-developed main battle tank. However, the early version of the Type 69 was only in limited quantities. The PLA was unsatisfied with the Type 69's performance, but ironically it became one of China's most successful armored vehicle exports. Over 2,000 were sold worldwide in the 1980s.

Relations between China and the West warmed in the 1980s, and China was able to import some Western technologies to improve its weapon systems. The Type 69 was upgraded with Western systems such as the British Marconi FCS, and the L7 105 mm gun. The new version received the designation Type 79, which represented the conclusion of China's first-generation tank development.

The simplicity, robustness and low cost of the tanks made them attractive on the export market, and China sold hundreds to both sides during the Iran–Iraq War. (Gelbart 1996:18) Many of the vehicles were later used by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.

Myanmar Army Type 69 tanks also reportedly engaged Royal Thai Army M60A3 tanks in 2001 during the battle for Border Post 9631, although it is unclear if either side lost any vehicles.

Both the Type 69 and Type 79 tanks share almost identical hulls and turrets with the older Type 59. The only difference is that the two more recent tank models have been upgraded with better technologies that were either captured or bought from more advanced countries. (Gelbart 1996:17-19) The Chinese Type 59, 69 and 79 tanks can therefore be viewed as part of the same, evolutionary tank family in the same way that the Soviet T-54, -55 and -62 tanks share a common lineage. Only in the mid-1980s did the Chinese gain the expertise to begin experimenting with new indigenous tank designs that were not cast from the mold of the Type 59/69/79 family, and only in the 1990s did China begin producing truly modern tanks. (Gelbart 1996:20-24)

Today only a couple hundred Type 69/Type 79s remain in PLA inventory, mostly deployed with training or reserve units. The Type 69/Type 79 are being replaced by the newer Type 96 and Type 99 MBTs. The Type 69 is also known as WZ-121 by the manufacturer (NORINCO).

In Iraqi service

During the 1980s, China was reported to have sold hundreds of Type 59 and Type 69 MBTs to Iraq. By 1991 Gulf War, western analysts claim that Iraq had upgraded some Type 69s with a 105 mm gun, a 160 mm mortar, and a 125 mm gun with an auto-loader. All of them were reinforced with frontal layer armor welded on the glacis plate. All these versions were known as Type 69-QMs. It was reported during the 1991 Gulf War that the Iraqi Type 69 units fought harder than the elite Republican Guard units, equipped with T-72 MBTs. One possible explanation is that Saddam ordered his Republican Guard units to preserve their strength, while sending the rest of the army, equipped with inferior Type 69 tanks, to frontline fight.

According to battle reports from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Type 69-QMs were used by the Iraqi Army units defending Nasiriyah in March 2003, most of them being employed as artillery pillboxes. They played an important role in the ambushes mounted against the US Army 507th Maintenance Company and Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, before AH-1 Cobra helicopters wiped out the Iraqi tanks. Two Type 69s destroyed at least four vehicles of the 507th, among them a heavy truck rammed by one of the tanks. There is also a first hand account of about four Type 69s hidden behind some buildings, pounding the Marines' Charlie Company with indirect fire and likely disabling several AAVs. Some combat useless Type 59/69s were emplaced as decoys or mere obstacles.

Type Main battle tank
Place of origin China
Service history
In service 1982 – present
Wars Iran–Iraq War, Gulf War, Iraq War
Production history
Designer No. 60 Research Institute
Designed 1963 – 1974
Manufacturer First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory/Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Company Limited
Weight 36.7 tonnes
Length 6.24 m (Hull)
Width 3.3 m
Height 2.80 m
Crew 4
Armor 203 mm
100/105 mm rifled tank gun
7.62 mm coaxial and bow machine guns, 12.7 mm antiaircraft machine gun
Engine diesel
580 hp (430 kW)
Power/weight 15.8 hp/tonne
Suspension torsion-bar
440 km
Speed 50 km/h

End notes