Type 69-II

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.

Country Name Origin Year
China 1974
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
China 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 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 were only used 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.

DesignationsType 69-II MBT
Manufacturer(s)Factory No. 617
StatusManufacture complete. Deployed by China, Iraq, Thailand, Pakistan(under licence), Sri Lankan and others
Production Period1974-1988Production Quantityover 4000
TypeMBTCrew4 (C-G-L-D)
Length, overall8.7mLength, hull6.2m
Width, overall3.3mHeight, overall2.8m
Combat Weight37000kgUnloaded Weightn/a
Radio, externalType 889Communication, crewModel 803 intercom
Main Armament100mm rifled gunAmmunition Carried34x100mm
Gun Traverse360Elevation/Depression+18/-5
Traverse Raten/aElevation Raten/a
Gun Stabilizationvertical/horizontalRangefinderlaser
Night Visionactive IRAuto-Loadernone
Secondary Armament7.62mm MG (coaxial)
7.62mm MG (bow); 12.7mm (AA)
Ammunition Carried3400x7.62mm

Engine12150L-7BW V-12 dieselTransmissionmanual transmission
Horsepower580hp at 2000rpmSuspensionTorsion bar
Power/Weight Ratio15.9hp/tTrack Widthn/a
Speed, on road50km/hTrack Ground Contact3.8m
Fuel Capacityn/aGround Pressure0.83kg/cm2
Range, on road420-440kmGradient60%
Fuel Consumptionn/aVertical Obstacle0.8m
Turning Radiusn/aTrench Crossing2.7m
Ground Clearance0.43mFording1.4m
Smoke Layingsmoke screen exhaustNBC Protectionyes
Armor DetailsAll-welded steel construction. Frontal armor unable to resist current US 120mm ammunition during the 1991 Gulf War. Vehicle coated with infra-red reflecting paint.

End notes