Type 59 Main Battle Tank
The Type 59 (also known as WZ120 in its manufacturer name) is the licensed copy of the Soviet T-54A, co-produced by the CNGC 617 Factory (now First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory) in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. The Type 59 was the first PRC-built tank, with a significant number still in service with the PLA today. Some Type 59s have been upgarded to the Type 59D standard, armed with improved main gun, fire-control, and observation systems.
As agreed in the 1959 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance, Moscow agreed to help the PRC to develop its own armament industry. Part of the plan involved building a tank manufacturing facility to produce the Soviet T-54A tank locally in China. The 617 Factory was completed with the Soviet assistance in 1956. The first Chinese-built T-54A using Soviet-supplied kits rolled out in 1958. By 1959 the factory had produced a small number of the T-54A using Chinese components. However, the Chinese copy lacked the infrared searchlight found on the original T-54A.
The Type 59 was certified for design finalisation in 1959. By the time the production finally stopped in the late 1980s, a total of 10,000 examples were produced in a number of variants. About 6,000 of them were delivered to the PLA, with the rest export to many third-world countries in Asia, Africa, and Middle East. The tank took part in the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border conflict, and was operated by the Iraqi Army in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War and the 1990’s Gulf War. Plan to replace these tanks was postponed due to air and naval forces being given priority in the defence budgets. As a result, a significant number of the Type 59 tank is still in service with the PLA today, serving for training role and as “mobile artillery” in some second-line units.
The PLA has been steadily improved the Type 59 tank since the late 1970s. The Type 59-I introduced in 1979 featured a laser rangefinder, power-assisted steering, automatic fire suppression system, and track skirt. The Type 59-II introduced in 1984 was based on the Type 59-I but fitted with a 105mm rifled gun based on the British L7 technology and an improved radio. The Type 59-IIA fitted with 105mm rifled gun with thermal sleeve and a primitive fire-control was introduced in 1985.
The Type 59 features the Soviet-style half-egg shape cast turret with conventional four crew arrangement. The tank has a crew of four. The driver sits left in the hull and forward of the turret, while the loader, gunner and tank commander occupy the turret, with the loader situated to the right of the main gun and the gunner and tank commander sitting in tandem on the left side. The loader is also responsible for operating the 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on turret roof.
Type 59D Modernisation
The Type 59D (also known as WZ120C in its manufacturer name) is a modernised version of the Type 59. The tank was built from existing Type 59 tanks by adding them with new explosive reaction armour (ERA) plates, night vision, computerised fire-control, and the capability to launch the Chinese indigenous gun-fired laser-guidance anti-tank missile. NORINCO is also promoting the upgrade package to third-world countries which still have large Type 59 and T-54/55 inventories.
The Chinese military modernisation programme that began in the mid-1980s was very much concentrated on the development of air and naval power. While the Air Force and Navy were given higher priority in the allocation of the PLA’s budgets, the ground forces were required to fight a modern war using the existing equipments. In the early 1990s, the PLA issued requirements to upgrade its existing Type 59 tanks, thousands of which were still in active service. In 1991, the PLA and 617 Factory signed the contract to develop a modernisation package for the Type 59 tank. Four prototypes were completed in 1992. The tests of the tank’s main armament was completed in 1993. The design was certified for production in 1995.
The Type 59D tank is available in two variants: Type 59D fitted with a long-barrel Type 83A 105mm rifled gun, and the Type 59D1 fitted with an older Type 79 (Chinese copy of the British L5) 105mm rifled gun. Both guns are capable of firing standard 105mm APFSDS, HEAT, and HEAT-FRAG rounds. When firing APFSDS rounds, these guns have an armour penetration capability of 600mm at a distance of 2,000m. Both guns could also fire the 105mm gun-launched anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) derived from the Russian 9K116 Bastion (NATO codename: AT-10 Stabber) technology. With a maximum range of 5.2km and an armour penetration capability of 700mm, the missile is also capable of engaging slow-flying helicopters.
Fire accuracy is attained by the Type 37A light spot fire-control system originally developed for the Type 80 MBT. The system consists of dual-way stabilisation, ballistic computer, an integrated laser rangefinder and commander sight, and a gunner sight with image intensifier night vision (1,400m range). Alternatively the gunner sight could be fitted with a more advanced thermal imager night vision, which has a maximum range of 2,100m. The driver also has a image intensifier night vision with a maximum range of 400m. The tank’s fire-control has a reaction time of 6 seconds against static target and 9 seconds against moving target.
The Type 59D/D1 is added with the Chinese indigenous FY series ERA plates on the front of the hull and turret. With this package, the tank’s protection against the kinetic armour-piercing round and HEAT round had increased by 180~260% and 200~300% respectively. According to the test results, the tank can survive a direct hit by the 105mm APFSDS round at a distance of 2,000m. Additionally, the tank is fitted with an automatic fire and explosion suppression system.
- Tyep 59 - Basic variant based on the Soviet T-54A, but without the IR searchlight
- Type 59-I - Improved variant fitted with a Type 69-II 100mm rifled gun, as well as a laser rangefinder, hydraulic servo-system, primitive fire control, automatic fire suppression system, and rubber track skirt. The Type 59-I includes several versions with different armour and fire control configurations
- Type 59-II - Manufacturer designation WZ-120B. Upgraded to the 105mm Type 79 (copy of the British L5) rifled gun. The most distinctive feature of the Type 59-II is that its barrel fume extractor was removed from the front-end to the middle of the barrel. Other improvements include new radio and fire suppression system. The batch production began in 1982 and stopped in 1985
- Type 59-IIA - Improved variant of the Type 59-II with 105mm rifled gun with thermal sleeve
- Type 59 Gai - Experimental variant to test various Western technologies integrated on the Chinese-made MBT. Variants include: B59G and BW120K. The BW120K is fitted with an indigenously developed 120mm smoothbore gun comparable in general performance to the U.S. M256
- Type 59D
Dimension: Length: 6.04m; Height: 2.59m; Width: 3.27m
Weight: 36.5~37 tons
Engine: 520hp 12150L diesel (Type 59) or 580hp 12150L7 (Type 59-II)
Power/weight ratio: 10.6kW/t
Transmission: Mechanical, planetary
Suspension: Torsion bar
Ground pressure: 0.8kg/cm 2
Cruising range: 440km, or 600km with external tanks
Speed: Max road 50km/h; average road speed: 30~33km/h; max off-road 25km/h
Fording depths: 1.4m (unprepared); 4.8m (with snorkel)
Main armament: Type 59 100mm rifled gun (34 rounds, for Type 59) with vertical stabilisation; Type 69-II 100mm rifled gun with dual way stabilisation (44 rounds, for Type 59-I), Type 79 105mm rifled gun with dual way stabilisation (for Type 59II and Type 59D1), or Type 83-I 105mm rifled gun with dual way stabilisation (44 rounds, for Type 59-IIA, Type 59D)
Gun elevation/depression: +18/-5 degree
Gun stabilisation: Vertical (Type 59-I/59-II/59-IIA); Dual way (Type 59D/D1)
Auxiliary weapon: One coaxial 7.62mm machine gun; One 7.62mm driver machine gun; one Type 59 12.7mm air-defence machine gun (500 rounds)
Fire control: Primitive fire-control (Type 59-II); Type 37A fire control system (Type 59D/D1)
Radio: A-220 receive/transmit radio with rod antenna, max range 16km, frequency 20~22.375MHz; or A-220A radio's frequency is 20~27.175MHz; A-221 telephone
Last update: 20 February 2009