Type 63 Amphibious Tank
The Type 63 was China’s first amphibious tank developed from the Russian PT-76, but with a modified turret. The tank was designed for the ground forces to operate in the water regions and rice paddy fields in southern China, which are difficult for conventional main battle tanks. Later the tank was also adopted by the PLA Marine Corps for the amphibious assault operation. The tank has been gradually phased out since the late 1990s and replaced by the more capable Type 63A. A small number may still be operational for training purpose.
China obtained some PT-76 amphibious tanks from the USSR in the mid-1980s. In October 1958, the PLA decided to develop an indigenous amphibious tank based on the PT-76 design. The development programme was carried out by 201 Institute and 615 Factory. A prototype known as WZ221 was built and tested in 1959, but the design suffered from a number of problems including engine overheating. A revised design received extensive testing in 1961/62. The amphibious tank was finally approved for design finalisation in April 1963, and was officially designated Type 63. The tank entered the PLA service in the mid-1960s, but improvements on the design continued throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s.
The Type 63 amphibious tank was intended for inland river-crossing operations and amphibious landing in the costal regions. The tank can support the infantry in the attack or engage lightly armoured vehicles and fortifications, and can also be used for reconnaissance and patrol roles. The tank took part in a number of conflicts, including the Sri Lanka civil war, the 1960s/70s Vietnam War (used by the North Vietnamese Army), and the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border conflict (used by the PLA). During these conflicts, the Type 63 showed great mobility in terrains that are difficult for the heavy tanks, but its thin armour has caused heavy losses and casualties.
The PLA introduced the improved Type 63G in the mid-1990s for amphibious assault operations in the sea. The hull of the tank was enhanced for long-distance swimming from the amphibious ships to the shore. The original 86mm rifled gun was replaced by a more powerful 105mm rifled gun capable of firing the fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds. The tank was also added with laser rangefinder and a primitive fire-control for better firing accuracy. Based on the Type 63G design, a more radically modified variant known as Type 63A was introduced in the late 1990s. Other variants included Type 77-I/II amphibious APC, Type 76 amphibious armour recovery vehicle, and a 122 mm self-propelled howitzer.
The Type 63 has a flat, boat-like hull similar to the design of the PT-76, apart from a nearly horizontal glacis plate and different engine grills. There are three separate vertical slot side inlets on the Type 63, in contrast to the single large inlet with inset vertical baffle plates on the PT-76. The turret has a ventilator dome with a snorkel fitting. The suspension has six road wheels and no return rollers. A half-egg-shape turret is mounted over the middle of the hull, with the powerpack compartment in the rear. Instead of a three-man crew on the PT-76, the Type 63 has a four-man crew for better efficiency. The tank is powered by a liquid cooled 400 hp 12150L2 diesel, giving the tank a maximum road speed of 36km and 12km in water.
The basic variant Type 63 is fitted with a Type 62-85TC rifled 85mm gun that can fire AP, APHE, HE, and HEAT rounds, with a firing speed of 8 rounds/min. The gun is not stabilised and is aimed via an optical gun sight. Secondary weapons include a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and a 12.7mm air-defence machine gun.
The later variant Type 63-I is fitted with a 105mm rifled gun similar to those fitted on the Type 59II/69 and Type 80. The gun can fire armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) as well as other standard ammunitions. The tank is also fitted with a primitive light spot fire-control with night vision channel and laser rangefinder input.
The Type 63A (also known as ZTS63A) is an modernised upgraded version of the Type 63, specially designed for maritime amphibious warfare. Unlike the original Type 63/PT-76, which was mainly intended for river-crossing operations at inland rivers and lakes, the Type 63A could be launched from amphibious warfare ships 5~7km offshore and travel shore at a high speed. The tank was also equipped with computerised fire-control to enable accurate firing both on land and at sea.
Before the mid-1990s, the PLA mainly relied on the ageing Type 63 amphibious tank developed in the early 1960s as the primary assault weapon in its amphibious troops. However, with its low swimming speed and weak firepower, the Type 63 was incapable of modern maritime amphibious assault operations. The PLA demanded a replacement for the Type 63 in the early 1990s, resulting in the introduction of the Type 63A in 1997. It was reported that over 300 examples of the Type 63A had been delivered to the PLA by 2000.
The Type 63A is a lightly armoured amphibious tank with a flat, boat-like hull. The suspension has six road wheels and lead/return rollers. A redesigned welded turret is mounted over the middle of the hull, with the powerpack compartment in the rear. The Type 63A adds two extra floating tanks (on front, one rear) to the original Type 63 hull to increase the stability of the vehicle in the water. There are three water inlets on either side of the hull. The vehicle is driven by two large water jets at rear when travelling in water.
Compared to the Type 63, the Type 63A featured five major improvements:
- Better sea travelling performance in the offshore water;
- Enlarged welded turret to accommodate the 105mm rifled gun;
- Increased swimming speed;
- Improved fire-control system (FCS) and night vision;
- Capability to launch the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM);
To achieve better sea travelling performance and speed, the Type 63A was given a more powerful 580hp diesel engine, giving a power/weight ratio of 26.4hp/tonne. This together with an redesigned water jet has given the tank a maximum swimming speed of 28km/h (compared to 12km/h of the Type 63).
By introducing an enlarged welded turret to replace the original “half-egg” shape turret, the designer was able to replace the original 85mm gun with a dual-way stabilised 105mm rifled gun derived from the main gun of the Type 59D and Type 88 main battle tanks (MBT), but with reduced recoil for firing in swimming. The tank gun can fire armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS), high explosive (HE), and high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) ammunitions, with 45 rounds carried inside the vehicle. The APFSDS round could penetrate 650mm steel armour or destroy a reinforced concrete bunker a distance of 2,000m.
Despite the introduction of an FCS, the tank is still unable to fire accurately while travelling in the sea due to the effect the sea wave. To overcome this problem, the Type 63A was added with the ability to fire the laser-beam guidance ATGM. The PRC has developed a 105mm gun-launched ATGM based on the Russian 9M117 Bastion technology. The missile has a maximum firing range of 4,000~5,000m, with a single hit probability of over 90% against static targets. As well as being used for anti-armour warfare, the missile can also be used to engage low-flying helicopters.
The FCS includes a digital fire-control computer, integrated commander sight with laser rangefinder input, and light spot or image-stabilised gunner sight with passive night vision. The standard night vision is an image intensifier. Alternatively the gunner sight can be fitted with a thermal imager night vision with a maximum range of 2,100m. The tank is also equipped with the satellite positioning (GPS/GLONASS) system so that it can locate the correct landing position easily in all-weather, day/night conditions.
Weight: 18.4 tonnes
Engine: 400hp 12150L2 diesel
Transmission: Mechanical, planetary
Suspension: Torsion bar
Radio: A-220A receive/transmit radio; A-221A internal telephone
Dimension: Length: 7.288m; Height: 2.522m; Width: 3.200m
Cruising Range: 370km (road); 340 km (off-road); 120 km
Speed: Max road 36km/h; Max off-road 28km/h; Max swim 12km/h
Main Gun: Type 62-85TC 85mm (47 rounds); or 105mm rifled gun (Type 63G and Type 63A)
Gun Elevation/Depression: +22/-4 degree
Gun Stablisation: No
Auxiliary Weapon: One coaxial 7.62mm machine gun; one 12.7mm air-defence machine gun
Last update: 20 February 2009