Key point: Beijing's finest tank is nearly as good as what America can field.
China has a lot of tanks. Like, eight to nine thousand of them.
Who else would bother to maintain such a ridiculous number?
The United States. And Russia. (Note that such counts include vehicles in storage and reserve. The numbers for tanks in operational units are lower in every case).
However, the majority of Beijing’s tanks are old designs, particularly Type 59 and 69 tanks more or less directly copied from the 50s-era Soviet T-54 tank. Such is their profligacy that I once had the pleasure of bumping into one in a children’s playground in Tianjin serving the needs of the (young) people.
However, China’s top of the line tank, the Type 99, has commanded healthy respect from international observers, even though it has never been exported, nor used in combat. The reason is simple: the reported performance parameters are equal to many top Western designs, and the Type 99 also packs a few unique tricks of its own.
Today we’ll look at how the Type 99 stacks up to two important contemporaries, the American M1A2 Abrams and the Russian T-90A tank.
Before we get our hands greasy with the technical details, we should consider: does China even need tanks?
It’s a reasonable question to ask. China’s major military efforts have been directed towards the Pacific.
Some might ask, how likely are the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams tanks ever to clash with the Type 99?
To which one should consider: can either vehicle swim across the Pacific Ocean and exchange shots over Scarborough Shoal?
Kidding aside, it seems a pretty unlikely except in amphibious invasions scenarios fit for Operation Flashpoint computer games. On the other hand, Taiwan has expressed interest in purchasing Abrams tanks, and Australia operates 60 as well, so never say never.
However, the question is more relevant when we consider the Russian T-90. Moscow currently maintains good relations with Beijing, with which it shares a border, but the two powers are not close allies, having nearly come to war during the late 1960s.