China's Five Deadliest Weapons of War: Land Edition

Beijing isn't just focusing its defense resources on naval assets alone...

Editor’s Note: Please see previous works from our “Weapons of War” series including Five Chinese Weapons of War America Should Fear, Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear, Five Japanese Weapons of War China Should Fear, Five Best Weapons of War from the Soviet Union and Five Taiwanese Weapons of War China Should Fear.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is in a period of extended change. In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, the PLA made the conscious decision to shift from a manpower-intensive army to a technology-intensive army. Since 1980, the Army has shrunk by 60 percent.

At the same time, the Army has become more capable. New equipment has been introduced tailored to China’s security environment. New tanks, missiles and amphibious vehicles have entered service to make the PLA one of the best-equipped armies in the world.

Not that anyone would know it. Curiously, many of these new systems have been all but invisible to the outside world. The PLA guards China’s secure borders, and the Air Force and Navy are seen as being in the vanguard of China’s territorial disputes, especially with Japan and the United States.

Still, there are situations in which Chinese land forces could be a decisive factor. An invasion of Taiwan is one possible scenario. Action in the Diaoyu, Paracel and Spratly islands could require ground forces. With that in mind, here are five of the most lethal Chinese ground weapons:

ZTZ-99 Main Battle Tank

The ZTZ-99 is China’s third-generation tank and currently the most modern tank fielded by the People’s Liberation Army. Designed and prototyped in the early 1990s, the ZTZ-99 shows obvious Western- and Russian-design influences. The tank is in low-rate production, with between 200 to 300 having been built.

The turret appears to be an angular version of the frying pan-shaped turret of Soviet T-72 tank. The 125mm main gun is a copy of the 2A46 Soviet tank gun and is serviced by an autoloader that can load up to 8 rounds a minute. The tank stores 41 rounds internally, a mix of armored piercing, high-explosive antitank, and high-explosive. The tank is also rumored to field a version of the Soviet AT-11 Sniper, a long-range antitank missile fired from the tank’s main gun. Rounding out the ZTZ-99’s armament is a 12.7mm heavy machine gun for engaging aerial threats and a 7.62mm machine gun mounted alongside the gun.

The ZTZ-99’s hull front glacis plate, position of the engine exhausts and number and shape of the road wheels point to a more or less direct copy of the T-72. The 1500-horsepower diesel engine, a copy of a German engine, gives it a higher horsepower-to-weight ratio than the American M1 Abrams.

The tank’s armor is a mystery. The tank’s overall shape strongly suggests a T-72 buried under additional armor, particularly on the turret and front hull glacis. The most obvious assumption is that it has the base armor of the T-72 plus a layer of Chinese composite. The latest version of the ZTZ-99 is rumored to have an active protection system, but few details are available.

Hongqi-9 Surface to Air Missile (HQ-9)

The HQ-9 is a surface-to-air missile. In operation since 1997, it replaces the antiquated HQ-2, the Chinese version of the Russian SA-2 Guideline missile.

A long-range, high-altitude missile system, HQ-9 is designed to shoot down cruise missiles, aircraft and theater ballistic missiles. The HQ-9 has a range of 100 kilometers and is carried in groups of four on the back of a transporter-erector-launcher. The HQ-9 missile and radar system is similar to the original U.S. Patriot in being a “track-via-missile”: the missile emits electronic emissions of its own, making it hard for aircraft to detect.

The HQ-9’s HT-233 phased array radar system is similar to the Patriot’s radar system and is reportedly capable of tracking and engaging multiple targets. HQ-9 batteries can also be paired with radars designed to seek low-level and stealthy targets.

Turkey recently made a stir by selecting the FD-2000 system, the export version of the HQ-9, for its nationwide long-range surface-to-air missile system. The FD-2000 beat out competitors, such as the American Patriot, European SAMP/T Aster system and the Russian S-300. Key considerations were reportedly a price tag a billion dollars less than Western competitors’ prices and the promise of technology transfer. However, the deal is not sealed and negotiations have hit a snag over technology transfer.

HJ-8 “Red Arrow” Antitank Missile