China is arming its land forces with greater numbers of a new Type 15 lightweight mobile tank platform intended to operate in the high-altitude plateau areas of Western China. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Xinjiang Military Command has commissioned its first Type 15 tanks.
“Compared with the PLA’s Type 96 and Type 99 tanks, the Type 15 is of lighter weight, boasts better mobility in high altitude regions with low oxygen levels, and is more suitable for plateau combat, CCTV said,” a story in the Chinese government backed Global Times reports.
The Type 15, first revealed publicly by China during a military parade in 2019, has been in development for many years. The roughly thirty-five-ton armored vehicle is, at a cursory glance, comparable in many respects to the U.S. Army’s now-in-development Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle.
The Chinese report adds that the Type 15 produces oxygen, uses new armor materials, has advanced weapons and fire control and is somewhat stealthy.
The Chinese Type 15 light tank, as described in a detailed assessment in Army Recognition magazine, fires a wide range of ammunition from a 105mm rifle gun with a “thermal sleeve and fume extractor” with a range of 3,000 meters [9,843 feet]. The rounds, the article explains, include Armor Piercing, High-Explosive Anti-Tank and High Explosive rounds, somewhat analogous to U.S. tanks and Army plans for the MPF. An essay in Armored Warfare says the Type 15 can launch guided-missiles with a tandem warhead out to a range of 5km [3.1 miles]. The gun, the report says, is fin-stabilized with a modern Fire Control System including a ballistic computer, laser rangefinder and thermal sights for the gunner. Should these metrics in the Armored Warfare essay be correct, they would indeed indicate that the new Chinese light tank may incorporate a series of advanced technologies intended to rival the now emerging U.S. MPF.
Part of the rationale for the U.S. MPF is to engineer something that is expeditionary and able to move at higher speeds to keep up with convoys, tactical vehicles and advancing infantry, all while bringing additional firepower to dismounted operations. The Type 15 appears to represent a rather transparent effort to mirror this, even to the point wherein it has a shoot-on-the-move type of under armor remotely operated weapons station for targeting in transit, nearly identical in mission scope to the U.S. Army CROWS, or Common Remotely Operated Weapons System.
A 2020 assessment from GlobalFirepower estimates that the Chinese Army consists of roughly two million active-duty troops and 510,000 reserves, a number which is more than two-or-three times larger than the U.S. Army’s standing active force. The assessment also says the Chinese have 33,000 armored vehicles and 3,500 tanks.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.