Meet the Type 99: Over the last two decades, Beijing has worked tirelessly to design and develop homegrown counters to America’s formidable airframes.
In order to challenge U.S. air superiority, China created its own fifth-generation fighter jet, the Chengdu J-20.
While the country’s aerial progress over the last 20 years has been noted, less known is that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also created a formidable main battle tank.
Beijing’s Type 99, also known as ZTZ-99, is a third-generation battle tank. In addition to modern armor, the vehicle is fitted with enhanced fire control systems, advanced communications features, and a more lethal gun. China’s MBT is considered on par with near-peers like Russia’s T-14 Armata and South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, and it could be a tough competitor for America’s own M1 Abrams family of tanks if put head-to-head on the battlefield.
Origins of the Type 99 MBT
The Type 99 MBT is derived from China’s older Type 88 MBT first introduced in the late 1980s. Later in that decade, Beijing turned its attention to developing a homegrown third-generation tank to coincide with the People’s Republic of China’s eighth five-year plan. Chinese engineers based many of the tank’s designs and structure on the Soviet T-72 MBT. The updated Type 90-II featured a 125mm smoothbore cannon with an autoloader.
The PRC first revealed the Type 99 in 2000, and the tank entered service with China’s army one year later.
Type 99: Specs and Capabilities
Although in the same family, the Type 99 is equipped with several enhancements that its predecessors do not possess. The tank’s turret has Leopard-2-style modular add-on explosive reactive armor, which is reported to give the tank the equivalent of 1,000-1,200 mm of steel armor protection. As explained by Military Today, the third-generation MBT is also fitted with an active laser protection system that “uses a high-powered laser to disrupt missiles, laser or infrared guidance signal, disable enemy observation optics and damage eyesight of enemy gunner. This active laser protection system can also be used against helicopters.”
Armament-wise, the Type 99’s main gun and autoloader are directly derived from Soviet and Russian designs. Its carousel-style autoloader can fire at a rate of eight rounds per minute. Possible munitions include high-explosive anti-tank, fragmentation, and sabot rounds. The Type 99 also carries Russian-designed AT-11 Snipe B gun-launched anti-tank guided missiles.
China has manufactured more than 1,200 Type 99 tanks over the last two decades, making this third-generation MBT a critical part of the PLA’s armored corps.
While the tank has some admirable qualities, it may have a tough time competing against more advanced Western tanks. The U.S. Army recently revealed the next Abrams X variant, which is expected to be one of the most sophisticated tanks on the planet once introduced into service. Although the Abrams is still technically a third-generation tank, like China’s Type 99, its improvements over the years make it a highly capable and lethal platform.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.