China's 4th-gen main battle tank may only have a two man crew

BEIJING — Russian media claim that China has begun testing a fourth-generation main battle tank. A video is circulating from Chinese sources showing the tests. There is currently no information on the name of the tank.

In mid-October, Chinese state television announced that China would soon introduce a fourth-generation tank. The news more or less coincided with the period in which the US had announced the presentation of its fourth-generation AbramsX tank. Even then, there was a lack of information, with China National Television publishing only a picture of “something covered with cloth”.

A recorded a video from the Chinese National Television website showing tests of the new tank, which is said to be the fourth generation. Since there is no information about the characteristics of the tank, both Russian media and Chinese bloggers can only speculate.

According to them, the crew of the tank will consist of only two people. China’s new main battle tank is said to use a network-centric control system. This means that all information is collected in one place and instantly transmitted to the crew. I.e. location of the enemy, its situation, type of enemy weapon system, advice on what type of projectile to use to hit it, distance, time, radar clearance from an autonomous vehicle in the air, etc.

It is also said that the new Chinese tank will be equipped with the most advanced data exchange system. The new data exchange system combined with a network-centric tank management system is expected to increase the efficiency and productivity of the tank. The crew will receive data much faster, therefore they will be more precise in the attack.

There is no information on the Chinese tank’s engine, transmission, chassis, armour, or primary and secondary armament. It is also assumed that if the tests of the tank have already begun, this means the entry into serial production next year, or at the end of the current one. If this happens, Beijing will get a pretty serious advantage in developing its land capabilities.

There are currently three fourth-generation tanks in production in the world. This is the Russian T-14 Armata. However, Russia, even before the start of the war with Ukraine, had financial problems with the implementation of the project. So far, sources suggest that only 20-25 tanks have been produced. The war in Ukraine concentrated the finances of the Russian Federation on the production of existing military equipment, such as the T-90 tank, rather than on the continued development or production of the T-14.

Japan has also advanced the development of a fourth-generation tank. This is the Type 10, which went into series production nearly ten years ago and has had over 100 units built. South Korea’s flagship K2 Black Panther is also a fourth-generation tank and so far 260 units have been produced from 2014 to date. That number would rise sharply in the coming years, as Poland late last year decided to buy 1,000 K2 tanks.

Eight more fourth-generation tank models are currently being developed around the world. Some have advanced in their development, others are yet to catch up, and still, others will upgrade their third-generation tanks to the next level.

The M2020 is said to be North Korea’s fourth-generation tank, but there is no reliable information about it. France is involved in two 4th generation tank projects – the production or upgrade of its Leclerc main battle tank to the XLR level, which has already begun. The other project that France is involved in is called the Main Ground Combat System and is a joint project with Germany and Italy. According to the plans, in 2035 the tanks of this project should enter service.

We have already mentioned the AbramsX tank presented by the United States. Testing and production are still to come. Britain will bet on its main battle tank Challenger, but a version of Challenger 3, which version is expected sometime around 2027. It is said that this tank will have a new turret with an improved hull, and the main L30A1 120 mm rifled gun will be replaced with a NATO-Standard Rheinmetall L55A1 120 mm smoothbore gun.

Germany has already chosen its fourth-generation tank and it will be the Panther KF51. The Tank was introduced last year and is currently being further developed with tests to come. Turkey will finally get its main battle tank, and it will directly be the fourth generation. Altai is a long-awaited project of Ankara and is being developed jointly with South Korea. The Turkish tank is based on the South Korean K2 Black Panther tank. Initially, Ankara planned to start its production this year or next but recently announced that 2025 is the year when the tank goes on the mass production line.

And the last fourth-generation tank will come from India. FMBT or Arjun is a third-generation tank in service with the Indian Army. By 2025, however, New Delhi plans to upgrade it to a fourth-generation standard.

Currently, China has Type 99 [Type 99A] and Type 96 tanks. The first is considered the Chinese equivalent of the American Abrams tank and the German Leopard, while the second is the equivalent of the Russian T-80 tank. Type 99A is considered the most advanced in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Of it, Beijing produced 650 units and entered into operation in 2011. Actually, this is the last developed [updated] tank of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army [PLA]. China has 550 Type 99 tanks and 2,500 Type 96 tanks.