Sino-Pak emerging armoured relations

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Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan

MOST recently, steel brothers (Pakistan & China) have been further strengthened and sterilized with induction of Chinese battle tank VT-4 into the armoury of defence forces of Pakistan. It is indeed a value-addition in the tactical capabilities of defence forces of Pakistan which can now easily defeat Indian Arjun tank in the battlefields. Its first tranche consisting of 24 VT-4/MBT-3000 main battle tanks (MBT) arrived at Karachi seaport during May 2020 from Guangzhou, southern China. According to regional military experts the VT-4 main battle tank also known as the MBT3000, is a Chinese 3rd generation main battle tank built by NORINCO for overseas export. It is the latest tank model from the Al-Khalid-1/Type-90-II & (MBT-2000) tank family and uses technology from the Type 99A currently fielded by the People’s Liberation Army.
It was developed by the state-owned China North Industries Group Corp (NORINCO) and a series produced by the Inner Mongolia First Machinery Group Co Ltd, a subsidiary of NORINCO, the VT-4/MBT-3000 was firstly unveiled at the EUROSATORY International Defence Exhibition in June 2012. The Pakistan’s army held a practical demonstration of the newly received main battle tank, VT-4 (potent war fighting machine) at Tilla field firing range near Jhelum following its induction into the Armoured Corps. It was graced by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The COAS visited the Range to witness demonstration of state-of-the-art, Chinese origin third generation main battle tank VT-4 during which he appreciated its speed, accuracy and overall efficacy.
Pakistan is the third country to have bought these tanks from China after Thailand and Nigeria. It will be used in offensive role by strike formations in the days to come. Furthermore, it is compatible with any modern tank in the world. It integrates advanced armour protection, manoeuvrability, fire power capabilities and state-of-the-art technology. While attending the ceremony Gen Bajwa, after witnessing the demonstration expressed satisfaction over the new tank’s performance. He said it was yet another addition to the inventory of Armoured Corps after recent induction of indigenously produced Al-Khalid-1 tank. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations department (ISPR) the COAS highlighted professional preparedness and strategic orientation of the defence forces of Pakistan especially in the rapidly changing geopolitical and geostrategic trends and threats in the region and beyond.
He showcased Pakistan Army’s tactical as well as operational combat capabilities to deter any internal and external challenges to the national defence and readiness for any befitting martial response against all threats to sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Pakistan. Moreover, for the further strengthening of National Defence System (NDS) in July 2020 Pakistan inducted in its Armoured Corps an improved version of the indigenously developed Al-Khalid-1, a main battle tank developed in a joint venture with China and Ukraine. According to creditable resources, Pakistan Army (PA) had ordered at least 100-176 VT-4 tanks at a cost of $859 million. The VT-4 design features a new explosive reactive armour. Its Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) is add-on or additional armour mounted on a tank to protect against enemy rounds by exploding outward. Like the Indian Army’s T-90 tanks, the VT-4 has a 125mm gun that can fire both conventional tank rounds and also missiles. Even the US Congressional Research Service (UCRS, 2017) confirmed its superior features which is fully digitised, fitted with an air conditioning and NBC protective system and features an inertial navigation/global positioning system.
The ISPR described the VT-4 as another valuable addition to Pakistan’s Armoured Corps (PACs) after the induction of the indigenously built Al-Khalid-1 Tank. The ISPR termed it a potent war fighting machine which will be employed in offensive role by strike formations after induction. With the advanced power system, the Chinese company completely redesigned the MBT-2000 tank, especially optimized its body structure and armor protection, and equipped it with a new high-performance information-based fire control system and digital battlefield equipment. Besides, it’s also equipped with an air conditioner which is most popular among tropical tank soldiers. And this tank is named VT-4.
In April 2020, China’s Inner Mongolia First Machinery Group held a ceremony to officially deliver a batch of brand-new VT-4 main battle tanks. According to official reports, these tanks were ordered by the Pakistan Army. It also means that the joint military cooperation of both the countries for more than 20 years have finally achieved a positive result. The Pakistan Army has adopted an outflanking strategy. It applied for a small number of funds every year to carry out extensive model inspections worldwide. The VT-4 obtained by Pakistan is different from the type for the Thai Army. The frontal protection of the Pakistan VT-4 has been further streamlined and strengthened. It is most likely to respond to the reality of India’s improved tank equipment and anti-tank weapons. Induction of VT-4 Tank in PACs puts the Indian tank forces in a very awkward position. Although India has self-developed “Arjun II” or the Russia T90-MS but now it does not have any match for VT-4. The latest Russian model T-14 Armata is not only far from entering service, but its performance has not been verified.
Critical analysis of the massive modernization and self-reliance campaign of defence forces of Pakistan reveals that MBT tank modernization programs was initiated in the 1980s which successfully focused on countering India’s T-72M1. Now with the induction of Chinese VT-40 tank a war machine India’s Arjun MBT has become largely irrelevant. Pakistan’s MBT modernization program involved incremental Type-59 upgrades culminating in the Al-Zarrar, an opportunistic stopgap T-80UD acquisition, and localized Type-69II and Type-85APII production leading to the development and manufacturing of the Al-Khalid-series. The Al-Khalid is based on the NORINCO Type-90II, but customized in line with Pakistan’s requirements. Its more advanced variants, namely the Al-Khalid I and Al-Khalid-II, should have met Pakistan’s future MBT needs. Being prominent regional expert on China, I uphold that induction of Chinese battle tank VT-4 into to PACs has changed the regional security dynamics which will be further strengthened in the days to come with increasing Sino-Pak military cooperation.
—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.