The Type 69 (manufacturer designation WZ121) was an improved version of the Type 59 (Chinese copy of the T-54A). The PRC’s first independently developed main battle tank (MBT), the Type 69 is generally identical to the Type 59/T-54A in appearance, but added with indigenous dual-way stabilisation and night vision. Later versions of the Type 69 was also incorporated with Western technologies including British 105mm rifled gun and computerised fire-control. As well as serving with the PLA, the Type 69 was exported to countries in Asia, Africa and Middle East in significant numbers.
617 Factory (now Inner-Mongolia First Machinery Group Co. Ltd) began to develop a successor to the Type 59 (Chinese copy of the T-54) in 1963, but the progress in the programme had been slow due to technical difficulties and the turmoil caused by the ‘Culture Revolution’ in the late 1960s. In March 1969, during an armed clash between the PRC and the Soviet Union along the Ussuri River on Damansky Island, the Chinese troops captured a Soviet T-62 tank. The tank was carefully examined by Chinese engineers and its night vision and other components were copied and integrated into the Type 69 design. The Type 69 was finally certified for design finalisation in 1974.
Compared to the Type 59, the Type 69 features a Chinese indigenous dual-way stabilised Type 69 100mm smoothbore gun, capable of firing the armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) round. The tank also had a laser rangefinder and an infrared searchlight. However, by that time the tank was already obsolete compared to the tanks equipped by the Soviet and Western armies. Additionally, the performance of the 100mm smoothbore gun was also unsatisfactory. The basic variant Type 69 only saw very limited service in the late 1970s and was soon completely withdrawn from service.
The improved Type 69-II introduced in 1982 had the original 100mm smoothbore gun replaced by a 100mm rifled gun developed from the gun of the Type 59. This variant also featured a more powerful diesel engine. Later production Type 69-II tanks were added with rubber track skirt and storage rack on the turret. This design was proved highly successful in the export market, with over 2,000 examples sold to a number of third-world countries. The Iraqi Army was equipped with over 1,000 Type 69 tanks in the 1980s, most of which were destroyed during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm and the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As the Sino-Western relations warmed up in the 1980s, the PRC was able to use Western technologies to upgrade the Type 69 design. A Sino-British co-operation project led to the introduction of the Type 69-III (also known as Type 79), which was equipped with a British L7 105mm rifled gun and the Marconi fire-control system. The tank entered service with the PLA in the late 1980s.
It was estimated that several hundred Type 69 tanks of various models have been delivered to the PLA. Additionally, the hull of the tank has been used as the chassis of a range of armoured combat and support vehicles, including the Type 84 armoured recovery vehicle (ARV), Type 84 mechanical bridge, PGZ88 dual-37mm self-propelled AAA, GSL130 mines sweeper, and GCZ110 multifunctional vehicle.
The Type 69 is near identical to the Type 59 in appearance, with a typical Soviet-style “half-egg” shape cast turret and conventional four-man crew layout. The tank has five large road wheels on each side, with rubber track skirt. Early variant of the Type 69 could also be identified by its large IR searchlight mounted on the right side of the main gun, and the a laser rangefinder mounted above the main gun. The Type 69 can be distinguished from the Type 59 by the position of the headlight: the Type 59 has only one headlight located on the hull front (to right side), while the Type 69 has two headlights mounted on the track wings.
The tank has a crew of four. The driver sits left in the hull and forward of the turret, while the loader, gunner and tank commander occupy the turret, with the loader situated to the right of the main gun and the gunner and tank commander sitting in tandem on the left side. The loader is also responsible for operating the 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on turret roof. The driver's hatch has three periscope vision blocks which provide for forward vision. The centre vision block may be removed and replaced with an low-light periscope (50m range). The gunner and commander sights both have low-light night vision (gunner 600~800m range; commander: 400~600m range).
The tank uses steel armour on the turret and hull. The front armour on the turret is 202mm, and the front armour on the hull is 100mm. Wheels and tracks are protected by rubber hull skirts. On some variants the turret is also fitted with storage racks for additional protection against HEAT projectiles. Smoke can be generated by injecting diesel fuel in to the engine's exhaust. Later variants were also fitted with smoke grenade launchers. Early variants were powered by a liquid cooled, turbocharged 12150L-7BW 580 hp diesel.
The basic variant Type 69 is fitted with a dual-way stabilised Type 69 100mm smoothbore gun. The gun could carry 44 rounds (10 more than Type 59), consisting of 13 armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds, 13 high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) rounds, and 18 high explosive (HE) rounds. The gun has a maximum range of 1,736m. The Type 69-II is fitted with a Type 69-II 100mm rifled gun, with a simplified fire-control/night observation equipment. The Type 69-III (Type 79) is fitted with a modified Type 83-I 105mm rifled gun. The gun is derived from the L7/Type 81 and capable of firing APFSDS, HEAT, and HEAT-FRAG.
Auxiliary weapons include a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun (with 500 rounds) mounted on the turret roof in front of the loader's hatchone, and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun (with 3,000 rounds).
The Type 69-II's fire control system includes a TLRLA laser rangefinder (300~3,000m range), BCLA ballistic computer, TGSA gunner sight, and dual-way stabilisation.
- Type 69 - Basic variant fitted with a 580 hp diesel, a 100mm smoothbore gun, an infrared search light, and a laser rangefinder. Limited production and service with the PLA.
- Type 69-I - Improved variant with a 100mm rifled gun replacing the smoothbore gun and a primitive fire-control system introduced in 1988. Prototype only.
- Type 69-II - Export variant introduced in 1982. This variant is similar to the Type 69-I, with a 100mm rifled gun and a primitive fire-control system. It is also fitted with a new Type 889 radio and rubber track skirt. Later variants were fitted with a storage rack on the turret to provide extra protection against HEAT projectiles as well as smoke grenade launchers
- Type 69-IIB - Command version equipped with additional command radio and long radio aerial, and an auxiliary power unit. Export only
- Type 69-IIC - Improved variant of the Type 69-IIB with one aerial shared by two radios. Export only
- Type 69-III (Type 79) - The improved variant with the British Marconi fire-control system and an improved 105mm rifled gun with a replaceable thermal sleeve. The tank is also fitted with an image-enhancement night vision (or thermal imager on later production variants). For PLA use only
- Bangladesh: 310+ Type 69-II (largest operator)
- Iran: 200
- Myanmar: 60 (next 200Type-69 in 2009 December)
- Thailand: 95 (25 have been retired since 2004 due to the lack of spare parts before being dumped as artificial coral by gaiuu in 2010)
- Sri Lanka: 20
- Zimbabwe: 10
- Sudan: Manufactured under license in Sudan by MIC
- Albania: 150+ Type 69-IIC acquired in late 1970s (retired)
- Iraq: Approximately 1500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks in 1990, all later destroyed or scrapped
- Pakistan: 250 (retired)
- Crew: 4
- Dimension: Length: 9.125m; Height: 2.4m; Width: 3.27m
- Weight: 36.5~36.7t
- Engine: 582 hp 12150L-7BW diesel (Type 69-II); or 730 hp diesel (Type 79)
- Transmission: Mechanical, planetary
- Track: Metallic, later variants have RMSh, with rubber-tyred road wheels
- Suspension: Torsion bar
- Cruising range: 420 km (Type 69-II), or 360~400 km (Type 79)
- Speed: Max road 50 km; Cruising road 32~35 km/h; Off-road 22~27 km/h
- Fording depths: 1.4m (unprepared); 4.8m (with snorkel)
- Main gun: 100mm smoothbore (Type 69); 100mm rifled (Type 69-II); 105mm rifled (Type 79)
- Elevation/depression: +18/-5 degree
- Auxiliary weapon: One coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, one 7.62mm driver machine gun; one 12.7mm air-defence machine gun (500 rounds)
- Fire control: (Type 69) primitive; or (Type 79) computerised
- Radio: A-220 receive/transmit radio with rod antenna, max range 16 km, frequency 20~22.375 MHz; or A-220A radio's frequency is 20~27.175 MHz; A-221 telephone
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