18 Februari 2006
Type 69 Main Battle Tank (photo : ThaiFighterClub)
China North Industries Corp (Norinco) has modified a main battle tank (MBT) for potential sale to Thailand despite deep dissatisfaction within the Royal Thai Army (RTA) over its earlier procurement of Chinese armoured vehicles.
A Norinco source told JDW that its Type 96T MBT was designed specifically for the Thai market and field tests have been completed. The Type 96T is based on the Type 85-II, with a variant already exported to Pakistan.
The vehicle weighs 41 tonnes and is powered by a V12 730 hp diesel engine with power-to-weight ratio of 17.8 hp/tonne. The tank is armed with a 125 mm smoothbore gun and can carry 40 rounds of ammunition is available, including armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot, high-explosive anti-tank and high-explosive shells.
Type 85 rocket launcher, one of Thai's armour from China (photo : Militaryphotos)
The RTA obtained 108 Type 69-II MBTs and 450 YW531-H armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from Norinco about 15 years ago. Both platforms have proven problematic and it is thought that few of the MBTs are currently operational.
The Chinese initiative appears to be in response to RTA interest in expanding its mechanised capabilities. Bangkok revealed plans in mid-2003 to meet this requirement through the proposed acquisition from Switzerland of 170 Pz-68 heavy tanks, 24 recovery vehicles and 12 bridge-laying tanks from decommissioned stocks. However, the initiative was ultimately abandoned.
Thailand's initial defence acquisitions from China, dating from the late 1980s, is widely thought to have been due to personal interests promoted by then army chief General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Beijing won few contracts after Gen Chavalit faded from power, but its position improved under the current Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Last year it was announced that the two countries had concluded a memorandum of understanding, yet to be finalised, which would see the RTA obtain 97 WMZ-551B 6 x 6 APCs from Norinco under a barter deal involving longan fruit supplies.