The VT-5, Chinese light tank, will have an active protection system

The state newspaper Global Times announces that the VT-5, China's light tank, will be equipped with an active protection system. This active protection system – likely Norinco's GL5 Active Protection System – detects incoming hostile projectiles before firing interceptor rockets in an attempt to neutralize them.

The VT-5 is a relatively new Chinese light tank. Previewed in 2010, its development had been kept secret and no official comments regarding this tank had been made. It will only be revealed to the public November 2016 at Zhuhai AirShow China.

Originally developed for export by Norinco, hence the nomenclature "VT-5" – the VT designation being used for export vehicles. China will finally announce on December 27, 2018, through the spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, Wu Qian, that the new VT-5 light tank was ordered by the People's Liberation Army under the official PLA nomenclature: Type 15. The latter will therefore succeed the Type 62 light tanks, currently used by the PLA.

File:Type 62 tank at Jianchuan Museum.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
A Type 62 light tank on display at Jianchuan Museum.

The VT-5 has a weight of 33 to 36 tons depending on the armor mounted on the tank. With this weight, this light tank is capable of operating in places where normal MBTs cannot easily go, such as dense forests, deserts, rivers, rice fields or plateaus.

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Topographic map of China.

From the Chinese point of view, this light tank would adapt without problem to the geography of the south of the country: an area mainly made up of mountain ranges, hills, rice fields, lakes and numerous rivers.

A military expert told the Global Times that “compared to an MBT, a light tank like the VT-5 carries lighter armor, which means weaker passive protection. Using an active protection system [APS] would be an excellent choice ". Additionally, the VT-5 would still be equipped with multiple units of explosive reactive armor and a sensor system that sends a warning when the tank is targeted by a laser beam.

APS is a system designed to prevent line-of-sight guided anti-tank projectiles from acquiring and destroying a target. The APS is divided into two categories: 

  • the soft kill measures, made up of jammers, decoys and smoke screens like the GALIX system of the Leclerc tank; 
  • and hard kill measures which physically counter-attack the incoming threat and destroy or modify its payload in such a way that the intended effect on the target is seriously hampered, such as the Russian Arena system and its Doppler radar, or the Israeli Trophy system .
Demonstration of the “GL5 Active Protection System”.

The Chinese active protection system is the “ GL5 Active Protection System », developed by Norinco and intended for main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. This system can detect incoming projectiles such as anti-tank guided missiles with a range of 100 meters, 360° and an angle of 20°. As soon as they are detected, two defensive rockets are fired at the incoming threat. It is currently installed on the VT-4, the third generation Chinese MBT also developed by Norinco for export. This would be the same system installed on the VT-5.

The Type 15 probably has many characteristics of the VT-5. However, will the Type 15 be equipped with the GL5 active protection system? Currently, the Chinese army has not been equipped with it. Several elements could justify this choice: the cost of this single-use system, the development of electrical reactive armor or the fact that this system could be perceived as useless for the PLA due to the sufficient number of armed helicopters and vehicles. infantry fighters to protect their tanks on the battlefield. This could even be harmful to the infantry who can escort the tank with such a system.

Clement Guery
Specialist in foreign policy and security issues of the People's Republic of China.

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