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Asia-Pacific , Naval

A New Battle Tank for China’s Marine Corps; Induction of the ZTQ-15 Part of a Massive Investment in Amphibious Warfare by the PLA

August 10th - 2018

A number of recent reports have indicated that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has inducted a new light battle tank for its Marine Corps amid an expansion of the country's amphibious warfare capabilities. With the corps expected to grow fivefold from a force of 20,000 to approximately 100,000 - allowing it to better operate in the increasingly contested Asia-Pacific region where the Western Bloc and its partners have increasingly deployed force to stake their own claim, the Marines have received considerable quantities of cutting edge new hardware to strengthen their fighting capabilities. The induction of a light battle tank, possibly one designed to deploy from the Navy's upcoming 40,000 ton amphibious assault ships, could well go a long way towards strengthening the offensive capabilities of the marines and their ability to conduct beachhead landings and other highly trying operations which are increasingly essential as tensions rise in the Pacific theatre.

Known as the ZTQ-15, the platform appears highly similar to the VT4 - a tank designed by China's Norinco Industries Group specifically for export loosely based on the Russian T-72. While China's ground forces do not operate the VT4 or similar platforms themselves, instead relying on the Type 96 and Type 99, a lighter variant of the Norinco appears to have been deemed the most suitable system from China's amphibious forces. With the VT-4 having been designed exclusively for export, and lacking key export restricted technologies which are key to the effectiveness of platforms serving in the PLA's ground forces, the ZTQ-15 used by the Chinese Marines likely employs a number of cutting technologies developed for the Type 99 - potentially including derivatives of the elite heavy tank's explosive reactive armour and active protection systems. The new tanks are reportedly equipped with relatively small 105 millimeter cannon - though these are likely to be able to fire a variety of specialised munitions including laser guided anti tank missiles and kinetic energy penetrators. Like other Chinese tank designs, the ZTQ-15 is likely to make use of a state of the art fire control system and autoloader. The ZTQ-15 are set to serve in a complementary role alongside the Marines Corps' ZBD05 tracked amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, ZLT05 amphibious assault guns and FHJ-02 rocket artillery systems currently in service - laying down considerable firepower necessary to facilitate beachhead landings in highly contested battlefields.

Deployed to heavily fortified Chinese military facilities in the South China Sea, China's fast expanding and modernising Marines could well extend their reach across much of the Western Pacific - contesting the dominance of the United States and its Western allies which has come to define the regional order ever since the Second World War. China is but one of several pacific powers investing heavily in improving its amphibious warfare capabilities, with Japan inaugurating its Marine Corps in April 2018, the first time the country fielded such a force since 1945, and the United States deploying personnel and amphibious assets to the Pacific in ever growing numbers. Russia too for its part has vastly expanded its investments in its naval infantry, and is planning four amphibious assault ships which will carry a number of new and highly specialised combat vehicles for amphibious landings. At least half of these are likely to be deployed to the Pacific theatre. The ZTQ-15 are likely to serve as an excellent complement to the PLA Marine Corp' new Type 075 amphibious assault ships and the vertical takeoff (VTOL) fighter jets reportedly planned to operate from their decks - providing China's Marines with some of the most advanced assault capabilities in the world.

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