The Type 79 is perhaps one of the more important vehicles in Chinese armored history. It marked a new era in Chinese tank design and technology, and a new era in relations between China and the West, with the latter being a reason for the former. With this suggestion post, I hope to do the Type 79’s story justice and hopefully this post will contribute to its addition to the game. The Type 79 is an evolution of the Type 69 series, which itself originated out of a desire to have a Chinese developed tank, rather than simply a locally produced T-54A. Instead of the old and rather antiquated 100 mm gun, the Type 79 uses a 105 mm rifled gun. This gun can fire a majority of NATO 105 mm tank ammunition, including APFSDS, HEAT-FS, HESH, Smoke, and so on. Also adding on is a new fire control system, featuring two plane stabilization, a laser rangefinder, ballistics computer, as well as a new engine. All in all, this vehicle would represent a very historically significant Chinese vehicle for the tree. But to really understand why, one must look into its history. Actually, I haven’t talked much about the history of this vehicle yet, have I? Bear with me as we go back 70 years in time, to the 1950s.
Mao Zedong and Nikita Khrushchev in Peking, 1958.
In 1956, 3 years after Joseph Stalin had died, Nikita Khrushchev’s speech denouncing Stalin and Stalinism sent shock through much of the Eastern bloc, but the reaction was even stronger in China. This speech especially concerned Mao, who began to see that Khrushchev would not be like his predecessor, and not emulate Stalin or his own take on political policy. Relations would really sour in 1958 when Mao accused Khrushchev of trying to control the PRC’s coastline by deterring US intervention in East Asia via submarines. Despite this tension between the two allies going on, the Soviets continued to supply military aid and advisors to China. The most significant of this military aid, in terms of Chinese armored history, is the T-54A, along with its license. It was produced in China and used in People’s Liberation Army service as the Type 59. This was produced in factories using Soviet parts to start, but would gradually shift to be made entirely of Chinese parts. The Soviets had given the Chinese a license to produce it, as well as translated documents and blueprints. It was a very capable tank for the time, armed with a 100 mm rifled gun, strong armor, and was decently mobile. However, above all, it was easy to produce in large numbers, which was perfect for Chinese industry, and the People’s Liberation Army.
One of the very first Type 59s being produced at the First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory, 1958
Even though the Type 59 was still rather adequate for the time, things were not looking good for the Sino-Soviet relationship. Khrushchev and Mao were not getting along, which resulted in the Soviet Union withdrawing its technical staff and advisers entirely by the early 1960s. China could certainly continue producing the Type 59 without the Soviets, but the problem was, what would succeed the Type 59? China didn’t have years of knowledge or the capability as major nations like the Soviet Union or the United States did to create new and improved tanks. The Type 59 couldn’t last forever; China’s tank industry would stagnate. With this in mind, in 1963, the People’s Liberation Army ordered a new tank design, to be developed off the Type 59, which would be called the Type 69. Developmental objectives were set forth in 1965, with the industrial name WZ121 being used for the new vehicle, and in 1966, the first prototype rolled out of the factory. This would unfortunately have to be put on the back burner, because in 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, which would severely halt development of the PRC’s new tank. As the late 1960s came along, tensions with the Soviet Union were only getting worse, and even with Khrushchev now deposed and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, things were about to take a violent turn at the border.
Chinese and Soviet troops having a confrontation at Damansky / Zhenbao Island, albeit nothing like what was to come.
While the Cultural Revolution was going on at home, tension was brewing between the Chinese and the Soviets on the eastern border of China. Each side made provocative, but not overly lethal attacks against one another. Soviet boats would often spray Chinese fishermen with a waterhose, and there were often hand to hand fights between soldiers on both sides. These aggressive acts were partially a result of an escalation in Soviet troops, itself being due to the PRC stating it did not recognize the 19th century borders between the current PRC and USSR. This then prompted the Soviets to send 250,000 to 300,000 soldiers on the border with China by 1967.
These aggressive moves finally came to a head on March 2nd, 1969, when fighting broke out on Zhenbao Island, also known as Damansky Island. This is a small island on the Ussuri River situated between Heilongjiang province and Primorsky Krai. Each side claims a different version of events, but most historians agree the Chinese acted first in an ambush on Soviet border guards. Shooting ensued, followed by artillery fire and even T-62 tanks from the Soviet side. This was a rare sight at the time, as the T-62 back then was still something of a mystery to even Western analysts. Regardless, one T-62, numbered 545 under the command of Colonel Democrat Leonov was ambushed, and in a panic, drove into an anti-tank minefield with one of the tracks blowing off, leaving the tank immobilized on the ice. The crew tried to escape the tank, but Leonov and the loader, Aleksei Kuzmin, were killed by Chinese sniper fire upon exiting the tank’s hatches, with the driver and gunner most likely being killed later. Both sides continued to shoot at each other for control of the tank. When the Chinese attempted to take it, the Soviets would fire at them with artillery and sniper fire; when the Soviets tried to take it, the Chinese would fire back in kind.
A Chinese artillery crew fires on Soviet positions during the clash at Zhenbao.
Eventually, the Chinese managed to pull the immobilized tank out of the ice, but at a heavy cost of men. Once taken back for study, it was thoroughly examined, and a few components, such as the Luna IR system, were copied to be put on the Type 69. With this new technology, the new tank would finally be approved for production on March 26th, 1974 as the 1969 Type Medium Tank, as a literal translation from Chinese. It was China’s first tank it produced by itself, after nearly 10 years of development.
T-62 545, the captured T-62 pulled from the ice
With a new 100 mm smooth bore gun, the Type 69 fired APFSDS-T ammunition, as well as HEAT-FS, which were quite an upgrade in firepower over the previous 100 mm rifled gun of the Type 59. The Type 69 was certainly far from perfect though. Its penetration and accuracy was a questionable improvement over the Type 59, it still had no modern fire control system in an era where vehicles like the T-72 were beginning to enter service, and its armor was still the same as the Type 59’s. However, during the time the Type 69 was entering service, the political landscape of the Cold War was beginning to shift in the direction that might just allow China to improve the Type 69 design.
The first iteration of the Type 69, armed with a 100 mm smoothbore gun, this is the tech tree Type 69 seen in-game.
President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai speak at a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, 1972
The 1972 visit of Richard Nixon to China was a surprise to many. Not only because Nixon was about as anti-Communist as you could get, but also because up until this point, the US had not recognized the PRC at all. This was partially due to the American table tennis team’s visit to China in 1971 and the following events, named Ping-pong diplomacy. The 1972 visit began to open up relations with the West for China. This notably also involved the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué, which pledged that it was in the best interests of the world that the United States and China work towards normalizing relations, and would lead to the US officially recognizing the People’s Republic of China in 1979. This would lead to a general warmth in relations with the West for China, which also meant Western technology and companies began to look for business in China.
For the People’s Liberation Army, this came in the form of Western technology. One thing long desired by the PLA was upgrading of older tanks in service with the PLA already. Whether it was new main guns, fire control systems, missile systems, a flurry of new weapons were now able to be applied to PLA military vehicles. While a lot of these vehicles were certainly helped by Western technology, credit should also be given to Chinese engineers for applying it to these designs and even creating new designs. During this time, there were a number of projects going on to modernize China’s tank force. One of these modernization programs was for the Type 69, which would receive its most prominent upgrade in 1981, known as the Type 69-III, or more commonly, the Type 79.
Type 79 in all its glory, with the 105 mm covered with a thermal sleeve.
By the 1980s, the Type 69 was no longer what it was when it first entered service. It now used a 100mm rifled gun instead of a smoothbore gun. There were several changes made following the warming of relations with the West, and the vehicle was beginning to see a lot of success in the export market. But, Chinese designers wanted to take it one step further by creating an upgrade of the Type 69-II, one of the latest variants, to be called Type 69-III. This task was undertaken by the China North Industries Corporation, later known as Norinco. A prototype was created in 1981, based off a converted Type 69-IIM, with some parts absorbed from the Type 59’s improvement program, the Type 59-II. Two prototypes of the Type 69-III were produced in 1983, followed by extensive trials. Various performance tests were carried out, such as driving on roads, laser rangefinder performance tests, firing live ammunition, electromagnetic interference protection tests and night vision distance testing. In accordance with the requirements of the People’s Liberation Army Armored Forces, the Type 69-III also underwent environmental tests in winter and summer conditions, traveling a range of 1,000 kilometers. The tests proved that the tank met the requirements, and the first production vehicle was created in 1984.
On October 1st of the same year, the Type 69-III participated in the 35th National Day military parade. In January 1986, the National Military Product Designation Committee approved the design, finalized it, and renamed it “Type 79 Medium Tank”. Compared to the Type 69, the Type 79 main battle tank has significant improvements in firepower, fire control system, special protection, communications, and more. Some of these included rubber-padded tracks, automatically closing hatches upon detection of NBC agents, passive IR sights, a British Marconi FCS with a TLRLA laser rangefinder, BCLA ballistic computer, and TGSA gunner sight, and most notably, a new Type 83 105 mm rifled gun.
The new 105 mm gun meant it could fire much more powerful ammunition, notably APFSDS and HEAT-FS rounds. It also received a new fire control system made by Marconi of the UK, featuring a digital ballistics computer, laser rangefinder, stabilization, and a system response time not exceeding 10 seconds. The first shot rate of the vehicle was over 80% at a distance of 1,000 meters, and the vehicle received second generation low-light night vision equipment. Some websites claim it received thermal imaging later on in its service life as well.
Protection wise, most changes were to reactions to the environment. For example, if the vehicle detects radiation or gamma rays, the vehicle will send out an alarm signal and immediately close all hatches on the tank, including any vision ports. Following this, the fan begins to work to keep polluted air out of the vehicle. The automatic fire suppression system can detect the source of a fire in 10 milliseconds and put it out in 60 milliseconds in case the tank is hit or is caught on fire. The tank is also able to inject diesel fuel into its exhaust to create a smoke screen.
In terms of mobility, the vehicle sports an engine of 730 hp, however some sources claim it uses a 580 hp 12150L-7BW diesel engine instead. The vehicle is said to be able to go up to 50 km/h on road, and has a maximum distance of 500 km.
The gunner’s position inside the Type 79.
As with many other nations, China would reuse its vehicles for various roles, and the Type 79 was no different.
The Type 79-II, a further development of the Type 79.
Development of the Type 79 continued after its introduction into service, and in the same year it was introduced, a prototype known as the Type 79-II was built. This featured new thermal imaging, improved stabilization, smoke grenade launchers, and perhaps most notably visually, slat basket armor on the rear and sides of the turret. Not much else is known of it, but a couple of photos do exist. Whatever may have happened to the Type 79-II, it still would help the Chinese test new technology for the Type 79’s successors, the Type 80 and Type 88 series, which would eventually replace it in the latter part of the 1980s.
A Type 84 ARV, based on the Type 79 chassis, tows the vehicle that succeeded its base main battle tank, the Type 88.
Originally, one of China’s main armored recovery vehicles was the Type 653, which used a Type 69 chassis. When the Type 79 came about, it was later replaced by the Type 79’s chassis, whose slightly better mobility further assisted in helping get tanks out of tough spots. Equipped with a dozer blade and a hydraulically powered crane, the Type 84 is still in use today.
The PGZ-88 anti-aircraft vehicle.
Perhaps the most famous of the Type 79’s derivatives, the PGZ-88 was never adopted, only being used in limited evaluation trials. But, it was one of China’s first modern anti-aircraft systems. It was developed in the 1980s by NORINCO, using a pair of Type 74 37 mm cannons. These are derived from the Soviet 61-K anti-aircraft guns, but have been modified to more modern standards, having a higher fire rate, with estimates ranging going as high as 480 rpm, but is nevertheless an improvement over the previous fire rate of 160 rpm. Also included with the PGZ-88 is a target search and rangefinding radar, optical sighting, a ballistic computer, as well as a friend or foe transmitter and receiver. The vehicle can fire a high explosive round known as Type 76 in single shots, burst, or fully automatic from one or both barrels at a muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s.
Type 79s during exercises, still retaining the classic turret and chassis, but with a hint of the modern era, with a thermal sleeve covered 105 mm gun and new internals.
The Type 79, for all its history and background, was not a major success because in the end, it was not wielded in large numbers by the PLA. But, it was a success in that it was an important stepping stone in the history of Chinese armored history, as it would lead to the Type 80, Type 85, and Type 88 series of tanks. In War Thunder, it will play a very similar role. It won’t be the tank people immediately rush for like the Tiger 1, but it will be there to provide an upgrade for the Type 69 and lead to even better tanks, just like it did for China all those years ago.
- Crew: 4
- Mass: 37 - 37.5 t
- Length: 8.68 m
- Width: 3.3 m
- Height: 2.8 m
- Main gun: 105mm Type 83 (44 rounds)
- Secondary armament: 12.7mm Type 54 machine gun (500 rounds) & 7.62mm machine gun (3,000 rounds)
- Engine: 580 hp 12150L7BW diesel engine
- Maximum speed on road: 50 km/h
- Maximum range: 500 km
Source 1: Jane’s Armour and Artillery 2005-2006 pp. 11 (Can be found here, picture of page below)
Dougherty, Martin J. Chinese Tanks & AFVs 1950-Present. Amber Book Ltd., 2019., pp. 30-31 (Relevant page below)