ZTZ 85-III: The 85's last hurrah

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Welcome to another suggestion, in this one we’ll be having a look at the final iteration of the Chinese ZTZ 85 series MBT, the ZTZ 85-III.

The ZTZ 85-III is a further development of the ZTZ 85 series of tanks, which in turn is a further development of the ZTZ 80/88 series of tanks. The ZTZ 85 featured a new turret which for the first time in Chinese tank development was outfitted with a composite armor array. The original ZTZ 85 was equipped with a 105 mm main gun, this was then further developed into the ZTZ 85-II which still had the 105 mm main gun but also featured an array of other upgrades.
After some tests with a Soviet T-72, it was found that the 105 mm Type 83 main gun was no longer adequate to deal with enemy tanks. The main armament was thus the next part of the vehicle to be upgraded. A new 125 mm main gun was fitted into the turret which resulted in the ZTZ 85-IIA and subsequently the ZTZ 85-IIM. Pakistan acquired the Type 85-IIAP for its armed forces, which was a 125 mm armed ZTZ 85 variant. The IIM meanwhile formed the basis for two different models, on one side it was further developed into the ZTZ 96, which was taken into Chinese army service, and on the other side it was further developed into the ZTZ 85-III. This version was announced in 1995 and featured a set of key upgrades over earlier models. It was mostly destined to compete in a new Pakistani requirement for an MBT, but due to issues with the engine it was rejected in this competition. After the engine issue were resolved, trials were undertaken once again, but all-in-all the design was too outdated at this point to properly compete with contemporary Western and Russian designs. China would eventually return to cooperating with Pakistan for tank designs as they managed to successfully export their MBT 2000 in 1999 to the nation.
Unfortunately, the story of the ZTZ 85-III ends in obscurity as the vehicle never seems to have managed sales on the export market.

Type85-III_prototype_creditsSinoDefence

The aforementioned upgrades start with the engine of the vehicle. This was upgraded to a 1000 hp diesel. The tank was also equipped with a new transmission which has hydraulic control and the ability to switch between manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic modes. These upgrades give the vehicle seriously increased mobility. The 42.5 ton vehicle now has a power to weight ratio of 23.5 hp/ton, which allows it to reach it’s top speed of 65 km/h in a much shorter time span.
New sights were also installed. This new set consists of fully stabilized day/night sights for both gunner and commander. These sights are connected to a computerized fire control system to give the vehicle a high first-hit probability.
When first presented, the vehicle had the same bare armor configuration as the previous models, but this was later improved with an array of ERA blocks covering large portions of the vehicle. This gave the ZTZ 85-III much higher survivability against the HEAT rounds that are commonly found on man-portable weapons.
The armament of the vehicle was unchanged over its predecessors, still featuring the 125mm smoothbore cannon. In the upgrade from a 105 mm cannon to a 125 mm cannon, the vehicle was also equipped with a Soviet style autoloader, probably copied from those found in the T-72. Due to this, the armament was stated to reach a rate-of-fire of 8 rounds/minute, which corresponds to a 7.5 second reload time. The gun was capable of firing 3 types of ammunition, an APFSDS round with about 460mm of penetration, a HEAT round and an HE-Frag round. These are probably the same ammo types that we can currently find on the ZTZ-96 in-game.
The implementation of the autoloader also removed the need for a manual loader. This reduced the crew to 3: a gunner, commander, and a driver.

type85_3

General characteristics:

  • Crew: 3 (driver, commander, gunner)
  • Height: 2.3 m
  • Length: 7.3 m
  • Width: 3.4 m
  • Weight: 42.5 tons
  • Powerplant: 1000 hp diesel engine
  • Maximum speed: 65 km/h
  • Power-to-weight: 23.5 hp/ton

Armament:

  • Main armament: 1x 125 mm smoothbore cannon with the following ammo types:
    • DTP-125 HEAT
    • DTB-125 HE-FRAG
    • 125-I APFSDS
  • Coaxial armament: 1x 7.62 mm machine gun
  • Additional armament: 1x 12.7 mm machine gun on commander’s hatch

Systems:

  • 2-plane stabilizer
  • Laser rangefinder and computerized FCS with ballistics computer
  • independent stabilized day/night sights for gunner and commander (no thermals)

in-game:
I believe the ZTZ 85-III could be a great addition to the 9.3 - 10.0 bracket of the Chinese ground tree. The vehicle has almost identical firepower to the ZTZ 96, and then combines it with a much improved engine and an array of ERA protection. It still clearly lags behind the ZTZ 96A with its thermals and much more advanced round. Perhaps this vehicle could serve to be the much desired 9.7 MBT to go together with the currently very small lineup of only the ZBD04A and ZLT 11.
In this battle rating range, the vehicle should prove to be a fun and competitive addition, using its good mobility to reach positions from where you can harass the enemy. The round should still be more than potent enough as well. On top of that, your ERA protection might allow you to shrug off a few HEAT rounds or missiles from enemies that would have otherwise dealt crippling damage.
Something typical with Chinese and Soviet vehicles in this bracket however, is the absence of thermal sights. You will have to be more attentive to find enemies that are hiding in unexpected positions, and if playing aggressively, it is quite likely that the enemy will spot you before you can spot them back. In these situations you’ll have to count on your low silhouette and decent armor to save you from enemy fire, something that it should be more than capable of in a lot of situations.
All-in-all this should be a fun and mobile MBT, a fun sidegrade from the ZTZ 96, and an excellent vehicle to expand Chinese lineups in the 9.3 - 10.0 bracket.

Sources

NORINCO Type 85-II Main Battle Tank (MBT)
Type 85-III / Type 88C
Type 85 Main Battle Tank - Chinese PLA (1985)
Army Guide
The Chinese Type 85 Tank - TankNutDave.com
Type 85-II Tank - Fighting-Vehicles.com

2 Likes

I was under the belief that the 85-III and the 96 were the exact same.

How are they different?

have a 1000 horsepower engine and ERA, and I don’t know what the gearbox looks like. If it has a very fast reverse speed, its performance will be completely different from the 96

3 Likes

some image supplements. can see that the engine compartment is significantly raised


4 Likes

+1
Actually can make 2 vehicles out of this, one with ERA and one without.

Compared with ZTZ96A, it has bettter power-to-weight ratio (better mobility) but worse protection (likely FY2 and not FY4). Also no thermal. So maybe BR 9.7 for ERA version and 9.3 for no ERA.

1 Like

As explained already, there’s differences for sure, but I think you are thinking of the ZTZ 85-IIM which I believe is indeed pretty much the same tank. although sources are very conflicting on the heritage of the ZTZ 96 with some saying it is indeed the same as the 85-IIM some saying it’s merely a further development. There’s also the IIA which varies between having a 105mm and 125mm gun depending on the source…
I decided to just skip those variants and skip straight to this one which is definitely distinct.

1 Like

+1, could be a nice way to form another high-tier lineup just below 10.7 if we get both one with and without ERA.