The Type 69 Main Battle Tank (MBT) was a Chinese evolution of its own Type 59 MBT series first appearing in 1959. Production of this vehicle spanned 1958 to 1985 to which some 9,500 examples were acquired. Both the Type 69 and Type 59 owed their existence to the original Soviet-era T-54A model series, this system being introduced in 1946 and setting the groundwork for the upcoming T-55 family line. The Type 69 entered service in 1982 and remains operationally active, having seen combat service during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991) and the Iraq War (2003-2011) (with the Iraqi Army).
The vehicle emerged from design in a prototype form fitting an all-new diesel engine of 580 horsepower. An InfraRed (IR) searchlight was added as was a laser rangefinder to broaden tactical capabilities. The gun was of 100mm caliber and of smoothbore design. Another prototype, the Type 69-I was brought along the lines of the Soviet T-62 MBT and this included its own searchlight design as well as a much improved NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) suite.
Initial production models were designated simply and collectively as "Type 69" and included the first-run Type 69-IIA model of 1982. A new Fire Control System (FCS) was installed for accuracy that included twin-axis stabilization, a ballistics computer and laser rangefinder. Smoke grenade launchers were standard fittings. The Type 69-IIB/C models were command tank forms with additional communications equipment for their battlefield role. An auxiliary power supply was also added to run the applicable systems apart from the main power generator. The Type 653 ARV was an Armored Recovery Vehicle form based on the chassis of the Type 69 MBT - lacking its traversing turret but fielding a heavy duty powered crane and dozer blade.
The basic design was a 40.5 ton steel beast with a n overall length of 8.85 meters and a width of 3.3 meters to go along with a height of 2.8 meters. As in the T-54, the Type 69 was crewed by four personnel made up of the driver, commander, gunner and loader. Armor protection reached 203mm in thickness across the various facings while power was served through a Type 12150L-7BW V12 diesel-fueled engine of 580 horsepower. The hull sat atop a torsion bar suspension system and, coupled with the powerpack, allowed for an operational range out to 440 kilometers with a maximum road speed of 50 kmh. Primary armament was a 100mm smoothbore main gun with a 7.62mm machine gun in a coaxial fitting. A 12.7mm anti-aircraft heavy machine gun could be installed on the turret roof as optional.
From the Type 69-II line came the Type 69-III - also known as the "Type 79". Pilot vehicles emerged in the early 1980s with production beginning in 1984. Chief modifications to the line included "Westernized" equipment such as a 105mm rifled main gun based on the excellent British L7 model. NBC protection was improved as was the FCS. Power was served through a diesel-fueled engine of 730 horsepower output. In time, these vehicles also supported the use of Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks for improved protection against tank-killing missiles.
Operators of the Type 69 (beyond the Chinese Army) have included Bangladesh, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The Iraqi Army operated hundreds of Type 69 tanks though all have since been lost in combat or scrapped.
Iraqi Army forms included the Type 69-QM, the Type 69-QM1 and the Type 69-QM2. All were collectively nestled under the "T-55B" designation. The QM featured a 100mm rifled main gun with additional frontal armor protection and support for optional ERA blocks. The QM1 featured the 105mm L7-based rifle main gun as well as a laser rangefinder. The QM2 sported the massive 125mm smoothbore main gun popular with the leading Soviet/Russian combat tanks. A laser rangefinder was also standard.
At least 4,500 total Type 69 / Type 79 tanks were eventually produced across all mentioned marks.