Military Factory logo


China (1959)

Detailing the development and operational history of the NORINCO Type 59 Main Battle Tank (MBT) Tracked Combat Vehicle.

 Entry last updated on 3/14/2018; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  NORINCO Type 59  
Picture of NORINCO Type 59 Main Battle Tank (MBT) Tracked Combat Vehicle
Picture of NORINCO Type 59 Main Battle Tank (MBT) Tracked Combat Vehicle

The Type 59 was nothing more than a Chinese copy of the Soviet T-54 main battle tank.

The NORINCO-produced Type 59 Main Battle Tank (MBT) of China became a locally-produced variant of the original Soviet-era T-54A MBT. Externally it was more or less identical to the Soviet design though the inner workings were customized to fulfill local Chinese requirements. Many second-rate, budget-conscious armies of the world committed to the type for its time as a front-line weapon.

The Type 59 was fitted with a 100mm main gun with later models being witnessed carrying such implements as a laser rangefinder (mounted atop the gun). Both commander and loader were given cupola positions at the turret roof line with the loader being charged with operation of the 12.7mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) mounted atop the turret. The commander managed a 7.62mm machine gun for local defense against infantry. Another 7.62mm machine gun was mounted coaxially and operated by the main gunner. The driver sat front-left and some ready-to-use ammunition was stored to his immediate right. A smoke-screen was produced by the vehicle by injecting raw diesel fuel into the exhaust - - a common trait of Soviet combat tanks of the period - thus eliminating the need for smoke grenade dischargers.
The Type 59 chassis was the framework for a series of related variants showing off the versatility of the base design. These variants included improved Type 59 combat models, Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) forms and vehicles with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks to content with newer, more potent enemy guns and ammunition.

The Type 59 was at the world's center stage when it was used against Chinese students at Tiananman Square in Beijing during the 1989 uprising. A lone, still-unidentified student became a global icon for peace when he stood in the path of a column of advancing Type 59 tanks.

The Type 59 saw considerable export to many countries in the Middle East and Africa. About 9,500 examples were produced from the span of 1958 until 1985 by NORINCO (First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory).

As completed, the vehicle weighed 40 tons (short) and featured a length of 6 meters, a width of 3.25 meters, and a height of 2.6 meters. Its crew comprised four individials with special roles within the hull and turret. The turret mounted a rifled 100mm main gun and gave full 360-degree traversal. Armor protection reached 203mm at the vehicle's most critical facings. Power was from a Model 12150L V-12 liquid-cooled diesel unit outputting 520 horsepower. The drive sprocket lay at rear with the track idler at front - no track return rollers were used. Five double-tired roadwheels were fitted to either hull side in a track-and-wheel arrangement. The hull sat atop a torsion bar suspension system for cross-country mobility.

Operational range reached 450 kilometers though this could be increased to 600 kilometers with the addition of external fuel tanks (another common Soviet tank trait). Road speeds reached 50 kph.

Myanmar and Sri Lanka are former operators of the Type 59 tank series.
NORINCO Type 59 Specifications
National Flag Graphic
Year: 1959
Type: Main Battle Tank (MBT) Tracked Combat Vehicle
Manufacturer(s): China NORth INdustries COmpany (NORINCO) - China
Production: 9,500
Supported Mission Types
Troop Transport
Infantry Support
High Mobility
Tank Destroyer
Special Forces
Towed Artillery
Self-Propelled Artillery
Rocket Artillery
Airspace Denial
Special Purpose
Crew, Dimensions and Operating Weight
Operating Crew: 4
Length: 29.53 ft (9.00 m)
Width: 10.73 ft (3.27 m)
Height: 8.50 ft (2.59 m)
Operating Weight: 40 ft (36,000 kg; 79,366 lb)

Installed Power
1 x Model 12150L V-12 Liguid-cooled diesel developing 520 horsepower at 2,000rpm.

Base Performance
Maximum Road Speed: 28 mph (45 km/h)
Maximum Road Range: 267 mi (430 km)

Armament and Ammunition
1 x 100mm main gun
1 x 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun
1 x 7.62mm coaxial machine gun
1 x 7.62mm machine gun

34 x 100mm projectiles
200 x 12.7mm ammunition
3,500 x 7.62mm ammunition

Optional Systems
Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) Protection: Yes - Optional.
Nightvision (NV) Equipment: Yes - Infra-red for driver, gunner and commander
Aircraft Defense: This vehicle can protect itself from low-flying aerial threats.

Nuclear danger symbol
Biological hazard symbol
Chemical danger symbol
Nightvision green screen symbol
Crosshairs graphic symbol

Operators List
Albania; Bangladesh; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Cambodia; China; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Iraq; Iran; Kosovo; Myanmar (former); North Korea; Pakistan; Republic of the Congo; Sri Lanka (former); Sudan; Tanzania; Vietnam; Zambia; Zimbabwe

Model Variants
• Type 59 - Original production model of Soviet T-54 MBT. Also available in 105mm main gun upgrade.
• T-72Z / Safir 74 - Iranian variant
• Type 59 - Air defense vehicle with twin-35mm guns.
• Type 59-I - Late production model designation; laser-range finder; revised fire control system.
• Type 59-II - Upgunned 105mm main gun variant; 58hp diesel engine; two-axis gun stabilization.
• Type 59 ARV - Armored Recovery Vehicle

Images Gallery