The MBT-3000 is a 3rd Generation Main Battle Tank (MBT) currently in the development stages for both export customers and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). The program is being headed by the large NORINCO (China NORth INdustries COrporation) concern and is the direct successor to the "MBT-2000" - both versions owing their existence to the Soviet "T-72" of the Cold War. The MBT-2000 is currently in service with Pakistan (320 as the "Al-Khalid") and Bangladesh (44). It is expected that the newer MBT-3000 design will enter serial production within the next few years and enter PLA service sometime in 2014 following the requisite trials. As it stands, the MBT-3000 is the culmination of decades of fine-tuning many combat tank systems that have been Soviet in origin. Chinese military industry maintains the goal of becoming a more independent entity to produce indigenous weaponry on par with the West and its regional adversaries.
The term "3rd Generation MBT" essentially encompasses a combat tank making use of advanced composite armor protection (usually of a classified formula) as well as advanced fire control systems (FCSs). 3rd Generation Tanks are commonplace on today's battlefield and represented by the excellent British Challenger 2, the American M1 Abrams, the French AMX-56 Leclerc, the Russian T-90 and the Israeli Merkava Mk IV. As the MBT-3000 remains in development as of this writing (2012), some specifications and qualities may change by the time the vehicle is formally adopted for service. The MBT-3000 offering - if completed to the listed specifications - will no doubt put Chinese and allied land forces on par with Western counterparts and ahead of many of her neighboring competitors as China expands its influence in the Asia-Pacific Theater.
From what is known, the Chinese MBT-3000 will be of a largely conventional form featuring a low-set silhouette (a key T-72 quality), the engine to the rear (believed to be Ukrainian in origin) and the turret held at the center along the hull roof. The MBT-3000 - like other tanks of Chinese origin - owes its qualities to the many decades of tanks procured and locally manufactured from the Soviet Union and, thusly, utilizes the best qualities of these systems to produce a wholly indigenous 3rd Generation product. As such, the MBT-3000 will field a very low profile (including a near-flat glacis plate), track-and-wheel maneuvering and an autoloader for its smoothbore main gun.
Borrowing from Soviet/Russian designs of the past, the MBT-3000 installs the massive 125mm main gun of smoothbore design which is further stabilized along both axis for maximum accuracy. The smoothbore system debuted in the T-62 of 1961 and immediately outclassed all Western types for it allowed greater flexibility in utilizing fin-stabilized projectiles while also limiting general wear and tear to the rifling lines and troughs inherent in a "rifled" main gun barrel. The Soviets adopted the smoothbore barrel into all of their successive tank lines including the most modern T-90 example.
The MBT-3000 will, as in Soviet/Russian designs prior, feature an autoloading ammunition carousel that reduces the operational crew to three. This will also allow for a smaller two-man turret (the driver seated in the front-center hull) and promote a lower side profile. The gunner/commander simply selects the type of ammunition to fire from the stores available (22 are ready-to-fire) and the carousel delivers the ammunition case to the breech. The Chinese 125mm will naturally support all manner of proven armor-defeating projectiles including HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) and kinetic energy penetrators as well as general high explosive ordnance. Like Soviet/Russian main gun designs, the Chinese version will also provide support for the firing of anti-tank (AT) missiles from the barrel - a feature not common in Western designs, giving the Russian/Chinese offerings something of a tactical edge. The MBT-3000 will be stocked with approximately 38 x 125mm projectiles to which the main gun, when coupled to the autoloader, will supply a rate-of-fire of about eight rounds per minute.
As with any modern MBT, the MBT-3000 will be given a digital fire-control system (FCS) allowing for firing "on-the-move" with accuracy found within 5,500 yards. Among other systems and processing suites, the MBT-3000 will showcase a computer-assisted base inertial navigation system as well as standard GPS. Thermographic imaging devices will be afforded to all three of the crew. An automatic fire suppression system has been designed to react to onboard dangers, protecting the crew from ammunition explosions and general fires.
In terms of self-defense, the MBT-3000 will follow standard practice by incorporation of a 7.62mm general purpose machine gun in a coaxial mounting next to the main gun. This will supply a base security feature against enemy infantry at close-to-medium ranges. A 12.7mm heavy machine gun will be set at the commander's hatch for engaging/deterring low-flying enemy aircraft or light armored vehicles - though it does not appear that firing the weapon from inside the turret will be possible as mockups showcase the gun on a basic pintle mounting. Smoke grenade dischargers ultimately feature into the mix, allowing the vehicle to set off its own smokescreen for self-coverage against enemy eyes and tracking equipment. Twelve grenades look to be fitted to the turret sides - eight of these will be smoke generating types while the remaining four will feature shrapnel based grenades, perhaps to counter nearby enemy infantry not in the line of fire of the machine guns.
Power for the MBT-3000 platform will be served through an unnamed turbocharged liquid-cooled diesel engine outputting at 1,300 horsepower - the assumption being that this engine will be Ukranian in origin (the MBT-2000 utilizes a Ukranian KMDB 6TD-2 diesel engine of 1,200 horsepower). The engine will be set in a traditional fashion within a compartment at the rear of the hull and mated to a Ch1000B integrated transmission system. The hull is further set atop six double-tired road wheels, each suspended through a torsion bar suspension system. The powerpack arrangement will allow for a top listed road speed of 42 miles per hour and an operational road range of 310 miles. Its combat weight is currently listed at 52 tons.
Each crew will have an access hatch available at their respective positions - two along the top of the turret roof and the driver with a hatch directly above his position at the front center of the hull. The turret has been designed with angled front facings for basic ballistics protection. ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) blocks feature into the MBT-3000 design for added battlefield survivability - these can be applied to the sides of the track armor, along the hull roof and all about the turret (based on presented mockups and marketing materials).
While it remains to be seen whether this latest Chinese offering will indeed match the best of the world pound-for-pound, its development is certainly a step in the right direction. If the presented design and performance qualities come to fruition, the MBT-3000 will undoubtedly catch the eye of several parties interested in upgrading their outmoded inventory of Cold War combat tanks in the near future.
October 2016 - The latest export version of the MBT-3000 was showcased at Airshow China 2016. The system is outfitted with an all-modern Fire Control System (FCS), has full support for a Remote Weapon System (RWS) and carries slat and ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) protection. An active protection system (GL5 series) is also said to be part of the self-defense suite.
April 2017 - The Royal Thai Army has ordered an additional 10 VT-4 tank units to further strengthen its existing tank stock.
November 2018 - In its bid to strengthen and modernize its armored corps, the nation of Pakistan has selected the VT-4 MBT. It is suspected the Pakistan Army had been actively testing the vehicle from late 2017 into early 2018.