In the late 1950s, the Chinese government called on local industry to design and develop a low-cost Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) for mass-production. With Soviet assistance, the Type 63 was born and pilot vehicles were readied as soon as 1960. Serial production then followed by the Yong Ding Machinery Factory which was eventually absorbed under the massive NORINCO ((China) NORth INdustries COrporation) brand label. Over 10,000 of the type were mass-produced and these found homes beyond Chinese borders - users ranging from Albania and Bangladesh to Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Iraq managed a stock of 650 strong during the 1980s but many were destroyed in its war with Iran and the subsequent wars with the West.
During its service tenure, the Type 63 has been recognized under several other designations including the industrial product mark of "YW531". Other marks were "K-63", "M1967", and "M1970".
The Type 63's design was finalized as a 14-ton (short) tracked vehicle with a well-sloped glacis plate and low overall profile . Length was 5.5 meters with a width of 3 meters and height of 2.6 meters. A standard operating crew was two and included the driver (front-left in hull) and the vehicle commander. The powerplant consisted of a KHD BF8L 413F 8-cylinder turbo-charged diesel unit of 320 horsepower output with the engine installation at the right of the hull, a large intake scoop being clearly identified along the right side of the hull roof. The vehicle's running gear was made up of four road wheels to a hull side through a conventional track-and-wheel arrangement. The arrangement made use of a front-mounted drive sprocket and rear-mounted track idler. The chassis sat atop a torsion bar suspension system for cross-country travel support. All told, the vehicle provided a maximum road speed of 65 kmh with an operational road range out to 500 kilometers.
Armor protection reached 14mm of welded steel along the most important hull facings. Armament was mainly self-defensive - a single 12.7mm Type 54 heavy machine gun on an unprotected trainable mounting at the middle of the hull roof. Hatches were seen at the front, center, and rear areas of the hull roof while a hinged door at the rear hull face was the primary entry/exit means. As was the case with many Soviet-originated tracked vehicle designs of the Cold War, the Type 63 was made fully amphibious, propelled (albeit slowly) through water sources by the motion of its own tracks.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China eventually adopted the Type 63 across varied battlefield forms with designations not necessarily marked as simply as commonly seen in the West. "Type 531" marked the original, limited-production model of 1964 and this offering was armed simply through a sole 7.62mm medium machine gun. The "Type A531", which was the Type 63 of 1968, added support for the 12.7mm machine gun and featured a much improved powertrain. North Korea took this model on as the "VTT-323" (detailed elsewhere on this site). The "Type 63-I" (Type B531) followed with improved suspension, more roof hatches, and firing ports. "Type WZ701" marked Command Vehicles (CVs) with added communications equipment. This model was identified by its added antenna and raised hull roof line. "Type WZ721" marked communications relay vehicles and the "WZ750" became an armored ambulance. "Type YD801" became a fire-fighting vehicle and "ZZM88" was used for cryptography coding service. The "WZ534" (Type 89) vehicle spawned its own series line while being based on the Type 63. The Type 63 chassis also served the "Type 70" Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) vehicle and the Type 70 Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) vehicle lines.
Export variants included the "Type 81" of 1982, the "Type YW701" Command Vehicle, the "Type YW750" armored ambulance, and the "Type YW304" and "Type YW381" mortar carriers (82mm and 120mm respectively).
A no-frills vehicle at heart, the Type 63 served its collection of operators well as a low-cost APC solution. It has since been retired from the armies of Albania and Vietnam. China managed a stock of about 10,000 vehicles during peak usage. Iraqi Kurdistan has been recently (2014-2015) seen using Type 63 APCs in combat actions against ISIS forces. The vehicle line has seen documented combat service in the Vietnam War (1955-1975), the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), and the Persian Gulf War (1991). It was used by Chinese Army elements to suppress unrest during the Tiananmen Square Protests (1989).