Al-Zarrar MBT (Modernization of T-59 MBT)


Tank T-59, which has been in use for over 30 years with Pakistan Armoured Corps, is being upgraded by HIT under a phased pogramme since 1990 with a total of 50 upgraded features giving a quantum technological leap to this old tank.

Major features of the upgraded tank are:

a. 125 mm Smooth Bore Gun with compatible Gun Control System & Semi Auto Loader
b. Image Stabilized Fire Control System and (ISFCS)
c. Thermal Imaging (TI) for day/night combat
d. 730 HP Engine
e. Compatible Transmission and Suspension System
f. Add-on/Explosive Reactive Armour

T-59 MBT Development History

In the early 1950s the Soviets supplied China with a quantity of T-54 MBTs, production of which was subsequently undertaken in China under the designation Type 59. The first production models were similar to the Soviet T-54 and not fitted with infrared night vision equipment or a stabiliser for the main armament. Later models were fitted with a fume extractor as on the T-54A. Late production Type 59s have been fitted with an infrared searchlight for both the commander and gunner and a larger infrared searchlight has been mounted above the main armament and moves in elevation with it. Some vehicles have been seen fitted with a laser rangefinder to the right of the infrared searchlight mounted over the main armament.

Some years ago British company MEL supplied China with 30 sets of passive night vision equipment for the Type 59 MBT. These include the commander's image-intensified periscope Type DC 1026/00, the gunner's image-intensified periscope Type DC 1024/00 and the driver's image-intensified periscope Type DC 1028/00. The Chinese have developed and placed in production a 100 mm APFSDS-T projectile for the Type 59 MBT. This is designated the AP100-2 and has a long rod penetrator and a semi-combustible cartridge case. The round has a saddle-type sabot and eight fins. All that remains after firing is the stub case which is ejected when the breech opens. NORINCO has also developed a 100 mm APFSDS-T round with a conventional brass cartridge case. This has a muzzle velocity of 1,480 m/s and will penetrate 150 mm of armour at an angle of 65 at a range of 2,400 m.

It is believed that production of the Type 59 tank began in 1957 to 1960 at Baotou in the Beijing military region. More recently, some Type 59 MBTs have been observed fitted with a bank of four smoke grenade dischargers on the side of the turret.

Variants :

Type 59-I MBT

Factory No 617 carried out a number of improvements to the Type 59 MBT which resulted in the Type 59-I. This featured hydraulic booster technology to improve the opening and closing mechanisms for the safety door cover and cupola door cover, installation of a simplified fire-control system, laser rangefinder, engine low-pressure alarm and automatic fire extinguisher.

Type 59-II MBT

Further development resulted in the Type 59-II which has the 105 mm rifled tank gun that can fire AFPSDS, APDS, HEAT and HESH ammunition, two-axis stabilisation system for the main armament, light spot fire-control system, automatic fire extinguishing and explosion suppression system, 580 hp diesel engine, new radios and communications system. The 105 mm rifled tank gun is similar to the Western L7 (UK)/M68 (US) and is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve. This has been referred to by US forces as the Model 1984 as this was the first year that it was identified. The Chinese 105 mm rifled tank gun fires Chinese-developed ammunition and this gun is also installed in a number of other Chinese MBTs including the Type 79 (qv), Type 80 (qv) and Type 85 (qv).

NORINCO Type 59 Retrofit Package

TEXT : NORINCO is offering an upgrade package for the Type 59 MBT. The original 520 hp diesel will be replaced by a new 730 hp diesel to give a much higher power-to-weight ratio and therefore greater acceleration on the battlefield. Other improvements include APFSDS-T ammunition for the 100 mm gun, rubber-bushed tracks, NBC system, friction shock-absorbers, gun stabilisation in both elevation and traverse and a new fire-control system incorporating spot injection in the gunner's sight.

Type 59 with 105 mm L7 gun

As a private venture Royal Ordnance of the United Kingdom has fitted a Type 59 MBT with the 105 mm L7A3 rifled tank gun. This, together with three other upgraded Type 59s, was tested in Pakistan in 1987.

NORINCO 120 mm T-54/Type 59 Upgrade

China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) also developed an upgrade package for the widely deployed Chinese Type 59 and Russian T-54/T-55 MBT that includes the replacement of the current 100 mm rifled tank gun by a 120 mm smoothbore gun. The exact origin of the Chinese 120 mm smoothbore is not known as in the past, with the exception of the Western 105 mm rifled tank gun, all Chinese tank guns have been of eastern design. These are the 100 mm rifled tank gun and more recent 125 mm smoothbore gun which is fed by an automatic loader.

The latter is fitted to the Type 90, Type 85-IIM and Type 85-III MBTs and has enabled the crew to be reduced to three, commander, gunner and driver. Some years ago China did develop and place in production the 120 mm self-propelled anti-tank gun Type 89, which has a similar 120 mm smoothbore gun and the 120 mm weapon for the Type 59 upgrade is probably identical. The 120 mm smoothbore gun is 6 m long and weighs 2,600 kg complete with breech mechanism. It is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve but has no muzzle reference system. To give an increase in barrel life the interior is chrome plated. As well as firing Western natures of armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) ammunition, such as the German Rheinmetall DM23 and DM33, and HEAT multipurpose, it can also fire 120 mm ammunition developed by NORINCO.

Like the Western 120 mm smoothbore ammunition, this has a semi-combustible cartridge case and all that remains after firing is the stub cartridge case. The penetrator has a respectable length-to-diameter ratio of 25.2/1 and complete with saddle weighs 7.33 kg. When in flight the penetrator weighs 4.1 kg. The NORINCO APFSDS round has a muzzle velocity of 1,660 m/s and is claimed to have a similar armour penetration performance to NATO natures of ammunition, for example around 550 mm of rolled homogenous armour (RHA) at a range of 1,500 m. Turret traverse is 360 with weapon elevation from -5 to +18. A total of 28 rounds of 120 mm ammunition are carried compared to 34 rounds of 100 mm. To improve first round hit probability a simplified fire-control system has been fitted which includes a laser rangefinder. This enables the upgraded tank to engage moving targets when it is stationary, quoted engagement times are around seven seconds for a stationary target and 10 seconds for a moving target. Range, target horizontal angular speed and tilt angle of the 120 mm gun is inputted automatically while charge temperature, ambient air temperature, muzzle velocity and crosswind are entered manually as required.

While the weapon is normally laid onto the target by the gunner, if required the commander can also take over, aim and fire. Various types of night vision equipment can be fitted as required by the user. The secondary armament remains the same and consists of a roof-mounted 12.7 mm machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun and a 7.62 mm machine gun which is fixed in the glacis plate and operated by the driver.

Combat Weight 40 Ton
Crew 4
Power to Weight 18.3 HP/Ton
Max Torque/rpm 305 kgm/1300-1400rpm
Running Gear Suspension
Track Rubber
Bump Stop 2 each side
Support Roller 3 each side
Shock Absorber Friction Type
Torsion Bars 10
Main Gun

125mm Smooth Bore

Projectiles APFSDS, HEAT, HE
Co-Axial MG 7.62 mm
AA MG 12.7 mm
Type Semi Auto Loading/Ramming System

Image Stabilised Fir Control System with LRF and ballistic computer 

Firing Capability S-S, S-M, M-S, M-M
ERA Optional
Fire Extinguishing & Explosion Suppression YES
Thermal Smoke Screen Installed