Type 15 Light Tanks: China's key tactical asset in potential Taiwan invasion scenarioDefense News April 2023 Global Security army industryPOSTED ON WEDNESDAY, 19 APRIL 2023 18:58
In the event of an invasion of Taiwan by Chinese amphibious forces, the Type 15 Light Tank would serve as the backbone of the People's Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps. This light tank would complement the Marine Corps' array of combat equipment, including the ZBD05 tracked amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, ZLT05 amphibious assault guns, and FHJ-02 rocket artillery systems.
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China has increased the firepower of its naval infantry Marine Corps by incorporating the lightweight Type 15 tank into its arsenal. (Picture source China MoD)
China's most recent class of the light tank, the Norinco Type 15, was officially confirmed to have entered service in December 2018 and made its inaugural public appearance during the nation's National Day Parade in October 2019. This new tank is set to replace the lightweight Type 63, which was introduced in 1963 and designed for a similar purpose.
The Type 63 tank was employed by the People's Liberation Army Marine Corps for amphibious assault operations, in addition to various other amphibious units positioned near the Taiwan Strait. During the 1970s, some Type 63 and Type 63-I amphibious light tanks underwent upgrades to the Type 63-II standard. Since the late 1990s, the original Type 63 and Type 63-I amphibious light tanks have been progressively phased out and replaced by the more advanced Type 63A, which entered service in 1997.
The Type 15 tank is about 40% lighter than the Chinese Main Battle Tank Type 99 and features a less powerful 105mm cannon. However, with specialized ammunition types such as laser-guided anti-tank missiles and kinetic energy penetrators, it can still pose a threat to modern armor. The use of an advanced autoloader reduces the tank's crew requirements to three members. A key advantage of this design is its hydro-pneumatic suspension system, which dynamically adjusts ground clearance for optimal maneuverability and combat effectiveness in challenging terrain.
The tank is currently serving with the Chinese Navy Marine Corps in a complementary role alongside the Marines' ZBD05 tracked amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, ZLT05 amphibious assault guns, and FHJ-02 rocket artillery systems. Its compact size and capacity to traverse challenging terrain make it highly suitable for amphibious landings. It is expected that a significant number of these new tanks will be deployed from the Chinese Navy's Type 075 Class assault ships for this purpose.
The Type 075 assault ship, also known as the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), is a class of amphibious assault ships in the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). While the exact number of tanks and types it can carry may vary depending on mission requirements and configuration, the ship is designed to accommodate a range of armored vehicles, including main battle tanks, light tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and amphibious assault vehicles.
The Type 075 has a displacement of around 40,000 tons and can potentially carry a combination of tanks such as the Type 15 light tanks, Type 08 infantry fighting vehicles, and Type 05 amphibious fighting vehicles. Estimates suggest that the ship can carry approximately 20-30 tanks or armored vehicles, in addition to other military equipment, vehicles, and personnel.
The primary weapon of Type 15 consists of a 105mm rifled gun featuring a thermal sleeve and fume extractor, capable of firing up to a maximum range of 3,000 meters. (Picture source China MoD)
In the event of an invasion of Taiwan by China, the Type 15 light tank could play a significant tactical role in supporting amphibious and mountainous operations due to its lightweight and compact design, as well as its ability to traverse rough terrain. These characteristics make it an ideal asset for the unique challenges presented by Taiwan's landscape.
One of the potential tactical uses of Type 15 light tanks in such a scenario would be providing support during amphibious assaults. Its lightweight and smaller size make it suitable for deployment from amphibious assault ships like the Type 075, offering immediate fire support and armored protection to landing forces during the initial stages of an invasion.
The Type 15's rapid maneuverability, thanks to its hydro-pneumatic suspension system, allows it to navigate difficult terrain, including mountainous and urban areas, more effectively than heavier main battle tanks. This enables it to quickly move across the battlefield and exploit gaps in the enemy's defenses.
In Taiwan's mountainous terrain and dense urban areas, the movement and effectiveness of heavier tanks could be restricted. The Type 15, with its specialized munitions such as laser-guided anti-tank missiles and kinetic energy penetrators, can provide fire support to infantry and other forces operating in these challenging environments.
Due to its mobility, the Type 15 can also perform reconnaissance missions and provide flank protection to advancing forces, helping secure supply lines and protect more vulnerable assets. Additionally, the tank can be effectively integrated with other ground and air assets, such as infantry fighting vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, attack helicopters, and artillery. This would enable a coordinated, combined arms approach that can maximize the effectiveness of the invasion forces.
The primary weapon of Type 15 consists of a 105mm rifled gun featuring a thermal sleeve and fume extractor, capable of firing up to a maximum range of 3,000 meters. The main armament is equipped with an automatic loading system, and spent cartridge cases are ejected through a small hatch at the rear of the turret. The VT5 can carry a total of 38 rounds of 105mm ammunition, including Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High Explosive (HE), and gun-launched anti-tank guided missiles. These missiles have a maximum range of 5,000 meters and are fitted with a tandem HEAT warhead, capable of destroying armored vehicles or tanks protected with reactive armor (ERA).
It is important to note that the tactical use of the Type 15 light tank in a potential Taiwan invasion scenario would depend on various factors, including strategic objectives, operational plans, terrain, and the opposing forces' capabilities.
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In the event of an invasion of Taiwan by Chinese amphibious forces, the Type 15 Light Tank would serve as the backbone of the People's Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps.