The Chinese PLA claims it has deployed its third-generation Type 99A main battle tank in the high-altitude Karakoram mountain range near the Ladakh border to deliver “festive food” to troops stationed there.
The Karakoram range spans the borders of India, China, and Pakistan. According to recent media reports coming of Beijing, the country’s military has fielded its most-advanced battle tanks in the region to “deliver food to the troops” on the occasion of the Chinese Spring Festival.
One has to take such claims with a pinch of salt given that China and India have been locked in a border stand-off in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020. It is worth mentioning that the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldi overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass. IAF had earlier described this “as a big threat for China”.
China’s state-controlled broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), said in a report on February 3 that the PLA Xinjiang Military Command recently dispatched a transport regiment to deliver festive food to the frontline troops stationed in the Karakoram range.
Type 99A MBT
The Karakoram Pass between India and China is said to be the highest pass on the ancient caravan route between Leh in the Ladakh sector and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin, northwest China.
The deployment of the powerful Type 99 tanks at a time when the two neighboring countries have been engaged in the border stand-off indicates China is in no mood side is showing signs of letting off on the border row.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border in Eastern Ladakh, has witnessed high tensions since the deadly Galwan Valley clash last year, in which 20 Indian soldiers killed. The Chinese side has not confirmed its casualties yet.
Despite a series of high-level diplomatic and military-level talks, both nations have refused to withdraw troops from the region.
In a video released by CCTV, a Type 99A MBT and a Type 04A infantry fighting vehicle could be seen at the PLA’s defense frontier base camp that lies at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters.
The third-generation Type 99 MBT is China’s most advanced tank that was built as a replacement for its aging Type 88 that was introduced in the late 1980s.
Being the country’s first mass-produced third-generation MBT, the Type-99 represents a shift towards rapid modernization by the PLA as it combines modular composite armor and explosive reactive armor (ERA).
The tank possesses a 125 mm smoothbore gun with Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM)-capability, high mobility, digital systems, and optics. So far, three main versions of the powerful tank have been deployed — the Type 98 prototype, Type 99, and the Type 99A.
Recently, the PLA Xinjiang Military Command received and commissioned its first batch of China’s newly-developed Type 15 light tanks, and as per analysts, the tanks are likely to complement the heavy Type 99A.
The Type 99A is China’s most powerful main battle tank with excellent firepower and armor, while the Type-15 is China’s latest light tank with high mobility, a military expert told China’s state-owned Global Times.
In mountainous regions, the operation of the heavy Type 99A main battle tank could be limited due to the lack of oxygen and complicated terrains, but their sheer power remains decisive, he said.
“The Type 15 light tank could outgun and outrun almost all enemies, and in case it were to encounter a hostile heavy tank, the Type 99A will have its back,” the military expert added.
The Type 15 light tank, also known as ZTQ-15, is a Chinese third-generation light tank which is operated by the PLA Ground Force. It was designed as a replacement for the Type 62 light tank introduced in 1963.
The tank has been designed to cater to the PLA’s needs for a lighter and more mobile modern tank that can effectively operate in highland/plateau, woodland, and water-rich regions where the heavier Type 99 and Type 96 main battle tanks might have difficulties traversing.