In the late 1960s, amidst the Sino-Soviet split and during the 1969 Border conflict of the Zhenbao Island incident, China was able to capture the then brand-new Soviet T-62 tank, the successor to the Soviet T-54/55 tank which was then also produced in China as the Type 59.
This spurred China into initiating new tank developments in an attempt to upgrade its suddenly outdated fighting vehicles. Their sights were aimed at building a second generation main battle tank.
Design and Development
Technology from this project assisted in the development of the WZ121/Type 69, a modernization of the Type-59 which incorporated technology from the captured T-62 and later armed with the British 105mm L7A1. The Chinese PLA’s version of this gun was modified around the Austrian versions sold to them and became the type 81/83 105mm gun. Very few exports were actually fitted with the RO L7’s notably T-59’s for export.
However, the Chinese were not satisfied with the vehicle and saw it as nothing more than a stopgap, closer to the aging Type 59 than the desired new MBT. What they wanted was a brand new tank with the latest technology the Chinese engineers could devise.
Designated WZ122, this new vehicle would have had a brand new chassis with similar design features to the usual Soviet/Chinese tanks of the time. The driver sat in the forward left of the hull, with the commander, loader and gunner in the dome turret.
A multi-fuel engine was to be mounted transversely at the rear. A new fire control system, incorporating a collimator day/night vision and laser rangefinder with a 2-way stabilizer and a ballistic computer, was to be integrated with a 122mm smoothbore gun (hence the WZ122) to combat any future conflict against more powerful tanks with a higher first shot hit rate. A pair of twin infrared guided anti-tank missiles were mounted on either side of the turret to further increase the firepower of the tank.
A Nuclear Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection system was also going to be installed into the tank along with better sound dampeners to improve crew comfort.
In 1970, the first prototype of the WZ122, dubbed the WZ122-1 or WZ122 A was produced. It was powered by a 690hp (515kW) power plant and featured an innovative adjustable hydro pneumatic suspension system to improve ride comfort and gun stability over rough terrain and high speed.
This also allowed the tank to adjust its suspension and to vary the ride not only to the height, but the altitude/pitch of the tank as well, similar to that of the Swedish S-tank or the Japanese Type 74. It worked in one axis, not three. – It could raise or lower its profile but not tilt or adjust up and down like S-tank
However, due to the lack of experience of the Chinese engineers regarding the technology of hydro pneumatic suspension, many difficulties arose during development and it was eventually replaced with a conventional torsion bar suspension.
This version of the WZ122 was produced in 1971 and was called either the WZ122-2 or WZ122 B, reverting many of the advanced features of the WZ122-1 or WZ122 A to that of components and parts Chinese engineers were well experienced with.
Engine power was reduced to 641 hp (478 Kw) and the vehicle was tested between 1971 to 1973 with a rough total mileage of 3000 km in various locations such as Nanjing and Baotou.
Developing the WZ122 during the Chinese Cultural Revolution took a toll on the engineers. Some were found to be enemies of the state and executed. With the lack of experience with technology beyond China’s industrial and technological capabilities during the early 1970s, the tank development of the WZ122 was eventually abandoned.
Originally posted on 20 November 2016
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||9.52m x 3.28m x 2.25m
(31ft 3in x 10ft 9in x 7ft 5in)
|Total weight, battle ready :||37.5 tonnes|
|Crew||4 (Commander, driver, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion :||WZ122-1 (WZ122 A) 690hp multi-fuelled engine
WZ122-2 (WZ122 B) 641hp multi-fuelled engine
|Road speed||55 km/h (34 mph)|
|Suspension||ZW122-1 adjustable Hydro-Pneumatic. ZW122-2 Torsion bar|
|Main Armament||122mm smoothbore gun|
|Secondary Armament||4x infrared guided anti-tank missiles
1x 7.62mm coaxial machine gun
2x 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns
|Total built||2 prototypes|
Chinese Army WZ122 main battle tank prototype. Notice the four anti tank rockets mounted on the side of the turret.
Tank crew fitting bad weather tarpaulins over the WZ122 tank’s anti-aircraft machine guns and anti-tank rockets.
Chinese WZ122 line drawing showing bad weather tarpaulin rolled up in the rear stowage rack at the rear of the tank turret.
A photo supposedly showing the WZ-122 at a later date. Its camo scheme is clearly visible. It is uncertain if the vehicle survived to this day.