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The Chinesemarker Type 69 and Type 79 main battle tanks were developments of the Type 59 (based on the Soviet T-54A), and were the first independently-developed main battle tanks by China. Their lineage can be seen through the distinct gap between the first and second roadwheels. Other improvements included a new engine, ballistic computers, and laser rangefinders. The more advanced Type 79 was equipped with a 105 mm rifled gun, also seen on the later Type 88 .


After the Sino-Soviet split, the Soviet Union withdrew its technical staff and support to China's arms industry. China's 617 Factory (Inner-Mongolia First Machine Group Co Ltd) was tasked to improve on the T-54A design (Type 59 MBT) in 1963, which became the Type 69. Improvements include a dual-axis stabilized 100 mm smoothbore gun, a new 580 hp engine, and an IR search light. However, the PLA was not satisfied with the version, and it did not enter serial production. Some western analysts incorrectly identified the Type 69 as a Chinese copy of the Soviet T-55, opposed to the Type 59 being a copy of the T-54A.

During the 1969 Sino-Soviet border clash, the PLA was able to capture a Soviet T-62 MBT. The captured tank was examined, and some of its components, such as the Soviet Luna IR searchlight system, were copied and integrated into the Type 69 design. The Type 69 and Type 79 tanks became the first independently Chinese-developed main battle tank. However, the Type 69 wasn't formally accepted into PLA service until 1982, and then only in limited quantities. The PLA was unsatisfied with the Type 69's performance, but ironically it became one of China's best armored vehicle exports. Over 2,000 were sold worldwide in the 1980s.

Relations between China and the West warmed in the 1980s, and China was able to import some western technologies to improve its weapon systems. The Type 69 was upgraded with western systems such as the British Marconi FCS, and the L7 105 mm gun. The new version received the designation Type 79, which represented the last in China's first-generation tank development.

The simplicity, robustness and low cost of the tanks made them attractive on the export market, and China sold hundreds to both sides during the Iran–Iraq War. (Gelbart 1996:18) Many of the vehicles were later used by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.

Both the Type 69 and Type 79 tanks share almost identical hulls and turrets with the older Type 59. The only difference is that the two more recent tank models have been upgraded with better technologies that were either captured or bought from more advanced countries. (Gelbart 1996:17-19) The Chinese Type 59, 69 and 79 tanks can therefore be viewed as part of the same, evolutionary tank family in the same way that the Soviet T-54, -55 and -62 tanks share a common lineage. Only in the mid-1980s did the Chinese gain the expertise to begin experimenting with new, indigenous tank designs that were not cast from the mold of the Type 59/69/79 family, and only in the 1990s did China begin producing truly modern tanks. (Gelbart 1996:20-24)

Today only a couple hundred Type 69/Type 79s remain in PLA inventory, mostly deployed with training or reserve units. The Type 69/Type 79 are being replaced by the newer Type 96 and Type 99 MBTs. The Type 69 is also known as WZ-121 by the manufacturer (NORINCO).

In Iraqi service

Derelict Type 69-QM on the grounds of Nasiriyah Hospital

During the 80s, China was reported to have sold hundreds of Type 59 and Type 69 MBTs to Iraq. By 1991 Gulf War, western analysts claim that Iraq had upgraded the Type 69s with a 105 mm gun, a 160 mm mortar, and a 125 mm gun with an auto-loader. All of them were reinforced with frontal layer armor welded on the glacis plate[69420]. All these versions were known as Type 69-QMs. It was reported during the 1991 Gulf War that the Iraqi Type 69 units fought harder than the elite Republican Guard units, equipped with T-72 MBTs. One possible explanation is that Saddam ordered his Republican Guard units to preserve their strength, while sending the rest of the army, equipped with inferior Type 69 tanks to frontline fight.

According to battle reports from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Type 69-QMs were used by the Iraqi Army units defending Nasiriyah in March 2003, most of them being employed as artillery pillboxes. They were key players in the ambushes which decimated the U.S. Army 507th Maintenance Company and Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, before AH-1 Cobra helicopters wiped out the Iraqi tanks. Two Type 69s destroyed at least four vehicles of the 507th, among them a heavy truck rammed by one of the tanks PDF.There is also a first hand account of about four Type-69s hidden behind some buildings, pounding the Marines' Charlie Company with indirect fire and likely disabling several AAVs.[69421]Some combat useless Type 59/69s were allegedly emplaced as decoys or obstacles.



  • Type 69 - Prototype based on the Type 59 hull, fitted with new 580 hp diesel engine, Type 69 100 mm smoothbore gun, IR searchlight, and laser rangefinder.

  • Type 69-I - Prototype incorporating some technologies from captured Soviet T-62 MBT, such as the Luna IR searchlight system, and improved NBC protection.

Production variants

  • Type 69-IIA - First production version released in 1982, fitted with:
    • Type 69-II 100 mm rifled gun
    • New FCS system with:
      • TSFC 2-axis gun stabilization
      • Type 70 gunner sight
      • TCRLA Laser rangefinder
      • BCLA Ballistic computer
    • Type 889 radio
    • Rubber track skirts
    • Storage racks on turret
    • Smoke grenade launchers
This version was widely exported and produced under license in Pakistanmarker by Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). The Type 69-II is referred to as the Type 30 in the Royal Thai Army.

  • Type 69-IIB/C - Command version of the Type 69-II with additional communications equipment and auxiliary power pack. Features a long radio aerial and two storage boxes on the rear, containing cables and field phone.

Chinese Type 79 (Type 69-III, WZ-121D).

  • Type 69-III (Type 79) - Also designated WZ-121D, an improved Type 69-II incorporating Western technologies. In service with the PLA as the Type 79 MBT. Improvements include:
    • First Chinese tank to incorporate rubber-padded tracks
    • First Chinese tank to close hatches automatically on detection of NBC agents
    • Type 83-I 105 mm gun (improved L7 copy) with replaceable thermal sleeve
    • Passive IR sights or thermal imaging system
    • British Marconi FCS with:
      • TLRLA laser rangefinder
      • BCLA ballistic computer
      • TGSA gunner sight
    • Type 79 liquid-cooled 730 hp diesel

Foreign variants


  • Type 69-QM - Also known as T-55B inside the Iraqi Army. Type 69-II with standard 100 mm rifled main gun, armour reinforced with layer armour on the front glacis, an observation mast and, on some units, a 160 mm mortar. Command vehicles often fitted with blocks of appliqué spaced armour, similar to the so-called Enigma T-55s. Produced 1986-1988.

  • Type 69-QM1 - Type 69-II upgraded with NATO standard 105 mm rifled gun and laser range-finder. Produced 1984-1988.

  • Type 69-QM2 - Type 69-II upgraded with Warsaw Pact standard 125 mm (L80) smoothbore main gun and laser range-finder. Produced 1986-1991.


  • Type 69-IIG - An upgraded Bangladeshimarker model with the following modifications:
    • Bi-axis stabilised 120 mm smoothbore main gun (NATO compatible), with semi-automatic loader, capable of firing ATGMs
    • New fire control system (FCS), laser range-finder, thermal imaging sights, data-link, laser warning receiver
    • 1,200 hp diesel engine
    • Explosive reactive armour (ERA) protection, fire suppression system, NBC suite
    • New communications and navigation equipment (including GPS receiver)

Non-military applications

A civilian variant of the Type 69/79 was used to develop the Chinese firefighting tank. Currently only three fire brigades in Chinamarker have purchased such a vehicle.


Current operators

Former operators

  • : 150+ Type 69-IIC acquired in late 1970s (retired)
  • : Approximately 1500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks in 1990, all later destroyed or scrapped
  • : 250 (retired)


  3. Jane's Armour and Artillery 1997-98 ISBN 0 7106 1542 6

See also

Type 59/62 -Type 69/79 -Type 80/85/88 -Type 90/96 -MBT 2000 -Type 98/99 -T-72 -M-84 -M-95 -M-2001 -PT-91 -T-80 -T-84 -T-90 -T-95

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