Friday, May 27, 2016

Thailand ditches further T-84 purchases, orders MBT-3000 instead

Apparently Thailand's patience with the Ukranian state-owned company Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau (KMDB) has come to an end. The Thai Army had initally ordered 49 T-84 Oplot-M tanks from KMDB in 2011, while requiring total number of about 200 main battle tanks (MBTs). The delivery of the T-84s however was extremely delayed - mostly due to the Ukrainian conflict with the Donbass rebels and Russia's annexion of the Crimean peninusla, but even before that the production rate was poor. There also were some issues with production quality.
While KMDB decided to give an additional five tanks to Thailand for no costs as compensation, the Thai Army decided to order an initial batch of 28 MBT-3000 tanks made by the Chinese state-owned company NORINCO. The project name for the MBT-3000 is "Haider".
Supposedly Pakistan might order a further ~150 MBT-3000 tanks if satisfied with the performance of the first batch, however Pakistan also has shown interest in the Turkish Altay tank, which might become available for export once Turkey has developed an indigenous powerpack, which cannot be subject to foreign export regulations.

The MBT-3000 tank
The MBT-3000 is a further development of the MBT-2000 tank and the Type 99 MBT. At a 52 ton weight - 4 tons heavier than the previous MBT-2000 tank - it reaches a top speed of about 68 kilometres per hour thanks to a 1300 horsepower engine. It's armed with a 125 mm smoothbore gun, an improved local version of the Soviet 2A46M tank gun, and a 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun (MG). Optionally a further 12.7 mm heavy MG can be mounted on top of the turret near the commander's hatch for anti-air defence. This weapon can be remotely controlled from inside the tank. The MBT-3000's autoloader provides space for 22 rounds of 125 mm two-piece tank ammunition or barrel-launched guided missiles. Space for the storage for further 16 rounds of main gun ammunition is provided in the tank.
The frontal aspect of the tank is protected by composite armor and a type of heavy ERA, which should provide good protection against shaped charge warheads (HEAT warheads) found in ATGMs and RPG, aswell some amount of prorection against kinetic energy penetrators such as APFSDS rounds. The side of turret and hull are only protected by thin steel armor. Additional side-skirts provide some additional protection against HEAT warheads at the hull flanks. The storage bins at the turret flanks and rear can also provide some additional protection against HEAT warheads, double-acting as spaced and/or slat armor.

The MBT-3000 is provided with a modern fire control system (FCS), which contains separate optronics for the tank commander and gunner. The gunner has his main sight located in front of his hatch at the left side of the turret. It incorporates a laser-rangefinder, a conventional daysight and a thermal imager for operations in the night and situations with poor visibility.
The commander's optics are housed in a 360° rotatable periscope, enabling hunter/killer operations. This means the commander can spot targets independently, while the gunner is engaging another target. By pressing a button, the turret rotates and aims onto the target spotted by the commander. The commander's sight also incorporates a thermal imager.

T-84 Oplot-M being paraded in Thailand
The MBT-3000 however appears to be a major downgrade compared to the T-84M tank in many aspects. The coverage with explosive reactive armor (ERA) is rather low and has even a few gaps in the frontal profile. The quality of the ERA is also questionable, compared to the heavy multi-layer Duplet ERA of the T-84 (using up to three ERA layers) the Chinese ERA seems to be considerable thinner. While the MBT-3000's ERA solution is only applied to the frontal area of the vehicle, the T-84 has ERA protecting most of the tank's sides and roof.
In general the protection appears to be downgraded, as the turret design of Chinese tanks provides less armor coverage along the frontal arc and reduces the safe maneuvering angles. Unless the Chinese composite armor is a lot stronger, it seems very unlikely that the MBT-3000 can reach the same protection level as a T-84 Oplot-M tank.
In terms of FCS, both tanks seem to have different benefits. While the T-84 Oplot-M follows the old Soviet tradition of having separated day and night sights for the gunner, which unnecessarily increases the complexity of the tank and can affect the gunner negatively, it also has a much larger commander's sight with unobstructed view to the left and right sides. On the MBT-3000 the gunner has a unitary sight for day and night operations, but the commander's sight is smaller (which can affect the performance) and it's field of view will be reduced due to the gunner's sight having a similar overall height.

Nonetheless, the delivery of the T-84 Olpot-M tanks is still under way. The third batch of Oplot tanks was delivered in May after the tanks were shipped by sea in December 2015. According to Ukrainian expectations, the last remaining 29 tanks will all be delivered in this year, 2016.

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