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How a Chinese Type 96B Tank Lost a Wheel During an Event

A silent observer looking around. At times he must protect his identity with avatars and weird sounding names.


China wants to tell everyone that they are the new superpower, though the prospect gives chills to smaller nations in the Pacific. They have a good reason though, and all you must do is to look at the West Philippines Sea to get the picture. I mean there is nothing humanitarian about intimidating smaller nations, building military bases on someone else’s economic zones, shooing away local fishermen, sinking their boats, and letting the warships loiter in contested waters. And there are reports that Chinese soldiers will go undercover and pose as tourist to infiltrate a country.

It seems like China wants to put on a fierce face to the world, by acting as bully to the smaller nations. They want to tell everyone how powerful they are, but critics pointed out that they could only do so to nations they knew that could not defend itself (or refused to defend itself). Because against seasoned superpowers, China still got a long way ahead to match them.

When it comes to military might, one cannot deny that China got impressive armed forces. It got a vast ground forces and state of the art equipment. Yet with limited combat experiences, one can’t help but wonder if the PLA is ready for real life warfare.

And as for their equipment, there are no shortages of reports stating that they are technically flawed. As in the case of their so called modern main battle tank when it suffered an embarrassing technical failure once in an event.


The Type 59 tank, doing what it is good at.

The Type 59 tank, doing what it is good at.

The Soviet T-54/T-55 tank is a venerable piece of ground fighting vehicle. This aged, but formidable tank was introduced in the years after the Second World War. It saw actions in various conflicts, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War. The tank is no match against the more modern Abrams, but its battle records already prove its worth. It saw service in various armed forces, and one of them was the People’s Liberation Army of China. And as what was expected, when presented with foreign technology, China would do what it is good at.

Create a copy.

Hence the Type 59 tank was born!

This Chinese copy of the Soviet tank saw its first combat application in Vietnam, though the result was not satisfactory. It failed to hold its ground against US made Walker Bulldog and Patton. In other conflicts, the Soviet T-72 proved more superior. The Type 59 tank did made history, or notoriety, when it was involved in the Tiananmen Square Protest. People won’t forget the “Tank Man” photo of a lone protester standing in the front of the Type 59 tank column.

All in all, the shortcomings of the Type-59 meant that it failed to meet the PLA’s performance requirements. They then began to develop a new generation of main battle tank in the early 1980, and it gave birth to the Type 80/85 class. But after the Gulf War, it became clear that the Type 88 was never in par with the more advanced Western armored cavalry. But with continued delays, they had no choice but to stick to their old tanks. And after a series upgrades such as armor improvements, the Type 96 rolled out of the production line.

Type 96 Tank

The Type 96 tank.

The Type 96 tank.

All in all, the Chinese Type 96 tank was an upgrade of earlier PLA main battle tank. On the outside, the most notable different is the additional spaced armor of the front of the turret. This gave the Type 96 a more distinct shape; it got a rectangular front profile instead of the rounded ones in earlier tanks. The Type 96 possessed a 125mm smoothbore gun, unlike the rifled 105mm gun of its predecessors.

Now, the later variants of the Type 96 are never in par with the more advanced Type 99. Though it did compete in the Russian hosted tank biathlon where it won a gold in 2016.

And now that we speak of tank biathlon, there is an annual event held in Russia where tank crews showcase their skills without killing each other. It includes maneuvers, passing rough terrains, and firing accurately and rapidly while on the move. It even shows tanks waltzing. Since 2013, the US never competed in the event, even after receiving an official invitation. But seeing the combat experiences of the US tank crews in Iraq and other modern conflicts, who needs a tank biathlon?

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China is a regular of this Russian hosted event. Without a conflict they could fight, the biathlon gave the PLA the chance to test their skills. Team China continued to field their Type 96 in each biathlon, but a certain incident exposed the weakness of their hardware.

The Fail

The tank with its wheel missing.

The tank with its wheel missing.

With all the upgrades and fire powers, the Type 96 tank is still a locally made copy of a Soviet tank. It was never an original design, and critics pointed out that like many of the Chinese military equipment, it was a knockoff of foreign technology.

And knockoff designs came with knockoff quality.

Remember the ill-fated Shenyang J-15 fighter jet? That is what you get when you ripped-off the Russian made Sukhois. Even before it hits the sky to fight other combat jets, it kept crashing due to quality issues. The same quality issues are now plaguing the Chinese stealth fighter J-20.

And back on the ground, the Type 96 suffered a break down during the 2016 tank biathlon at the Alabino training field in Russia.

The variant in question here is the Type 96B, the most advanced version of the Type 96. But as the tank run its course during the biathlon, its wheel broke off. It happened as the tank passed through an obstacle. Defendants claimed that the tank continued running, even with the missing wheel. But the Chinese team withdrew the tank and replaced it with a perfectly working back-up. Losing a point, but still managing to get the win home.


A fragment of an IED.

A fragment of an IED.

At some point, people admired the tank as being able to function even with a wheel missing. What they missed was the tank was withdrawn when the wheel broke off. Yes, the Chinese won the biathlon, but races are not real-life combats.

Tank reliability is a matter of life and death. Mechanical reliability gave the US made Sherman tanks an advantage over the more advanced German Tiger in the second World War. And armored battles are evolving. They could be a set piece battles between tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and anti-tank weapons. And in the modern battlefield, tanks could find itself fighting in the city, or facing insurgents armed with IED. And up in the air, menaces in the form of ground attack planes and attack helicopters loom. A team will lose more than a point when a wheel broke off.

What would happened if the incident happened in real life combat? A missing part could hamper a tank’s performance. A mechanical setback could render the tank vulnerable to several threats. Yes, it could still run, but how much father it could cruise with a missing component?

Upgrades made on more modern battle tanks were based on experiences from actual combats, like the Gulf War, Iraq War, War in Afghanistan, and insurgency battles with forces like ISIS. Tank features include countering threats both in symmetrical, and asymmetrical combats, and increased survivability. And how could a crew survive when their vehicle has mechanical problems?

Thus, it’s hard to imagine a Type 96 tank going to fight in the Middle East conflicts. The machines are problematic, and the same could be said to crew experiences and skills.

With that said, China is still not ready to become a superpower.


1. Gady, Franz-Stefan (August 11, 2016). "Meet the 'Backbone' of China's Deadly New Tank Force." The Diplomat.

2. Martin, Andrew (September 22, 2009). "'Type 96 and Type 99 Main Battle Tanks."

3. "Type 88 Main Battle Tank -". 2010-06-07. Archived from the original on June 7, 2010. Retrieved 2015-11-03.

4. Malyasov, Dylan (August 15, 2016). "New Type 96B Tank Just Broke Down at Tank Biathlon Competition." Defence Blog.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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