In an effort to increase sales of its tanks in the face of declining global demand, China North Industries Group Corp, the country's biggest developer and maker of land armaments, is turning to a popular smartphone social networking app.
WeChat is often used by Chinese arms producers to release comparisons between their weapons and other nations' products - contents that they would not put on their websites in consideration of diplomatic issues.
So, like many other State-owned defense technology enterprises, Norinco, as the tank maker is known, is promoting its brand and products to WeChat's more than 500 million users.
Russia has only one new tank that is available for export - the T-90S. In contrast, Norinco the low-end VT-2, middle-end VT-1 as well as the high-end VT-4 (aka MBT 3000), covering the requirements of almost every client in the international market.
Norinco, which claims the Russian T-14 tank is weaker than the Chinese VT-4 in terms of automation, mobility, fire-control systems and cost competitiveness.
The T-14's transmission is not well-developed. There was a malfunctionof a T-14 during a rehearsal before the May 9 parade. By comparison, the VT-4 has never encountered such problems so far.
Norinco’s sales have expanded faster than any other major defense company over the past five years, surpassing Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the F-35 fighter, and General Dynamics Corp., which produces Abrams tanks. The company’s $64.4 billion in revenue (2014) and 275,000 employees embody the clout of China’s defense industry as the party pours hundreds of billions of dollars into the People’s Liberation Army and molds Mao-era weapons makers into growth-driven conglomerates.
Norinco’s MBT-3000 tank boasts similar firepower and speed as the Abrams and costs about $4 million, compared with $6.9 million for the American tank. The T-14 Armata costs 7.4 million euro (US$8.2 million).
The main armament of the MBT-3000 has a 125mm smoothbore gun fitted with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor. It is fed by an automatic loader which holds a total of 22 projectiles and charges which can be loaded at the rate of eight per minute. The MBT-3000 can carry a total of thirty eight rounds of main ammunition. Types of separate loading ammunition that can be fired by the 125 mm smoothbore gun include kinetic energy penetrator, high explosive squash head and high explosive anti-tank warhead. The Mounted coaxial to the right of the main armament is a 7.62 mm machine gun, while mounted on the commander's cupola is a remotely weapon station armed with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, for engaging ground and aerial targets. Mounted either rear side of the turret is a bank of six electrically operated smoke grenade launchers which fire forwards. In addition, the tank is equipped with a set of guided weapons, allowing use of a guided missile with a range of up to 5 km.
The MBT-3000 is motorized with water-cooled turbocharged electronic-controlled diesel engine developing 1,300 hp. Suspension is of the torsion bar type with hydraulic shock absorbers and either side consists of six large dual rubber-tyred roadwheels with the drive sprocket at the front, idler at the rear and track return rollers. To extend the operational range of the MBT-3000, two additional diesel fuel drums can be mounted externally at the rear. The 52-tonnes MBT-300 can run a maximum road speed of 70 km/h with a maximum cruising range of 500 km. The MBT-3000 can ford a depth of 4 to 5 meters with preparation and a trench of 2.7 meter. The tank can climb a gradient of 60% and a vertical obstacle of 1.2meter maximum.
China exported a total of 461 tanks from 1992 to 2013, according to the United Nations' Register of Conventional Arms, which began to record conventional weapons transfers between UN member states in 1992. Pakistan bought 296 Chinese tanks during the two decades.
Russia sold 1,297 tanks during the same period, with Algeria being the largest buyer.
The biggest tank exporter during the period was the United States, which reported sales of 5,511 tanks. It was followed by Germany, which sold 2,680 tanks.
In 2013, the latest year for which data is available, China sold 98 tanks to foreign buyers. Bangladesh, with a 44-tank deal, was the largest customer through, the UN said.
There are other tanks on the international market. Korea's K2 Black Panther, put into service last year has already contracted to Turkey. Ukraine's BM Oplot, first unveiled in 2011 but only just entering service
Oplots are not fighting Russian tanks in eastern Ukraine, however. According to Sergei Pinkas, an executive at Ukroboronprom, the state holding company that produces the new tank: "It's more efficient to export the Oplot than to use it in the war. It sells for $4.9 million overseas. It's better to sell it and use the money to fix and modernize 10 T-64s."
Indeed, this year Ukraine has resumed Oplot exports to Thailand, and hopes to deliver 39 tanks.
Norinco has already seen interest in the VT-4 from Cameroon and Pakistan.
The Oplot-M (Modernised) or BM Oplot is an upgraded version of the T-84 Oplot MBT.
In 2012, VT-1A (MBT-2000) defeated the Russian-built T-90S in a competition and won a contract to produce 150 tanks for Morocco.
Any nation will field test each of the main competing tanks before making a large purchase.
SOURCES - China Daily, Wikipedia, Army-technology, army recognition, Bloomberg