China currently possesses a large number of amphibious tanks and armored vehicles, allowing the Chinese military to perform amphibious missions, in special conditions.
China’s amphibious armored vehicles came in a variety of designs, to suit each mission, from tanks to armored personnel carriers. The most prominent of these are amphibious tanks of the Type 05 class, including the ZBD-05 and ZTD-05.
The most notable feature of the ZBD-05 amphibious tank series is speed. It can swim at a speed of 29 km/h, twice as fast as the US Marines’ AAVP-7 troop carrier. This mobility is provided by a dual-mode 550-horsepower diesel engine which can nearly triple output to 1,475 horsepower to power their twin water jets. Furthermore, they are designed with a unique planning hull shape, designed to lift the hull above the water like a motorboat when moving at high speed, thereby reducing drag. Aquadynamics are also enhanced by the prow, which automatically adjusts its angle based on fluid resistance, and by retracting the vehicle’s road wheels sideways into the hull.
In terms of defense, the Type 05-class vehicles have an aluminum hull, reinforced by a steel armor on the outside. ZBD-05 and ZTD-05 can resist ammunition smaller than 12.7mm. Their rear storage ‘bustles’ also function as slat armor to foul portable anti-tank weapons. In fact, the Type 05 armored vehicles are easily damaged by weapons or armor-piercing missiles, but this is a trade-off for its speed.
In terms of firepower, the ZBD-05 is a 29-ton armored vehicle that can carry eight soldiers and is equipped with a 30mm automatic cannon, effective against lighter armored vehicles and personnel. Meanwhile, ZTD-05 is equipped with a small anti-aircraft gun and a 105mm ZPL-98A rifled gun. It can penetrate up to 600-millimeters RHA equivalent using kinetic APFSDS shells, adequate to defeat the frontal armor of an M48 or M60 Patton tank, but not an M1 Abrams outfitted with depleted uranium armor. Because this gun requires a human loader, the ZTD-05 has an expanded crew of four.
Besides the Type 05 vehicle, the Chinese military has another popular amphibious tank, the ZBL-08 Snow Leopard. This infantry fighting vehicle weighs about 23 tons, only possesses a speed of about 8 to 12 km/h on the water. However, when successfully landed on land, the new ZBL-08 really showed its flexibility, when it could reach a maximum speed of up to 96km/h. The armor of the ZBL-08 is quite similar to that of the ZTD-05, but there are reinforcement options to resist 23 to 25mm armor-piercing bullets. Snow Leopard’s weapons are also more diverse, with PGL-12 35mm anti-aircraft cannon, PGL-625 missile, 120mm PLL-05 mortar.
Currently, the Chinese military is also using the ZBD-05’s predecessor, the ZBD-04, but this amphibious tank has a rather slow speed and unappreciated combat ability. In addition, Beijing is also gradually phasing out the outdated PT-76 amphibious tanks. Both the Chinese army and navy have tanks and amphibious vehicles of different sizes and organizations.
After the restructuring in 2017, the army has 6 amphibious tank brigades, divided equally among the 3 military regions of Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong. Each of these brigade consists of four mixed-armed battalions, armed with 14 ZTDs or ZTLs for offensive missions, and 14 APCs for logistics missions. In addition, these battalions are also equipped with mortars or MANPADS missiles.
On the naval side, amphibious tanks are mainly equipped with marines. Each Marine brigade has two battalions of ZTD-05 or ZBD-05, one battalion of ZBL-08 and one battalion of PLZ-07B artillery.