At the time when Thailand paid money to buy the VT-4 main battle tank in 2017, this tank had never been exported to any other country, and never fought anywhere.
Although China’s VT-4 is not a revolutionary development, it is a cost-effective tank, according to nationalinterest military commentator Charlie Gao. VT-4 is said to use technology from Type 99A currently equipped with the People’s Liberation Army. However, so far, not many countries buy VT-4 from China.
The origin of the VT-4 is from the Al-Khalid tank developed in the 1990s. The Al-Khalid tanks were mostly built using Chinese and Pakistani technology, but they lack the ability to supply tank engines. The last resort was to import engines from Ukraine for the Al-Khalid tanks. Therefore, the main goal of the VT-4 program when it started in 2009 was to build a domestic engine for future tanks.
Thailand’s decision to buy VT-4 was the result of Ukraine’s inability to deliver the T-84 Oplot on schedule. At first, Thailand was confused between the T-90S and the T-84 Oplot tank, but US diplomatic pressure led it to choose the T-84 over the T-90S. Because the T-84 could not deliver in time, Thailand had to choose another modern tank to replace the T-84. Again, the Thai government’s pivot after the coup led to the choice of VT-4 over T-90. Thailand is the first contract of VT-4.
The hull armor of the VT-4 is estimated to be around five to six hundred millimeters’ RHA protection without ERA, and seven to eight hundred with the ERA package. Turret armor statistics remain restricted to potential clients. Other features on the VT-4 include laser warning receivers and a fully stabilized, independent, thermal commander sight, a feature still lacking on some modern Russian tanks.
In fact, Thai soldiers have complained about the ERA protection package on the VT-4 being thinner than that of the Oplot. The Oplot’s soft-kill active-protection system design has been proven in combat (as the Ukrainian Varta system is a close clone of the Shtora system, which has proven effective in Syria), whereas the VT4’s system has not been tested at all. However, in firing drills, the VT-4’s fire control system has proven to be more accurate than the Oplot’s.
In general, the performance of the VT-4 is unlikely to be on par with the latest American or Russian tanks, but it is believed to be sufficiently strong against most of the threats posed by older generation tanks. Therefore, the VT-4 is likely to be a popular and robust export product for countries with limited budgets or without political ties with Russia, Europe or the US.