Land Weapons


Type 59 (WZ120)

The Type 59 was China's first domestically produced battle tank, a near identical copy of the Soviet T-54A which had been supplied for license-production during the early 1950s. Key differences between the two tanks included the lack of infra-red night vision equipment as well as a gun stabilizer. However, the Type 59 went through numerous modernizations over its lengthy production run (which lasted until 1980). Improvements included new fire-control systems, laser range-finders, uprated engines, and passive night vision equipment, the latter supplied by British firm MEL. Another major upgrade resulted in the substitution of the original 100-mm rifled gun by a 105-mm Type 81 model, similar to the British L7 and allegedly supplied by Israel. This is capable of firing APFSDS, APDS, HEAT and HESH rounds. Most recent models are also fitted with explosive reactive armor and some even feature a new welded turret (replacing the original rounded cast turret) with a more powerful 125-mm gun. Nearly 10,000 Type 59 tanks were produced in China and they continue to constitute a large share of the PLA's armored strength despite the development of newer designs. It has also been heavily exported including Albania, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam among others. Around 1,500 were in service with the Iraqi Army during the 1991 Gulf War but suffered heavily against superior Coalition tanks. The Type 59 also achieved notoriety after a column was stopped by a lone protester during the 1989 Tiananmen Square riots.

The first production Type 59 (WZ 120) tanks were completed in 1958 and were otherwise identical to Soviet-supplied T-54As with the exception of the infra-red equipment and stabilizer. The Type 59-I was the first improved variant featuring numerous equipment upgrades, this was followed by the Type 59-II with the larger caliber 105-mm gun. Next up was the Type 59D with a new Type 83A gun (same caliber), a new computerized fire-control system, and a Type FW ERA package (The Type 59D1 replaces the gun with the Type 79). The most recent Type 59G includes a redesigned welded turret which gives it a more third-generation appearance, as well as a new 125-mm smoothbore with a semi-automatic loader. Aside from the basic MBT versions, the shortened Type 62 light tank is a direct development and described separately. An armored recovery vehicle version is known as the Type 73 ARV but lacks a winch.

Preceded by:



T-54/55 (1946)

Succeeded by:

Type 69/79 (WZ121) (1982)


DesignType 59
TypeMain Battle Tank
Length (w/Gun)6.04 m (9.00 m)
Width3.27 m
Height2.59 m
Loaded36,000 kg
Ground Pressure0.80 kg/cm²
SuspensionTorsion bar
Speed (Off-Road)50 km/h
Range (Off-Road)440-600 km
Fording1.40 m (5.5 m)
Vertical Obstacle0.79 m
Trench2.70 m
Engine1 x 520-hp
Model 12150L
Power/Weight14.44 hp/t
Main1 x 105-mm
Type 81
Rifled Gun (34)
↑ 17° / ↓ -4° / ↔ 360°

Secondary1 x 7.62-mm (c)
1 x 7.62-mm (b)
1 x 12.7-mm
Thickness20 - 203 mm
Max Effective183 - 203 mm RHAe
Hull Upper Front97 mm / 58°
Hull Lower Front99 mm / 55°
Hull Upper Sides79 mm
Hull Lower Sides20 mm
Hull Upper Rear46 mm
Hull Lower Rear46 mm
Hull Top33 mm
Hull Bottom20 mm
Turret Front203 mm / Round
Turret Sides150 mm / Round
Turret Rear64 mm / Round
Turret Top39 mm / 79°