The Type 59 Tank is a Chinese licence built version of the Russian T-54A. The vehicle has been in Chinese PLA service (Peoples Liberation Army) since 1959 and has received a number of upgrades improving its firepower, protection and mobility.
It was further developed in to the Chinese Type 69 Medium Tank.
It has been well exported and has been or is in service with 14 different countries, with some upgrading theirs to a more modern standard.
Type 59 Tank Development
In the early Post War, China lacked an indigenous tank development and production facility. With assistance from Russia, China constructed 617 Factory, which was completed and ready for tank production in 1956.
Russia had been manufacturing the T-54 from 1946 to 1955. The upgraded model, the T-54A was produced from 1955 to 1957. The T-54A upgrade included a new STP-1 stabilizer for the 100mm smoothbore main gun, a new OPVT wading snorkel, a TVN-1 infrared driver’s vision block, an Infa-Red search light and a new R-113 radio.
The Chinese Type 59 Tank entered production in 1958, but lacked the IR Search light of the T-54A. Production ended sometime during the 1980’s. An estimated 10,000 were built of which some 4,000 were exported.
Type 59 Tank Firepower
When the Type 59 first entered production it was equipped with a licence built version of the T-54A main gun, the 100mm calibre rifled D-10T, which was vertically stabilised.
The stabilisation was later upgraded and a new 100mm main gun installed. It was capable of firing all 100mm Soviet tank ammunition and carried 34 rounds. The Type 59 would later go on to be upgraded with 2 different 105mm main guns (see variants).
In addition, the Type 59 had a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and a Type 59 12.7mm air-defence machine gun mounted on the Loaders hatch.
Type 59 Tank Protection
The Type 59 is an all-steel construction of varying thickness.
It has a relatively low profile relying on sloped steel armor over the hull front and an oval-shaped turret.
It was later fitted with Explosive Reactive Armor over the hull and turret front to protect against tank fired HEAT rounds and Anti-Tank Missiles.
Other safety devices have been added over several upgrades including Fire Suppression.
Type 59 Tank Mobility
Original entering service with a 520hp 12150L diesel engine, an improved 580hp 12150L7 diesel was installed on the upgraded Type 59-I, giving the vehicle an increased power-to-weight ratio. The Type 59 used torsion bar suspension with solid metal tracks. Operational range could be increased by the mounting of 2 fuel drums on the hull rear.
Type 59 Tank Layout
The Type 59 has a 4 man crew. The drive sits in the front left of hull with ammunition storage to his right. He has a separate hatch with 2 vision blocks to see where he was going. One could be replaced with an IR vision block for night time driving.
Centrally mounted in the hull is the turret, which has a full 360 degree traverse. The Commander and Gunner sit in tandem on the left side of the hull, with the commander in an elevated position behind the Gunner. To their right is the main gun and breach located in the centre of the turret with the Loader (aka Operator) standing on the right side of the turret.
The engine compartment is located in the rear section of the hull with, inspection hatches and air vents on the top.
Type 59 Tank Variants
Type 73 ARV: Armored Recovery Vehicle variant built on a Type 59 hull.
Type 69 Tank series: An improved version of the early Type 59. See separate page for full details
Type 59 Tank Models
Type 59: Entered production in 1958, but without the IR searchlight of the Soviet T-54A.
Type 59-I: Entered service in 1979, with a laser rangefinder (was mounted on the front of the turret), power-assisted steering, automatic fire suppression system, and track skirts. Its FCS and armour was changed/modified several times. It mounted a new 100mm rifled main gun.
Type 59-II Entered production in 1982 ending 1985 and was equipped with a copy (type 79) of the British L7 105mm main gun. Other improvements include new radio and fire suppression system. It was also equipped with a new 580hp diesel engine.
Type 59-IIA: Addition of a thermal sleeve.
Type 59D: This is an upgrade package for the PLA’s existing Type 59 fleet that focused on improvements of firepower and protection, the package was fitted from 1995 onwards by 617 Factory. See separate page for full details
Type 59G: See separate page for full details
Type 59 Tank Operators
Albania – 721 Type 59 delivered between 1966-1975
Bangladesh – 36 delivered in 1980/81. Additionally 300 Type 59G have been supplied between 2010 to 2015, under the designation Type-59BD.
Democratic Republic of Congo –
Iran – 300 delivered between 1982/84, locally upgraded version called T-72Z. See separate page for full details
Iraq – 1000 delivered between 1982/87
Myanmar – 25 Type 59D (surplus) delivered 2004
North Korea – Hull is reportedly been used for a Self Propelled Gun
Pakistan – 100 delivered in 1972, 825 delivered 1978/88. Locally upgraded and designated the Al-Zarrar. See separate page for full details
Sudan – 50 delivered in 1972 and 50 Type 59D delivered between 2010/15
Sri Lanka – 25 delivered in 1991
Tanzania – 30 Type 59G delivered between 2011/13
Vietnam – 350 delivered between 1970/72
Zimbabwe – 22 delivered in 1985/86
The Type 59 served in the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border conflict, and was operated by the Iraqi Army in the Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War. Pakistan has operated the tank and its upgraded version in a number of small conflicts.
UK – A Type 59 Tank is on display at Bovington Tank Museum. Donated after being used to demonstrate potential upgrades by British Defence contractors, it has a standard British 105mm rifled main gun and Smoke Grenade launcher banks from a British FV432 APC.
Type 59 Tank Specifications
Elevation -4 to +17
|x1 coaxial 7.62mm MG, x1 12.7mm MG
|x34 100mm, x3,500 7.62mm, x200 12.7mm
|Model 12150L 520hp Diesel liquid-cooled
|Manual 5 forward / 1 reverse gears
|Top Road Speed
|440 km (without rear fuel drums)
|1.4m (Preparation 5.5m)
|Length Gun Forward
|2.59m (roof top)
|36,000kg aka 36 tonne combat
|Active Protection Systems