As the US unveils AbramsX, the report claims China’s latest main battle tank could be ready soon

China continues to provide glimpses of its military modernization efforts on state television. It showed footage of its latest main battle tank (MBT) on Sunday, suggesting the fourth-generation vehicle with unmatched new capabilities could soon be ready for use in armored warfare, according to a report.

After showcasing its Dongfeng series of advanced aircraft carrier-killer nuclear missiles, China unveiled its latest MBT – mostly covered – with a caption that read, “The strongest on the surface in the future?” The South China Morning Post reported (SCMP) on Tuesday.

The SCMP report, citing former military instructor Song Zhongping, noted that while no details about the tank were provided, the partial disclosure indicated that “development of China’s most advanced main battle tank is almost complete.”

The new tank is expected to have high mobility, stealth and strong hitting capabilities, and be operated by two crew members instead of the standard three.

The report also claimed that the most advanced Chinese main battle tanks currently are the Type 99 and its improved version, the Type 99A. The Type 99 tanks entered service in 2001, with more than 1,200 examples of the model built over the past two decades. The Chinese military has deployed its Type 99A tanks in its high-altitude border region of the Karakoram Mountains, bordering India.

Interestingly, the reveal of China’s main battle tank comes as the US unveiled its next-generation main battle tank, the AbramsX, this week. A Popular Mechanics report described AbramsX as the most comprehensive and largest design upgrade of the 40-year-old M1 Abrams tank. The AbramsX MBT will include a range of modern features including firepower, protection and mobility. In addition, according to the SCMP, the AbramsX conventional-electric hybrid propulsion system will enable 50% less fuel consumption and silent mobility.

According to the said report, the main difference is that China’s latest MBT may only need two crew members to operate, while that of the US requires at least three crew members.

Although AbramsX manufacturer General Dynamics indicated in its press release that the MBT will have AI-enabled capabilities with autonomous capabilities, it did not provide any further details on the actual crew size, Popular Mechanics pointed out.

Traditionally, the US Abrams MBT requires four crew members – a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver. On the other hand, newer tanks like the German Leopard 2, the Japanese Type 10 and the South Korean K2 include an automatic loader, so only three crew members are required.

According to Popular Mechanics, the AbramsX will feature three crew hatches at the front of the vehicle, leading to the belief that it will be the first Abrams to feature an automatic loader and an unmanned turret.

Meanwhile, Military Watch reported that crew reductions in China’s fourth-generation tanks are likely to be achieved through higher levels of automation and a greater reliance on artificial intelligence, allowing one crew member to focus on driving while the other concentrates focused on the use of weapons.

The outlet also pointed out that the Soviet Union had achieved an earlier crew reduction of four, the standard in the early Cold War era, in the 1960s with the introduction of automatic loading machines. However, a reduction in the crew to fewer than three members, which had long been speculated about, is unlikely to be seen in designs developed outside of China for a number of years, according to the report.

Russia officially unveiled its new-generation MBT – the T-14 Armata – during the Victory Day parade in Moscow in May 2015. The T-14 Armata, which requires three crew members, features digitized equipment, an unmanned turret and an isolated tank capsule for the crew for the first time.

In recent years, China has invested heavily in upgrading its military technology to create more advanced weapons and equipment, and is also attempting to overhaul its military command structure with the goal of modernizing its armed forces.

Beijing has also increased its arms exports to other developing countries, with the country becoming a major supplier of weapons systems to countries in South and East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Three of the world’s top 10 defense companies are reportedly Chinese, and the country is among the top five arms exporting nations in the world. According to SIPRI, China is also one of the world’s top exporters of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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