This article takes a closer look at Cambodia’s popular battle tanks and their defence capabilities – the Type 96B, Type 99, Type 59, T-62, and T-55, exploring their origins, features, and roles. Each of these tanks brings unique capabilities and histories to the table, contributing to Cambodia’s overall military might.
Cambodia’s Popular Battle Tanks
The T-55, a renowned series of Soviet main battle tanks, gained popularity after the Second World War. The prototype of this series was completed in Nizhny Tagil by the end of 1945. From the late 1950s onwards, the T-55 became the primary tank for armoured units in the Soviet Army, as well as the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries and many others. Since its introduction in the second half of the 20th century, the T-55 series has been involved in numerous armed conflicts worldwide. It holds the distinction of being the most-produced tank in history, with estimated production numbers ranging from 96,500 to 100,000. In the specific context of Cambodia, the country acquired 50 T-55A main battle tanks from Eastern Europe, which arrived on September 20, 2010. By 2011, the Armoured cavalry of Cambodia had 220 T-54/T-55 tanks in active service. This procurement was part of Cambodia’s initiative to enhance its military capabilities and safeguard its territorial integrity.
The T-62, a medium tank manufactured by the Soviet Union, made its debut in 1961. It was an advancement of the T-55 series, incorporating several similar design features such as a compact size and robust turret armour. However, what set the T-62 apart was its pioneering use of a smoothbore tank gun, enabling it to fire APFSDS rounds at significantly higher velocities. Despite becoming the standard tank in the Soviet military, it did not completely replace the T-55 in international markets due to its higher production costs and maintenance requirements. Although it was eventually succeeded by newer models within the USSR, the T-62 continued to serve as a reserve tank domestically and remained in active service with other nations.
The Type 59 main battle tank, which is a Chinese rendition of the Soviet T-54A tank, was one of the initial models of the widely used T-54/55 series. It was first produced in 1958 and was officially commissioned in 1959, with mass production starting in 1963. By the time production ceased in 1985, over 10,000 of these tanks had been manufactured. The Type 59 tank was the primary armoured unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army until the early 2000s. As for Cambodia’s acquisition of the Type 59 tanks, they were gifted by China. The Type 59 is a Chinese-manufactured version of the T-54A with Soviet assistance. These tanks are currently in active service in the Royal Cambodian Army.
China’s Type 99, also known as ZTZ-99, is a third-generation main battle tank that was developed under China’s eighth five-year plan in 1989. It was China’s first attempt at mass-producing third-generation main battle tanks and was officially introduced into service with the People’s Liberation Army in 2001. The Type 99A, an improved model, was established in 2003 and tested in 2007 before being operationally fielded in 2011. This variant was showcased at the 2015 Victory Day Parade. The Royal Cambodian Army has confirmed that it is using the Chinese-made Type-99A, along with the Type-96B variant tank, in Cambodia. These tanks will be utilized by the RCAF Tank Battalion.
The Type 96B tank is an upgraded version of the Type 96A main battle tank, which is produced by China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), the leading tank manufacturer in China. It was first unveiled to the public during the 2016 Tank Biathlon. The Type 96B is equipped with a new hydropneumatic suspension system and automatic transmission system, which significantly improves its mobility and responsiveness. Additionally, the Type 96B has a high power-to-weight ratio due to its increased horsepower, which enhances its acceleration and hill-climbing capabilities. Regarding Cambodia’s procurement of Type 96B tanks, it has been confirmed that the Royal Cambodian Army is utilizing these Chinese-made tanks. The RCAF Tank Battalion will be utilizing both the Type 96B and the Type 99A variant tank.