Pakistan, located at the crossroads of South Asia and the Middle East, is a nation characterized by a diverse landscape, including rugged mountains, fertile plains, and a coastline along the Arabian Sea. With a rich history, cultural heritage, and a strategic geopolitical position, Pakistan plays a vital role in regional affairs. This article delves into Pakistan’s armoured force and explores the top five tanks that make up its land warfare machinery examining the evolution and features of the Al-Zarrar, Al-Khalid I, Al-Khalid II, MBT 2000, and Type 85-II tanks. Each of these machines has a unique story and set of capabilities that have played a crucial role in shaping Pakistan’s defence strategy.
Pakistan’s Top 5 Tanks
The Al-Zarrar, a second-generation main battle tank (MBT), has been in service with the Pakistan Army since 2004. It is an upgraded version of Pakistan’s ageing Chinese Type 59 tanks. With a maximum speed of 65 km/h and weighing approximately 44 tons, the tank is operated by a four-man crew consisting of a commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The Al-Zarrar development program was initiated in 1990. Pakistan has reportedly ordered a total of 400 Al-Zarrar tanks, with the first batch of 80 tanks delivered to the army in February 2004. In 2003, China collaborated with Pakistan to upgrade Pakistan’s existing Type 59 tanks to the Al-Zarrar standard, enhancing its mobility, firepower, and armour protection. This partnership was a part of Pakistan’s efforts to enhance its armoured capabilities, including reducing component imports and promoting indigenous development. In October 2008, the Bangladeshi Army joined forces with Pakistan to upgrade its Type 59 MBTs to the new Al-Zarrar tank standard, highlighting the international recognition and value of the Al-Zarrar tank. The tank is named after the Muslim warrior Zarrar bin Al-Azwar.
The Al-Khalid I, a main battle tank developed by Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) in Pakistan since the 1990s, is based on the Chinese Type 90-IIM tank and equipped with a fire-control system and night-fighting equipment. The current production variant of the Al-Khalid is powered by a diesel engine and transmission supplied by the KMDB design bureau of Ukraine. This tank is the result of a joint venture between Pakistan, China, and Ukraine, and was handed over to the Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps Regiment in a ceremony held at Heavy Industry Taxila (HIT). The first production models were introduced to the Pakistan Army in 2001, and the country has since placed an order with Ukraine to upgrade the tanks with a new engine. The Pakistan Army recently inducted its first batch of Al-Khalid-I main battle tanks (MBTs) in a ceremony held at the facilities of state-owned defence manufacturer Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) in the Rawalpindi District of Pakistan’s Punjab Province. The Al-Khalid I is expected to replace around 300 Type 85 and 320 T-80UD MBTs.
The Al-Khalid II tank is an enhanced version of the Al-Khalid I tank, developed by Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) in Pakistan. It incorporates several upgrades such as a redesigned turret, improved armour, advanced projectiles, upgraded sensor equipment, enhanced situational awareness, increased combat weight, and a new engine. The initial development of the Al-Khalid tank was carried out by Ahmed Imtiaz and Adil Cheema, and the first production models were introduced to the Pakistan Army in 2001. To further enhance the tanks, Pakistan sought assistance from Ukraine to acquire a new engine. However, due to limitations in manufacturing their Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), Pakistan opted to procure engines and other components for the Al-Khalid II tank from foreign sources. The exact details regarding the acquisition of the Al-Khalid II tank remain unclear based on the available information. It is important to note that the Al-Khalid II tank is still in the development phase.
The Chinese tank known as the MBT 2000, or Type 90-IIM, was originally developed by China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) as the MBT-2000. It is based on the experimental Type 90-IIM tank, which itself is an upgraded version of the early production series of the Soviet T-72. Pakistan began developing its version of the MBT-2000, called Al-Khalid, in 1988. In January 1990, an agreement was made with China to collaborate on the design, development, and manufacturing of the tank. The design is an improvement over the original T902M, and work on it has been ongoing at China’s NORINCO for several years. Due to the growing threat posed by India’s T-72S fleet, Pakistan sought assistance from China, which was also developing new main battle tanks. The tanks were acquired from China through government-to-government agreements.
The Type 85-II main battle tank is an enhanced iteration of the Type 80 main battle tank, showcasing a distinct hull and turret design along with improved armour. Equipped with a formidable 125mm main gun, it also boasts a co-axial 7.62mm machine gun and a turret roof-mounted 12.7mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) Heavy Machine Gun as secondary armaments. Pakistan procured the Type 85-II as part of its endeavours to modernize its tank fleet. Approximately three decades ago, several hundred of these Chinese tanks were delivered to serve as a temporary solution for the army’s outdated Type 59 tanks and its forthcoming main battle tank. Around 1991, Pakistan acquired the technology transfer and commenced production of the Type 85-IIAP, which was publicly unveiled in 1993 during a parade. To meet immediate requirements, approximately 300 units of the Type-85IIAP variant tanks were manufactured and deployed. In early 2020, an upgraded variant known as the Type-85UG was introduced, further enhancing the capabilities of the Type 85-IIAP tanks.