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Examining The PLA ZBL-09 And Its 8×8 Peers

September 18, 2011

Since the US leads the world in defense trends it comes as no surprise the ubiquitous 8×8 Stryker is the standard by which similar vehicles are judged. Based on the Swiss Piranha APC the multirole Stryker began as a legacy platform for the US Marine Corps–the LAV-25–and later became a requirement for the US Army.

The Stryker’s success in congested urban roads, overall modularity, and incorporation of automated turrets, armoring, and active protection systems (APS) set a benchmark others are trying to reach. Small wonder that countries like Turkey, Ukraine, Russia (the real pioneer in 8×8 APCs), Poland, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, Serbia, and South Africa have gone out of their way to promote indigenous 8×8 weapons platforms.

The advantages of an 8×8 APC reached popular consensus thanks to ongoing combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both theaters, the Stryker often fulfills the role of traditional tracked APCs but with extensive protection and electronic countermeasures. This didn’t guarantee Strykers are immune to IEDs and shaped explosives though.

Chinese Characteristics

The 8×8 APC is an attractive investment for modern armies, especially when bought in large numbers. An 8×8 APC is cheaper, lighter, and performs the same role as a tank when used as a fire support vehicle. It’s de rigueur for 8x8s to be fundamentally off-road vehicles that also work well in the urban setting.  8x8s are designed to be amphibious and, most importantly, carry a variety of weapons.

All these pluses are embodied in the ZBL-09, which is China’s successful attempt at creating a multipurpose troop carrier that isn’t confined to a single role. If the sources consulted by this writer are correct, the ZBL-09’s development took almost a decade and was undertaken by Poly Technologies.

Poly Technologies Inc. is an intriguing defense contractor. Despite its low profile it’s a conglomerate with a diverse portfolio, from exporting, real estate, mining, to R&D. Although secretive of its weapons production it’s credited as a manufacturer of high tech systems for the PLA and facilitating arms sales to clients in the developing world.

The ZBL-09 finally entered service in 2009 and multiple photographs have either leaked or are circulated of its variants, ranging from a 30mm cannon-mounted IFV to a self-propelled gun. The ZBL-09 is remarkable in this aspect. Unlike older 8×8 APCs like the LAV-25 or the BTR-series it has proven it can perform different roles.

Untested, For Now

The question is how effective is the ZBL-09 in a combat situation?

Wheeled armored vehicles are a recent addition to the PLA’s vehicle pool. The ZBL-09 has another peer, also manufactured by Poly Technologies. The 8×8 Type 07 was introduced in 2006 but never entered service with the PLA. It has since been exported to African clients like Tanzania and Cameroon.

More successful is another earlier APC, the WZ551 manufactured by Norinco, belongs to the 6×6 category and resembles the French VAB.  The WZ551 is a true multirole vehicle and comes in several variants too, including a configuration suited for anti-riot and law enforcement use. Since it’s a new vehicle, exact numbers currently in service are unknown. Like most 8×8 systems, however, the ZBL-09 is already being showcased in foreign defense shows as an exportable weapons system.

So far, available specifications indicate a list of impressive performance stats. With its 400 horsepower turbo diesel engine it reaches a maximum road speed of 100km/h. On water the ZBL-09 manages a steady 8 km/h with its twin propellers underneath the chassis. It has space for a three-man crew and seven occupants. Armor protection is limited, probably in STANAG III, but the ZBL-09’s resistance to incoming rounds and shaped warheads is strengthened by slats or applique.