21st Century Asian Arms Race

Armored Cars: Dongfeng Mengshi CSK131

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Dongfeng EQ2025 APCs in 2015. Via MND/Xinhua.

For some years now China’s sprawling armed forces and law enforcement apparatus have slowly adopted a versatile armored truck designed for travel in adverse climates. Often referred to as the “Brave Warrior” or just “Warrior,” the Mengshi represent a class of vehicles manufactured by Dongfeng, a conglomerate whose roots go back to the Mao era.

The Mengshi shouldn’t be confused with Dongfeng’s Hummer clone redesigned for the PLA and exported to several international clients. Although the Chinese military does have thousands of Dongfeng EQ2050’s, along with countless jeeps and SUVs, these don’t have enough armor for protecting their occupants from bullets and lethal fragments.

It isn’t surprising Dongfeng introduced an improved–and original–4×4 truck that can be tailored for different roles.

Mengshi variants parked at an exhibition. Screen shot taken from Chinese media.

It’s worth pointing out that military trucks represent a large sub-sector of China’s automotive industry. The defense contractor Norinco has its own line of 4×4’s and MRAPs that are in competition with the Mengshi. There’s another firm producing licensed copies of the GAZ Tigr and privately owned companies are known to sell dual use armored vehicles for both government and private buyers.

Little is known about the Mengshi’s origins. Since Dongfeng is state-owned, however, it’s likely the PLA requested a new type of multirole light vehicle matching the latest models from Europe. The Mengshi’s earliest known public appearance was a military parade in Beijing two years ago. The “basic” Mengshi is recognizable for its monocoque hull, the distinctive slope of its hood, and the Dongfeng logo on its grille. A sure giveaway are the trenching tools mounted behind the passenger doors.

A column of Dongfeng trucks at the PLA’s 90th anniversary parade in Zhurihe, Inner Mongolia.

Despite being groomed as a workhorse for the world’s largest army, there are few specifics about the Mengshi’s chassis, engine type, suspension, and armoring. Chinese media did reveal it’s capable of a top speed reaching 130 kilometers per hour. But these figures are suited for a brochure and don’t reflect its mobility across different kinds of terrain.

Considering its appearance, the Mengshi should run on a turbo diesel engine and can manage a fording depth reaching above its tires, which are probably supported by an independent suspension. The exhaust is located on top of its rightmost rear tire and its elevation suggests the truck can “swim” across rivers with almost half its body submerged.

Chinese soldiers entering their armored truck. Take note of the one carrying a bullpup squad automatic weapon loaded with a drum magazine.

The Mengshi doesn’t carry external weapons but a circular roof hatch doubles as a turret for a 12.7mm machine gun. A remote controlled weapon is an option too and it’s tempting to imagine if the Mengshi can support multiple armaments. These could be anti-tank missiles or tandem miniguns like those spotted in the Zhurihe parade this year.

It’s unclear how much protection the Mengshi offers. Keeping its role in mind, it’s safe to assume its ballistic resistance reaches STANAG I. To better protect the cab a peculiar feature are twin panels that are lowered over the windshield. These don’t look like they can stop bullets or large projectiles. It’s possible these are dust covers for driving in foul weather or off-road.

The new Dongfeng Warrior variant.

There are a handful of known variants of the Mengshi. The most common is designated the “CSK131” or the “EQ2025” and has space enough for six, two of whom enter in a rear swing door. There’s a heavier model that appears to have a V-hull because of its higher ground clearance. It seems to belong in the same niche as the KMW Dingo but with a bigger armament–recent footage shows it with a 14.5mm remote controlled machine gun.

The Mengshi can be assembled into a 6×6 troop transport and utility truck, an open top mortar carrier, and even a short-range mobile SAM system. But its greatest draw is demand from the PLA, who will no doubt field thousands of these vehicles. A few Mengshis have deployed to the Horn of Africa, where they are used by the Marine garrison in Djibouti, and Dongfeng is promoting it for export. How successful can it become? Like so many details about the Mengshi, this remains a question mark.

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