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Chinese Marines Have A New Assault Breacher Vehicle

June 5, 2018

Via China Military Online.

The Chinese military’s official news portal released images of recent live fire exercises at an undisclosed training area in Southern China. A minor revelation from the event, which took place in May, was the presence of an “assault breacher vehicle” that hasn’t been properly identified yet.

As shown by the photo above, this latest addition to the PLAN Marine Corps’ inventory is equipped with a dozer blade and supports a rocket launcher armed with high explosive projectiles. The common usage of so-called breacher vehicles is to defeat fortifications and physical obstacles blocking the infantry.

Unlike their counterparts in the US military, the Chinese Marine Corps don’t function as a separate branch. Although the PLA always had infantry divisions trained for amphibious assaults on Taiwan, it wasn’t until 1980 when a genuine marine brigade was established for the South Sea Fleet. Since then the PLAN Marine Corps’ force structure has grown to an estimated 20,000 men, a figure eclipsed by much larger marine contingents in Indonesia and South Korea, and Beijing plans for a 100,000-strong Corps in the near future.

Apparently the PLAN Marines have a portable rocket artillery launcher called the FHJ-02 armed with seven 62mm projectiles.

The PLAN Marines are generally equipped like their counterparts in the regular PLA. But what sets them apart are uniforms with a distinct blue and white tinted digital camouflage pattern similar to those worn by the elite Airborne Corps. Arm patches worn by PLAN Marines have an anchor underneath a red star.

While the “assault breacher vehicle” that appeared in Chinese state media hasn’t been given a proper designation yet, observing its features reveals a few clues about its origins. The arrangement of wheels and sprockets on its chassis, for example, resembles the ZBD-04/08 that’s widely used by the PLA’s armored divisions. The ZBD-04/08 is an amphibious battle taxi with a similar armament–a tandem 100mm gun and 30mm cannon–as the Russian BMP-3.

A “naval” version of the ZBD-04/08 has become a workhorse for the PLAN Marine Corps. Aside from the basic IFV with a 30mm cannon and HJ-73 anti-tank missiles, it’s a tank armed with a 105mm gun, a self-propelled artillery piece with either a 120mm mortar or a 122mm howitzer, and a lightweight rapid transport. The addition of a rocket launcher on the roof of this breacher vehicle should indicate its use for direct fire at close ranges, be it against bunkers or thick walls. There’s little evidence showing a secondary armament installed anywhere else on its surface.

The USMC’s Assault Breacher Vehicle is a modified M1A2 Abrams. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s unclear when this latest breacher vehicle entered service but it must have happened recently. A popular blog that follows Chinese military news first took note of its existence in February 2018. Seeing it in action this June is the latest proof yet that the PLAN are building a true expeditionary ground force to fight outside China’s borders. The vehicle’s similarities to the Z-series of tracked vehicles also means the PLA are embracing a single model for performing different roles within its mechanized units.

The PLA does have multiple types of either mine clearing or engineering vehicles suited for its Marines, including a Type 59 tank equipped with a massive dozer blade, but what probably made this new vehicle more suited is having a hull designed for water crossings and, perhaps, built-in propellers at the back.

Breaching and engineering vehicles are common among the world’s larger militaries. Russia in particular deploys so many based on different tracked vehicles like the T-72, for example, and the rigors of urban combat have made these more useful than vulnerable tanks. But the most famous assault breacher vehicles are those deployed with the US Marine Corps that saw extensive use in Afghanistan.

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