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Land Platforms

China testing unmanned tanks

21 March 2018
A still from CCTV video footage showing a Chinese Type 59 MBT being controlled from a remote operating station. Source: CCTV

Images have emerged showing a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Type 59 main battle tank (MBT) being remotely operated: an indication that China has begun trials of unmanned tanks as part of a push to modernise its armed forces.

The images, which stem from video footage released around mid-March by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), show a Type 59 MBT equipped with additional antennas being driven at an undisclosed location by a soldier sitting at a nearby remote operating station. The move marks the first time a Chinese unmanned tank has been unveiled to the public, according to the state-owned Global Times newspaper.

Speaking to the paper, Liu Qingshan, the chief editor of Tank and Armoured Vehicle , said on 20 March that a large number of the PLA’s obsolescent Type 59 MBTs could be converted into unmanned vehicles if equipped with artificial intelligence. The PLA Ground Force (PLAGF) currently operates an estimated 2,500 Type 59 MBTs.

“In future unmanned tanks will be able to work with other unmanned platforms, and also integrate information sourced from surveillance satellites, airplanes, or submarines,” said the newspaper report, adding that such vehicles will also be capable of continuous combat with greater speed and higher lethality.

Global Times pointed out, however, that this technology is still in its test phase. “Although the CCTV footage shows the country has managed to operate tanks using remote control, there are still many technical problems that need to be resolved before they can achieve the same combat capabilities as manned tanks,” stated the report.

The latest developments come after the Ministry of Defence in Beijing published video footage in July 2017 revealing that the Chinese military has been developing unmanned supply trucks.

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