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Pakistan's tool of war: Al-Khalid Main Battle Tank – the armoured fist

Updated November 10, 2015

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The Armoured Corps is rich in tradition, with storied units still included in its order of battle. — AFP/File
The Armoured Corps is rich in tradition, with storied units still included in its order of battle. — AFP/File

This article was originally published on November 10, 2015.

If the tanks succeed, then victory follows

-Heinz Guderian

Armoured units are the primary force multipliers utilised by ground forces for offensive actions conducted using the fundamental elements of speed and firepower.

Although tanks were introduced towards the tail-end of the Great War, the fundamentals of armoured warfare came in on their own during the German blitz across Europe and North Africa during World War II, and were later used by the Red Army with the same devastating effect in their march towards Berlin.

Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps came into being with the creation of Pakistan, and inherited six regiments from the old British Indian Army. The Armoured Corps is rich in tradition, with storied units still included in its order of battle. It is a proud fighting arm of the Pakistani army.

The MBT

The Al-Khalid Main Battle Tank (MBT) forms the backbone of Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps.

The tank is a result of close collaboration between Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) of Pakistan and China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), with the first prototype developed in the early '90s.

The Al-Khalid is a further development of the Chinese Type 90-II tank. The tank is locally produced at the HIT complex, and an estimated 600 vehicles are in service.

Al-Khalid MBT incorporates Russian and Chinese design philosophy in its manufacture. The tank itself is considerably lighter and smaller, incorporating a lower profile when compared to its Western counterparts.

Race across the desert

The Al-Khalid is powered by a Ukrainian 6TD-2 liquid-cooled diesel engine which delivers 1,200 horsepower, propelling the tank to a maximum speed of 70 kilometres per hour. The engine utilises pistons arranged horizontally in an opposed piston configuration, which reduces the size of the engine and fits well inside the medium-sized hull of the vehicle. The same engine is also mounted on Pakistan’s T-80UD MBTs.

Read: Pakistan's tool of war: Agosta 90B, our submarine in the deep

During the design phase, special emphasis was laid on high-performance cooling and air filtering systems to counter the high ambient temperatures and the fine sand which would be encountered in operational areas of Pakistan’s Thar and Cholistan deserts, enabling it to race across the desert to engage the enemy.

Ukrainian 6TD-2 liquid-cooled diesel engine propels the tank to a maximum speed of 70 kilometres per hour — Source: armyrecognition.com
Ukrainian 6TD-2 liquid-cooled diesel engine propels the tank to a maximum speed of 70 kilometres per hour — Source: armyrecognition.com

The Al-Khalid is able to cross water obstacles 1.4 metres deep without preparation, and can cross water obstacles to a maximum depth of 5 metres with a snorkel attached.

Armoured fist

The primary task assigned to any MBT is to penetrate enemy lines using violence of action and wreak havoc in the enemy’s rear.

The Al-Khalid is equipped with a 125mm smoothbore main gun, capable of firing a variety of rounds and the 9M119M Refleks (Nato reporting name AT-11 Sniper) anti-tank guided missile, a tandem warhead missile with a range of five kilometres, also fired through the main gun.

The main gun is capable of shooting six to eight rounds per minute. The tank is equipped with a laser rangefinder and a computerised fire control system, with the main gun stabilised on a dual-axis, enabling it to shoot accurately on the move.

Al-Khalid tanks commence their advance during a military exercise. — AFP/File
Al-Khalid tanks commence their advance during a military exercise. — AFP/File

The gunner and commander have dual day/night sights with thermal imaging, in order to lay accurate fire on both stationary and moving targets at any time of the day. The commander also has a panoramic hunter-killer sight at his disposal, which is used to designate targets for the gunner.

The Al-Khalid also comes equipped with an autoloader, reducing the crew to three, another facet of Russian tank design philosophy which was incorporated into the tank. The Al-Khalid has a 12.7mm heavy machine gun placed on the commander’s cupola, with a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun placed next to the main gun.

The tank is capable of firing the Pakistani Naiza 125mm depleted uranium (DU) round, which maintains a one-shot kill capability.

In short, if the Al-Khalid meets the T-90S Bhisma on the plains of Punjab or the deserts of Sindh, it is more than capable of achieving a one shot kill on its adversary.

Steel plated beast

In terms of protection, the Al-Khalid’s hull is made of hardened steel armour plates placed over Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA), while the sides and the turret incorporates modular armour, allowing the operator to change damage armoured modules with ease.

The tank is also equipped with Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) bricks for added protection. ERA bricks cover the turret front, roof, sides and hull glacis.

Al-Khalid during a military exercise. — Photo courtesy Pakistan Army
Al-Khalid during a military exercise. — Photo courtesy Pakistan Army

In addition to the capable armour protection, the crew is also protected by a collective NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) system. The tank incorporates internal fire extinguisher and explosion-suppression systems in order to add to crew survivability.

Tanks can be manufactured; it is the crew that needs to be protected, as a trained tank crew takes a significant amount of time and resources to train.

Also read: Pakistan's tool of war: Why the Mi-35 Hind-E is an excellent choice

Al-Khalid also comes equipped with a laser warning system, which detects incoming ATGMs and provides the crew with better threat perception. The tank is itself coated in IR (infrared) reflective paint to lower the thermal signature, along with launchers which can launch thermal smoke, chaff and fragmentation grenades.

The latest model of the tank is also rumoured to be equipped with an Active Protection System (APS), which can defeat incoming anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).

New challenges

The Al-Khalid is a capable tank, and would be an adequate match for any adversary it faces in a conventional conflict.

The Al-Khalid is a capable tank, and would be an adequate match for any adversary it faces in a conventional conflict. — AFP/File
The Al-Khalid is a capable tank, and would be an adequate match for any adversary it faces in a conventional conflict. — AFP/File

As is the case with any modern MBT, protection levels need to be kept up to pace with developments in the field of anti-tank weapons. With the modern battlefield constantly evolving, tanks are now more vulnerable than ever to both conventional and unconventional forces.

With the massive proliferation of advanced anti-tank weapons, mostly now in the hands of irregular and militant forces (e.g Syria), protecting the tank and especially the crew has become the need of the hour.

As stated earlier, if the later models of the Al-Khalid are not equipped with an APS, it needs to be sourced and installed, or remain quite vulnerable.