Recently, with an article published in the Nigerian Defense News, about the Chinese supplied VT-4 main battle tank equipped by the Nigerian Army, it seems that something is wrong with the VT-4, which has always been regarded as the pride of China’s tank industry exports.
The report mentioned that the Nigerian Army is not very satisfied with the VT-4 in actual operation, especially in a recent live fire shooting exercise, a VT-4 operated by Nigerian personnel, actually “took more than 30 minutes to fire the shell”. Given that Nigeria has been receiving VT-4s for more than two years and undergoing considerable training time, this result is very unacceptable to the Nigerian Army leadership. Nigeria appears to be currently considering the VT-4 delivered as a training model in favor of introducing Russian T-90 family tanks as the main force. This is not the first time VT-4 criticized by users earlier Thailand also complained about VT-4 tank.
The VT-4 is the highest exported tank by China and has been a source of pride for China and especially with the Pakistani Army, which can’t afford an expensive tank recently shows interest on additional 380 orders on top of the earlier 300 orders. So far, the VT-4 has a total of three users, of which the Pakistan Army with the biggest user and highest evaluation. The Thai Army introduced 49 vehicles in batches, and the unit price is slightly higher than Pakistan, but Thailand was the first user of the VT-4. The Nigerian Army was the second customer, with 35 units delivered so far with lowest price.
In January 2021, just seven months after delivery, the VT-4 was pulled into battle by the Nigerian Army to fight opposition forces in its territory, marking the first time the VT-4 had participated in actual combat. In a firefight not long after, the Nigerian Army discarded a large number of weapons and ammunition to retreat, and the outside world was surprised to find a vague shadow of the suspected VT-4 in the video released by the opposition forces, which immediately caused an uproar. However, it was later confirmed that this was actually abandoned by the Nigerian Army, and an old British Vickers Mk3 tank was not captured as the VT-4 was as early public opinion speculated. However, judging from the Nigerian Army’s record of voluntarily abandoning the T-72B and Vickers Mk3 over the years, perhaps this embarrassing scene will play out in the near future.
It is precisely because of the Nigerian Army’s unexpected performance before, after the news that the VT-4 “took more than 30 minutes to shoot the shell”. But no one was surprised After all Thai army also complain about many things about VT-4 tank.
Thailand’s decision to buy VT-4 is the result of Ukraine’s failure to deliver the T-84 Oplot on schedule. At first, Thailand was confused between the T-90S and the T-84 Oplot tank, but US diplomatic pressure led it to choose the T-84 over the T-90S.
However, due to many problems, Ukraine could not deliver the T-84 in time. Therefore, Thailand had to choose another modern tank to replace the T-84. Once again, the Thai government after the coupled to the selection of VT-4 over T-90 and Thailand as the first VT-4 contract.
The VT-4 uses Chinese 125 mm BT-4 ammunition. BT-4 is the export name for the DTW125 ammunition, a Chinese last-generation armor-piercing fin-stabilized bullet with a tungsten piercing device, capable of penetrating 700 mm at a distance of 2 km.
While the 125 mm is the standard caliber, the VT-4 can also be exported with a 120 mm caliber cannon upon request of the customer. The 140 mm ammunition was once considered to be used by the VT-4 and future Chinese domestic tanks, but it is currently being shelved for research into better ammunition.
Thailand’s VT-4 is also compatible with Ukraine’s ammunition, including anti-tank guided missiles. But in the original design of the VT-4 it was not possible to use anti-tank guided missiles, this feature was added to the Thai VT-4 to use the anti-tank missiles delivered with the T- 84.
The body armor of the VT-4 is estimated to provide protection between 500 and 600 mm, and 700 to 800 mm if the ERA package is included. Turret armor stats remain limited for potential customers. Other features on the VT-4 include a laser alarm receiver and a The VT4 is equipped with a stabilized fire control including cooled thermal imager sights for commander and gunner.
In fact, Thai tankers have complained about the ERA protection package on the VT-4 being thinner than the Oplot. The Oplot’s design of the soft destroys proactive defense system has been proven in combat (as Ukraine’s Varta system is a copy of the Russian Shtora system that has proven effective in Syria), while VT4’s system has not been tested.
Although the performance of the VT-4 is unlikely to be on par with the latest American or Russian tanks least on paper, due to its design based on last-generation technology, the VT-4 is strong enough to withstand most contact threats from older generation tanks.
Therefore, the VT-4 is likely to be a popular and robust export product for countries with limited budgets or without political ties with Russia, Europe, or the US.
At present, the Russian Army, as the main force fighting in Ukraine, has a strong demand for tanks, and even recently there has been news that the T-90S equipped by the Indian Army was pulled onto the battlefield by the Russian army for self-use when it returned to Russia for upgrades. Even if the Russian-Ukrainian exchange of fire can end in 2023, the Russian army will need to spend a considerable amount of time to compensate for the loss of its own active tanks and inventory, and it will be very difficult for other countries to purchase T-90 main battle tanks from Russia for at least 3-5 years. Nigeria’s relationship with Russia itself is not very close, its tank purchase orders are not large, and there is little chance that Russia will give it the green light. As a country in the difficult part of Africa, Nigeria may not be able to withstand such a long gap of workhorses.
In general, the VT-4’s “more than 30 minutes to fire the shell” is most likely a technical failure or maybe a maintenance problem, resulting in a huge firing time should be the most likely reason. Its well known that Chinese weapons are only good in paper not in actual combat. Even Pakistan and Myanmar JF-17 fighter jets supplied by China are grounded because of low build quality and lack of supply parts.