The People's Liberation Army's armored forces have begun to phase out their tank destroyers, as they now rely on weapons that are more powerful and effective, such as anti-tank missiles and attack helicopters.
PLA Daily, the Chinese military's flagship newspaper, recently published a photo showing a line of 18 self-propelled guns traveling out of a military base of the PLA Shenyang Military Command's 39th Group Army. A ceremony was held by the army's artillery regiment on Nov 3 to mark the guns' withdrawal after 24 years in active service, according to the newspaper.
Though PLA Daily did not identify the weapon, military experts said it was the Type-89 tank destroyer and that it is being replaced with missiles and helicopters.
"With its good mobility and a high automation level, the Type-89 tank destroyer can easily pierce the armour of enemy tanks using a 120-mm smoothbore gun," Senior Colonel Wang Kai, a land armaments expert at the PLA Academy of Armored Forces Engineering in Beijing, said on Tuesday.
"It was brought into service by the PLA around the early 1990s to close the loopholes in the PLA's anti-tank capability that existed in the 1970s and 1980s," he said.
Many weapons researchers said that the Type-89 was once the most lethal anti-tank weapon in the world, as it had the strongest smoothbore gun and most powerful armour-piercing shell in the 1990s, capable of destroying every type of tank in use at that time.
However, the weapon has some shortcomings: Its firing range is short, the armour is thin, the maintenance costs are comparatively high and it can only be used against tanks, according to Wang.
"Thanks to the past 20 years of modernization, our armored forces have acquired a large number of advanced tanks equipped with large-calibre, powerful guns, which means specialised tank destroyers such as the Type-89 will no longer be needed," he said.
The PLA has been gradually replacing tank destroyers with HJ-10 anti-tank missiles and WZ-10 and WZ-19 attack helicopters at the group army level, according to earlier reports.
"Anti-tank missiles and helicopters represent the trend of anti-tank warfare. They can form a three-dimensional anti-tank firepower network," Wang said.
China displayed HJ-10 missiles, and WZ-10 and WZ-19 attack helicopters at the Sept 3 parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Xing Li'nan, a military commentator for China.com, suggested the PLA could export the retired Type-89 tank destroyers to other nations, especially developing countries, after upgrading their armour and engines.