Author Profile: Usman Ansari is a journalist specializing in defence issues and presently based in Pakistan. He is Pakistan Correspondent for the US media group Defense News, and Chief Analyst for the British naval news monthly Warships – International Fleet Review. He has a BA in International History and International Politics, and MA in Global Security, both from Keele University, UK.
By Usman Ansari
In May 2020, the Pakistan Army started taking delivery of VT4 tank units from China’s NORINCO. It officially inducted these tanks in September 2020 (ISPR).
Pakistani MBT modernization programs since the 1980s successfully focused on countering India’s T-72M1. While India’s Arjun MBT program is largely irrelevant and had a negligible impact on further Pakistani developments, T-90MS purchase dictated a stopgap counter acquisition due to Pakistan’s MBT upgrade program running behind schedule.
Pakistan’s MBT modernization program involved incremental Type-59 upgrades culminating in the Al-Zarrar, an opportunistic stopgap T-80UD acquisition, and localized Type-69II and Type-85APII production leading to the development and manufacturing of the Al-Khalid-series.
The Al-Khalid is based on the NORINCO Type-90II, but customized in line with Pakistan’s requirements. Its more advanced variants, namely the Al-Khalid I and Al-Khalid II, should have met Pakistan’s future MBT needs. In fact, the ongoing Al-Khalid II development indicates that this program is still active.
The VT4 tank purchase is purely a stopgap measure dictated by the investment shortfalls that stymied Al-Khalid production, and therefore, its continued development.
News | China’s state-owned NORINCO announced that it will deliver two customized VT4 main battle tanks to an undisclosed customer. Reports suggest that the VT4s are meant for the Pakistan Army… | Read More
While the T-80UD and Al-Khalid had varying degrees of parity with India’s T-90S, the considerably better protected T-90MS demanded a counter response the cash-starved Al-Khalid program could not readily provide.
While Ukraine’s Oplot-P has comparable protection to the T-90MS, questions over Kiev’s ability to basically deliver an order (as proven with the Thai contract), ultimately decided the competition in favour of the VT4 tank.
However, as a counter to the T-90MS, the VT-4’s effectiveness is debateable.
In the triad of armour, mobility, and firepower MBT design characteristics, Pakistan values firepower and mobility over protection. This approach is partially dictated by the weight limits of bridge and road infrastructure.
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 Press Release. “Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production in its Meeting on Thursday has appreciated the Achievements and Projects.” Senate of Pakistan. 30 November 2017. URL: http://www.senate.gov.pk/en/news_content.php?id=2611
 Charlie Gao. “China Is Selling a New Tank. Could It Beat the M1 Abrams in a Fight?.” The National Interest. 10 February 2018. URL: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/china-selling-new-tank-all-over-the-world-could-it-beat-the-24428