The ZLC2000 (with industrial designation WZ506) is the airborne infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) developed by NORINCO (China North Industries Corporation) for the PLA airborne forces. The vehicle is capable of air dropping using multiple parachutes from medium or large transport aircraft. The vehicle has been in service with the PLAAF Airborne Corps since 2003, and was spotted during the ‘Peace Mission 2005’ China-Russia joint exercise. The deployment of the ZLC2000 has greatly enhanced the offensive capability of the PLA airborne forces.
The PLA was reported to have been seeking an airborne fighting vehicle to enhance the offensive capability of its airborne forces since the mid-1990s. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the PLA approached Russia on a possible purchase deal or even licensed production of a version of its BMD series airborne IFV. Nevertheless the negotiations led to nowhere and eventually the PLA decided to develop the vehicle indigenously in the late 1990s.
The first prototype of the ZLC2000 was possibly delivered between 2000 and 2003, and the development of the K/STW-17 vehicle air dropping system was completed in 2004. The vehicle was first spotted in the PLA airborne forces exercise in early 2005, confirming the vehicle was already in operational service. Later the vehicle enjoyed a high degree of publicity during the ‘Peace Mission 2005’ China-Russia joint exercise held between August and September 2005. Despite the speculations that the vehicle might be a copy of the Russian BMD-3, close examinations of the vehicle indicated that it is in fact a new design with different hull layout and weapon system. The Chinese 30mm cannon differs to the Russian design used by the BMD-3. It is possible, however, that the vehicle contains certain Russian technologies, particularly the multiple parachute air dropping system.
It was reported that the vehicle was made in at least three versions: command and control, IFV, and ATGM carrier. The command and control version features a higher rear hull to accommodate staffs. The IFV version is armed with a turret that combines a 30mm cannon with a HJ-73C ATGM launcher. The dedicated ATGM carrier version is armed with the HJ-8 ATGM. The vehicle can be air-dropped from transport aircraft such as IL-76MD without a pallet. Each IL-76MD can carry up to three vehicles. The vehicle crews and passengers are dropped separately from the passenger hatches of the aircraft.
The vehicle has a large box-shape hull. The power pack is installed at the front right of the vehicle and the driver’s hatch at the front left, directly in front of the commander’s hatch which mounts an optical sight with night vision input. The single-man turret is located in the middle of vehicle, with the gunner’s hatch located on the roof of the turret. The troop compartment to accommodate four paratroopers is located behind the turret. A single exit door is located in the rear of the vehicle. There are six observation windows and firing ports (three on the left, two on the right, and one on the exit door), allowing the paratroopers to fire assault rifles and squad machine-guns from inside the vehicle while on the move. The vehicle has five unevenly spaced road wheels on each side, with three track support rollers, a front drive sprocket and a rear idler. The vehicle is possibly fully amphibious, propelled through water by its tracks. The suspension is of a hydro-pneumatic type and can be adjusted to suit the type of terrain being crossed. During the air dropping, the tracks of the vehicle was retracted to the minimum position to reduce the impact during landing. The vehicle is powered by a air-cooled diesel engine.
The main armament of the ZLC2000 is a 30mm cannon and a turret-mounted Red Arrow HJ-73C antitank guided missile (ATGM) launcher (with 3 spare missiles). This has a maximum range of 3,000 m and latest versions of the missile can be fitted with various types of warhead.This turret has already been marketed by NORINCO under the name of Red Arrow 73 Missile/30 mm Gun Combined Turret Weapon Module (GCTWM). The cannon has a full 360° traverse and 350 rounds of ready use. Ammunition includes High-Explosive (HE) and Armour-Piercing (AP) rounds carried in the turret. The gunner is equipped with a optical sight with thermal image channel for night combat. It is not known whether the gun is stabilised. Secondary weapon includes a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun. There are two sets of three-barrel smoke grenade on each side of the turret. The vehicle’s armour protection is limited by its weight restrictions for air dropping. With a combat weight of 8 tonnes, the vehicle’s armour is supposed to be thin and can only resist small calibre weapons.