PLA Infantry Weapons: Small Arms of the World’s Largest Army
ABOVE: These company-level PF98 120mm rocket launchers have just a basic optical sight system. Note the basic tripod dropped to its lowest position.
In a previous article published in SADJ, we examined the QBZ95 (Type 95) assault rifle used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China. In this issue we expand our remit to look at a wider range of standard small arms used by infantry units in China’s enormous military. As before, the photos and much of the technical data derive from the Hong Kong Garrison of the PLA.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) returned to China’s bosom on 1 July 1997. The HK Garrison is a force of carefully selected PLA personnel; somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers strong. Strategically, it may not be a large garrison for the PLA, but it does represent a politically symbolic force for the Chinese government. Thus, the force is often among the vanguard to field new weapon systems.
We will examine a total of nine different weapons operated by the HK Garrison, and of course these are representative of what are used by the wider PLA. The weapons have been arranged in general order of size. We would also point out that the nomenclature used here is that favored by the PLA itself. Whereas many Western sources add hyphens in weapon designations, the PLA does not do so (e.g. QLZ87 rather than QLZ-87).
The QSZ92, a product of Norinco, has been the standard semiautomatic pistol used by the PLA since it was introduced in the late 1990s. It is believed development commenced around 1994. Of conventional design with some idiosyncrasies, it can be chambered in either 9x19mm Parabellum or 5.8x21mm caliber (referred to as the QSZ92-9 and QSZ92-5.8 respectively). The frame is made of polymer and it is recoil-operated and has a locked breech. The barrel rotates upon recoil to lock and unlock itself from the slide using two rows of split locking lugs.
A total of 15 9mm rounds, or 20 rounds of 5.8mm ammunition, are dual-stacked in the magazine. The pistol employs a double-action trigger mechanism and a three-dot fixed sight. A laser light or flashlight can be fitted on an integral rail underneath the barrel.
The PLA’s preferred caliber for soldiers (e.g. special forces) is 9mm, while commanders and officers are issued the 5.8mm-caliber version. The handgun is also commonly used by police forces in China. The QSZ92 has been adopted by the militaries of Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Barrel length:111 mm
Magazine:15 rounds (for 9mm)
Muzzle velocity:350 m/s
Effective range:50 m
QCW05 5.8mm Submachine Gun
The QCW05 (its name Weisheng Chongfeng Qiang literally means ‘Silenced Assault Gun’) is a 5.8x21mm-caliber submachine gun that joined PLA service after winning a competition to replace Type 79 and 85 silenced submachine guns in 2001. Although it bears some familial resemblance to the standard QBZ95 assault rifle, it was jointly developed by the 208 Research Institute and Jianshe Industries (Group) Corporation in Chongqing. The latter is part of China South Industries Group, and the QCW05 was officially unveiled at the International Police Equipment Expo in Beijing in 2005.
The QCW05 of bullpup configuration operates on the blowback principle, firing from an open bolt. It is said to possess easy construction characteristics, and polymers are used for elements such as the shoulder stock and pistol grip. The weapon can fire in single, 3-round-burst or fully automatic modes. The gun is fed from a four-row box magazine that holds 50 rounds. Like the Type 95 rifle, spent cases eject only from the right side, meaning it is not advisable to fire left-handed. It has a deliberately low rate of fire to aid controllability. It has a flip-up rear sight.
The PLA fires 5.8x21mm cartridges with the QCW05, and it is typically issued to non-combat personnel such as vehicle crews and aircrews. Its compact size makes it easy to use in cramped environments like vehicle interiors. Of course, it is also intended for Special Forces use, hence the detachable silencer that can be fitted. The 5.8x21mm DCV05 subsonic round is available when the silencer is employed.
When chambered in 9mm caliber, it is known as the JS, and it is commonly used by the People’s Armed Police (PAP). The JS has a lower-capacity 30-round magazine owing to the larger 9mm rounds. The QCQ05 is a version without a suppressor.
Barrel length:250 mm
Muzzle velocity:150 m/s (w/ silencer)
Effective range:50 m (silencer fitted)
QBU88 5.8mm Sniper Rifle
The QBU88 (or Type 88) is more of a designated marksman rifle than a true sniper rifle, and it is perfectly capable of providing aimed semiautomatic fire at longer ranges. This is a significant weapon since it was the first of a new generation of Chinese weapons to use the proprietary 5.8x42mm caliber. As indicated by its Type 88 designation, it was adopted by the PLA sometime in the late 1980s or thereafter.
The gas-operated QBU88 fires a heavier 5.8x42mm round, although it can still shoot the regular 5.8mm cartridge used with the Type 95 assault rifle. The short-stroke gas piston is located above the barrel, and it utilizes a three-lug rotating bolt. Diopter-type adjustable iron sights are standard, but typically it is fitted with a 4x magnification scope. A night sight is also available, which can be fitted on a short rail.
This weapon is used by both the PLA and police in China. Generally it is used in conjunction with a detachable bipod.
Barrel length:620 mm
Effective range:800 m
QJY88 5.8mm Machine Gun
The Type 88 is a 5.8x42mm general-purpose machine gun that replaced the incumbent Type 67. It has an integral bipod or it can be mounted on a lightweight tripod for sustained fire. A standard crew in such a role comprises two soldiers.
Despite its name incorporating the digits 88, it seems the weapon only entered PLA service earlier this millennium. This light machine gun from the Norinco stable is reportedly not so popular among troops because it lacks the range and lethality of its predecessor. Although lighter than the Type 67 machine gun, it is still considerably heavier than foreign counterparts such as the FN Minimi.
The QJY88 is air-cooled and gas-operated with a long-stroke gas piston, and the barrel can be quickly detached. The weapon is fed from a 200-round disintegrating steel belt contained in a plastic box mounted on the left. The standard round is 5.8x42mm.
Weight:11.8 kg (16 kg w/ tripod)
Barrel length:600 mm
Muzzle velocity:895 m/s
Effective range:800 m
QJZ89 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun
The QJZ89 is the Chinese equivalent of the M2 .50 cal. machine gun commonly used in the West. This crew-served weapon offers sustained fire support for ground troops and it can also be mounted on light vehicles (the Dongfeng EQ2050 4×4, for example). As well as attacking lightly protected targets and lightly armored vehicles, it could be used in the antiaircraft role too. A standard weapon crew is three men, and it is fielded at both the battalion and company levels within the PLA.
The air-cooled Type 89 uses a gas-/recoil-operated action. The machine gun is typically mounted on a tripod and the QJZ89 is fed from a 50-round belt contained in a box mounted on the left. The detachable barrel can be quickly changed, while the muzzle brake is particularly large. Its first public appearance was with the Hong Kong Garrison in 1997.
This heavy machine gun usually features an optical sight for improved long-range accuracy, but a night vision sight can also be mounted. Its rate of fire is 450-600 rounds per minute, and it fires a 12.7x108mm round (armor-piercing, high explosive and incendiary are available). The gunner operates the weapon by holding a pistol grip with rifle-type trigger, supported by a tubular shoulder stock.
Weight:17.5 kg (26 kg w/ tripod)
Barrel length:1,002 mm
Muzzle velocity:825 m/s
Effective range:1,500 m
QLZ87 35mm Automatic Grenade Launcher
This automatic grenade launcher (AGL) of 35mm caliber was developed by Norinco in the late 1980s, building upon studies of the Russian AGS-17 and development of the W87 export type. Issued in the mid-1990s, it is notable for being the first such weapon to enter PLA service as standard issue. It is issued at the platoon and company level to give direct fire support to infantry.
Great effort was invested into making the weapon as light as possible, which explains why a locked-breech action was chosen. The QLZ87 can be operated in two ways: as a standard 12 kg type with bipod fired by a single soldier and with a range of 600 m; or a 20 kg tripod-mounted heavy version served by three crewmen and with a 1,750 m maximum range. The tripod allows 360º traverse and an elevation range from -10º to 70º, which thus gives it a theoretical capability against low-flying aircraft. It is gas-operated (direct impingement) and air-cooled. A 3x optical sight is fitted as standard. The QLZ87 can also be fitted on vehicles and helicopters to give them a degree of firepower.
The AGL fires a range of 35x32mm rounds, including high explosive (HE), high explosive anti-tank (HEAT), incendiary and smoke grenades in either single or burst mode. Its sustained rate of fire is 45 rounds per minute. The grenades can be loaded in either a 6-round or 15-round drum magazine underneath the weapon instead of a more complicated belt feed. The 35mm grenades, weighing 250 g each, have a better blast radius performance (claimed 10 m kill radius) and armor penetration capacity (up to 80 mm) than 40mm grenades of the American Mk 19 AGL.
An unusual feature is the position of the pistol grip that extends laterally from the right side alongside the trigger and safety/fire selector. Its rate of fire, especially when using the light version, must make accurate shooting difficult. Another problem is the very low drum magazine capacity. The PLA obviously opted for maneuverability instead of firepower with this AGL. As the first generation adopted by the PLA, the QLZ87 apparently had some teething problems, and this would explain why the belt-fed QLZ04 AGL was later fielded.
Weight:20 kg (heavy variant)
Magazine:6 or 15 rounds
Muzzle velocity:200 m/s
Effective range:1,750 m
QLT89 50mm Grenade Launcher
This is a handheld grenade launcher of 50mm caliber (i.e. it has no bipod), with the design being finalized in the early 1990s. It weighs just 3.8 kg and is capable of lobbing a round out to 800 m to produce a suppressive-fire effect. Components include the tube assembly, seat assembly, trigger assembly and strap. A simple flip-out sight at the end of the tube helps with basic aiming.
The PLA highlights the QLT89’s lightness and ease of handling, as well as the fact that it does not produce smoke or flash, and makes minimal sound, when fired. It is utilized by platoons and companies within the PLA. The main round is a 50mm anti-personnel grenade that produces 800 fragments in a 16 m-radius kill zone. The grenade weighs 700 g and is 330 mm long. Smoke, incendiary and illumination grenades are also available for the QLT89. An improved QLT89A has since been developed.
Effective range:800 m
PP87 82mm Mortar
This is a larger crew-served mortar produced by Norinco. The medium-caliber Type 87 replaced the older Type 67 and it is widely used at the battalion level. The PP87 can fire three types of round – HE, smoke and illumination.
Effective range:120 m – 4,660 m
PF98 120mm Rocket Launcher
The final weapon we are presenting is the PF98 anti-tank rocket launcher from Norinco, which succeeded outdated Type 78 and 65 recoilless rifles. Development of this more modern anti-tank weapon commenced in the 1990s, resulting in the PF98, and it fills the gap between individual rocket launchers and more sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). The PF98 fires 120mm rockets designed to destroy enemy tanks, armored vehicles, bunkers and fortifications.
This weapon was first seen in the Macao Garrison of the PLA in 1999, but the PLA now widely fields the rocket launcher at battalion and company levels. It can fire either a 120mm HE multipurpose or HEAT round, with the PLA claiming an 800 mm penetration capability for the latter. This 6.3 kg HEAT round has a tandem warhead and an electronically controlled timer fuse. The 7.5 kg HE round, meanwhile, contains 120 steel balls and incendiary material that can pierce 400 mm of armor.
The PF98 exists in two versions – one with a basic fire control unit with optical sight (with night vision channel), laser rangefinder, fire control computer and LED display (referred to as the battalion-level PF98); and the other with a simpler 4x optical sight with night vision channel (known as the company-level PF98). The former version offers a much better chance of a hit since the system makes ballistic calculations for the gunner.
In 2010, the Hong Kong Garrison displayed a newer version called the PF98A. The most obvious difference is a modified fire control unit that offers enhanced accuracy and fewer buttons to press (25 keys reduced to about 12). The sight is improved & a new rocket was developed in 2006 too. The PLA gives the PF98A’s length as 1.25 m, which reflects the altered and lighter launch tube (now approximately 7 kg in weight).
The one- or two-man crew can fire the PF98 from a tripod (with -6º to +30º elevation range, and 360º traverse) or from the shoulder. Reaction time from target acquisition to firing for the original PF98 is 10 seconds, and between four and six rounds can be fired per minute. The older fiberglass reusable tube launcher weighs approximately 10 kg. Bangladesh, Indonesia and Zimbabwe have also acquired the PF98 system.