The Al-Khalid tanks are the front-line main battle tanks of the Pakistan Army. The design of the Al-Khalid consists of three main aspects: protection, mobility, and firepower.
The development of the Al- Khalid started when China and Pakistan signed a joint development deal in January of 1990. With this deal, Chinese tank prototypes were to be tested in Pakistan and later exported to the Middle East. A reason China was interested in this deal was developing high-performance cooling and air filtering systems that could not be tested properly in mainland China. Testing of tanks began in 1991, while Pakistan finished its first tank production plant in late 1992, known as the Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). On July 17, 1991, Al-Khalid was revealed by then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, and then Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, Mirza Aslam Beg. Over the next nine years, many prototypes were developed and tested by the joint development with China, under the supervision of Lt. Gen. Hamid Javaid and Major General Muhammad Asad.
The future Al-Khalid tanks were planned for production in 1999. The first batch consisting of 15 was tested in an active unit in 2001. In 2004, a second batch was delivered, and the production was scaled up for the planned delivery of 600 tanks within the span of fifteen or more years. Many countries tested it, and some purchased it as the MBT-2000, which was the export name.
The Al-Khalid’s basic hull is made of high hardened steel plates for protection. The sides consist of composite armor modules, but most are found on the turret. To add on, the crew protection is done by a collective NBC system with overpressure, an internal fire extinguisher, and an explosion-suppression system. External protection includes smoke dischargers, Chaff, or antipersonnel grenades.
The tank has a laser warning system on a 360° traverse mast-mounted sensor. Laser detection is not only to trigger warnings but to automatically activate countermeasures depending on the distance. It is completed by the early Laser Threat Sensor and could differentiate laser signals in a 10 km radius. For mobility, the Al Khalid has a 6TD-2 liquid-cooled diesel engine that was designed by the Kharkiv Morozov Design Bureau in Ukraine (KMDB). The engine power is 1,200 horsepower (hp), which results in a top road speed of 70 km/h for around 430 km. Its power-to-weight ratio is 26.66 hp/tonne, and it can transduce itself in accelerations from 0 to 32 km/h in 10 seconds. There are carbon friction brakes, a secondary speed-retarding system, and a manual backup system.
The main armament of the Al-Khalid relies on a 125 mm Smoothbore gun which can fire various types of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds, high explosive rounds, and even guided missiles to great velocities.
In July 2020, the Pakistan Army officially inducted into service its first batch of Al-Khalid-I MBTs. Compared with the first units which entered service, the upgrade is comprehensive and appears to be angled at making the design competitive with the Indian Army’s fleet of T-90S MBTs. These tanks are comparable to NATO standard tanks and exhibit some outstanding capabilities including mobility, speed, bi-axis gun stabilization of the control system, and use of the smoke screen to mask movement.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony of Al Khalid-1 to Armoured Corps Regiment in July 2020, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa stated that “our defence preparation and operational readiness is to ensure peace within and peace without.” Al-Khalid tanks are not only a great example of Pakistan’s self-reliance, but it also testifies the strength of the Pakistan-China friendship.