November 29, 2017
By David Fortier
It's clear today that nationalism is on the rise in China. Until recently, China's economy was booming, fueled in large part by American dollars. The ponderous People's Liberation Army, after carefully watching the 1991 Gulf War, has been cut back in size, modernized and is currently being reequipped.
Today it's a much more professional and capable force compared to 15 years ago. The poorly equipped peasant charging in mass wave attacks is now something for the history books. Reading contemporary works by Chinese authors shows the young Chinese men and women serving in the PLA to be both highly motivated and fiercely proud of their country. They relish the fact that their grandfathers fought the best American Army and Marine units to a standstill in Korea. They know China is an emerging power, and they are eager to see what the future holds.
It's also obvious that young Chinese infantrymen are extremely proud to be carrying domestically designed and produced rifles. Rather than the cast-offs supplied by a foreign power, Chinese troops are now being reequipped with the new Type 95 or QBZ-95 (Qngwuqi BÃ¹qia¯ng — ZÃ¬dÃ²ng, 1995 or Light Rifle, Automatic, 1995). This is not just a rifle, but rather a piece in an entire small arms complex. A modern family of bullpup rifles, it consists of an assault rifle, compact assault rifle and squad automatic. Also included, but of a different design, is a sniper rifle (QBU88) and GPMG (QBZ88). Perhaps of the greatest interest is the fact that all these rifles, including the GPMG, are chambered for a domestically designed 5.8x42mm cartridge. By adopting a modern domestic small arms complex chambering a Chinese cartridge, the PLA has both taken a dramatic step of independence and demonstrated its technical expertise.
First seen by the West in 1997, the Type 95 is a dramatic departure from the older 7.62x39mm Type 81. Thanks to its bullpup design, it's very short and handy, despite an 18.2-inch-long cold-hammer-forged barrel. Housed inside a synthetic shell is a short-stroke gas-operated action. A three-lug rotating bolt rides inside a conventional bolt carrier. The main features of this new rifle are the extensive use of high-tensile aluminum and modern high-impact synthetic materials coupled with improved human engineering. The rear sight is mounted on a carry handle, which also incorporates a proprietary optics rail. Housed inside the carry handle is an ambidextrous charging handle. Feed is from 30-round synthetic magazines.
Examining the design, one notes it emphasizes keeping as close as possible the distance between:
- The center of gravity of the whole rifle and the center of gravity of the axis of the barrel,
- The center of gravity of the bolt assembly and the axis of the gas piston,
- The center of gravity of the barrel and the axis of the gas tube, and
- The center of gravity of the bolt carrier and the center of gravity of the whole rifle.
It is also interesting to note the Chinese claim a reliability rate equal to that of Kalashnikov's AK47/AKM/AK74 series. Accessories for the Type 95 include:
- Magnified and unmagnified day optics with quick-detachable mounts,
- Night vision and thermal sights with quick-detachable mount,
- Quick-detachable 35mm grenade launcher that mounts to the fore-end, and a
- Multipurpose bayonet that can be used as a bayonet, field knife, wire cutter or dagger.
Bullpups are hardly new, but what sets apart this design is the cartridge it chambers. Replacing the aging Soviet-designed 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge is a modern smallbore 5.8x42mm design unique to China. The original ball loading developed for the Type 95 is designated the DBP87. According to Chinese engineers, this high-velocity cartridge was developed from the ground up as an armor-piercing load intended to defeat body armor. It's topped with a .236-inch 64-grain FMJ-BT projectile with a 22.6-grain armor-piercing core. The core is manufactured from hardened steel. Previous 7.62x39mm M43 ammunition featured a mild steel core. The 24.2mm-long projectile is loaded into a copper-washed steel case. Overall cartridge length is 58mm, and case length is 42.2mm. In profile, the 5.8x42mm DBP87 cartridge somewhat resembles the Russian 5.45x39mm M74. It sports a similar sharp case taper to aid feeding and extraction. However, the 5.8x42mm's case neck is shorter. Muzzle velocity from the Type 95's 18.2-inch barrel is 3,050 fps. It clocks 3,182 fps out of the Type 95 Squad Automatic's longer 21.9-inch barrel. What is most impressive about this cartridge is its penetration. The PLA claims this load will penetrate a 10mm hardened-steel plate 100 percent of the time at 310 meters and a 3½mm hardened-steel plate at 700 meters. Since its adoption, the Type 95 has become standard issue and seen service with Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti, security forces in Iraq and anti-piracy forces.
The Type 95 has been in widespread service long enough now for the People's Liberation Army to have formed an opinion on it and its cartridge. On the positive side, the rifle is relatively short and handy at just 29.3 inches long and weighing but 7.1 pounds. It balances well and is quick handling, especially in tight quarters. Reliability and accuracy are good, and the rifle itself is robust. But it is hardly perfect, and there have been vocal complaints about some of its shortcomings. One complaint from Chinese troops centered on annoying fumes and unburnt powder particles ejected in close proximity to the shooter's face. The use of low-quality powder made the fume problem especially bad. The Chinese solution to this was to introduce a new load, the DBP-95. This is loaded with a cleaner-burning powder. In addition, the Chinese also took this opportunity to switch to a non-corrosive primer. It is believed that production of DBP87 ammunition has ceased, although it will remain in service until existing stocks are depleted. Technically, it has been replaced in Chinese service by the DBP-95.
Complaints regarding the rifle itself generally revolve around the rifle's poor human engineering. The lead designer of this system, Duo Yingxian, called out of retirement to head the project in 1992, has stated bluntly that his team was under a strict 2½-year timeline (plus two years of field testing) to complete the design. He has said the rifle could have been much improved if he had been given more time. It should be noted, however, that the resources available to him were, in his words, "unlimited." He also stated that the rifle had to be designed around the relatively poor-quality materials available and the inferior workmanship displayed by Chinese factory workers as compared to the West.
Due to the PLA's time constraints, the rifle has an extremely poorly placed selector lever. "Poorly placed" actually does not do justice to the Type 95's selector. A Kalashnikov has a poorly placed selector. It would be hard to design a selector that was worse than what is mounted on the Type 95. It is placed on the left side of the butt, far out of reach. This severely handicaps PLA troops from quickly bringing their rifles into action. The soldier's solution is, of course, to simply leave the selector on either Semi or Auto with an empty chamber. Then, on contact, he simply runs the charging handle, which is much easier to reach. This is far from ideal.
In addition, there have been complaints concerning the Type 95's trigger pull. This is not unusual when it comes to bullpup-type rifles in general. Soldiers say it has a less than ideal spongy feel. There have also been complaints concerning the rifle's very short sight radius. This makes hitting at extended ranges with iron sights more difficult. Plus there have been com plaints concerning the optical rail not always being machined within spec. Basic QC issues are not unheard of.
Due to these issues, the People's Liberation Army recently undertook to further refine and improve the Type 95. Now, please understand that obtaining reliable data on new Chinese small arms is very difficult. Information is very hard to come by. However, my interest was piqued, so with the help of Timothy Yan I set out to learn what the Chinese are up to. Over many months the two of us pieced together the following information on the Type 95 modernization program.
The lead designer of the Type 95 program, who is now retired, has stated that his best students are responsible for updating his design. Known goals for the program were to:
- Improve the rifle's ergonomics/controls,
- Chamber it for new ammunition with double the effective range, and
- Add a quick-firing grenade launcher.
What follows is a first look at the new model, designated the Type 95G. Visually, it incorporates a variety of minute changes. The most obvious is the addition of a selector lever above the pistol grip. Now PLA troops finally have a combat rifle with a well-placed and easy-to-manipulate selector. This will undoubtedly prove very popular with the troops. Another obvious change is the deletion of the forward grip. Other changes are not so obvious. The upper handguard now has five cooling slots rather than the previous model's six. The grooves in the fore-end are much deeper to provide a more secure purchase than the previous model's. The multiposition gas regulator has been redesigned to make it easier to adjust in the field. A bullet tip can now be utilized as a tool to adjust a heavily fouled or rusted regulator. The front sight assembly has also been changed. The traditional Kalashnikov method for adjusting windage on the front sight has been done away with. Somewhat surprising is the addition of very short Picatinny rails on the front sight block. This allows modern accessories to be easily mounted onto this model. Initial reports, still unconfirmed, lead us to believe the relatively light barrel has been replaced with one featuring a heavier profile. The action has also been redesigned for the new ammunition.
The big mystery is what load it will chamber. You have to understand that it's the cartridge, not the rifle, that is of the greatest significance. While I am impressed by the Type 95G, it's the 5.8x42mm cartridge that sets it apart. When the cartridge was first introduced, the PLA claimed it had finally found the holy grail of infantry cartridges. By this I mean it claimed to have developed and fielded a truly universal cartridge, a cartridge capable of not only being used in an assault rifle, but also in a sniper rifle and GPMG. The truth is less impressive. The standard DBP87 offers little over our own 5.56x45mm M855 ball round. Plus its 5.8x42mm DVP88 Heavy Ball load is only suitable for use in the QJY-88 GPMG, and, of course, dedicated match-grade ammunition is required for use in the QBU-88 sniper rifle. With the fielding of a new load for the Type 95G, it is apparent the original DBP87/95 never lived up to the PLA's claims or requirements. Think about it this way: If the DBP87/95 loading performed as well as initially claimed, the country would not have undertaken such a large-scale redesign of the platform. So it obviously fell short.
The question then becomes, What is it being replaced by? The simplest solution to improving the rifle's performance would be to retire the standard 64-grain 5.8x42mm DBP87/95 loadings in favor of the 74-grain DVP-88 Heavy Ball loading. The DVP-88 is a higher-pressure armor-piercing load developed for both the QBU-88 sniper rifle and QJY-88 GPMG. The Chinese list an effective range of 800 meters for the QBU-88 and 1,000 meters for the QJY-88. This would seem to be the easiest solution to the People's Liberation Army's cartridge problem.
Switching to the DVP-88 Heavy Ball loading would also provide an increase in penetration. The latest Chinese ammunition designs have been placing a great deal of emphasis on penetrating modern body armor. As to be expected, the DVP-88 is an armor-piercing load as well with a hardened-steel core. However, the core design is an improvement on the lighter DBP87/95's and offers a step up in performance.
Examining a Heavy Ball round produced at Factory 945 in 2005 showed it to be loaded using a copper-washed steel case with a Berdan primer. Seated into the case was a FMJ-BT projectile with a copper-washed steel jacket. No color code is utilized. Pulling a round and measuring the projectile, I noted it to be .235 inch (5.99mm) in diameter and 26.1mm long. The projectile does not have a cannelure.
Sectioning one projectile revealed a .6mm-thick steel jacket covering a lead liner surrounding a forged-steel core with a sharp, pointed nose and a lead plug in the base. The 20.27mm-long hardened-steel core is produced from a carbon/chrome alloy and has a weight of approximately 26 grains. Design-wise, this projectile is quite different from the standard DBP87 ball round regarding both the shape and location of the steel penetrator. The PLA claims this load will penetrate a 3mm-thick A3 steel plate at 1,000 meters. If this claim is true, it would indicate that this load outperforms the PLA's older 7.62x54R Type 53 round regarding steel-plate penetration. Penetration of this load would be impressive compared to 5.56x45mm NATO ball or 5.45x39mm 7N6 ball load. However, terminal performance remains a mystery.
At this time, unconfirmed information indicates that the new loading consists of a 70ish-grain projectile running at 2,913 fps. If this is true, perhaps Yan and I are correct in our hypothesis. Unfortunately, we have no more information at this time. Regarding the grenade launcher requirement, one mock-up observed was magazine fed and manually operated. Bore diameter was approximately 25mm. However, further details are currently unknown. The PLA's redesign of its combat rifle is very interesting. China is one country we'll want to keep an eye on.
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