A Brief History on the Development of Chinese Infantry Portable Transceivers (Part Three)

VI. Third Generation

In mid 70s, PLA gave requirements for third generation infantry radios. It has to be light weighted, easy to operate/channel based and reliable. A 10 W SSB device went into development first in mid-70 targeted replacing the Silicon 2 W. However, the development mat its difficulty in late 70’s since manufactory could not develop a reliable frequency syntheses device. A stop gap transceiver was introduced, crystal controlled version of 10W SSB transceiver (with an industry name of D2), in late 70s. This radio saw action in Sino-Vietnam boarder conflict in 80s, but never saw large scale deployment in the troops.

Finally, in mid 80, reliable frequency syntheses device was produced and 10W frequency syntheses SSB transceiver was sent to troop and also saw later stage of Sino-Vietnam border conflict in 80s. The former code name is TBR-130 and the industry name is D2A. The 10 Watt Frequency Syntheses SSB transceiver is designed to replace Silicon 2 Watt and in some cases 81 Compact transceivers in infantry units. A 15W scale up version, D2B, was introduced later to compete with BWT-133, but failed.

Later than that of 10 Watt Frequency Syntheses SSB, development of replacement radio of Type 81 Compact started in 1978, and a general purpose VHF FM radio was also requested in the same time. There were some arguments on whether or not to combine SSB and VHF into one machine. A decision was reached that three models would be developed at the same time. There are BWT133 15W SSB, BWT119 6W general purpose VHF radio, and TBR-122 dual mode radio with 15W SSB and 6W VHF. The development works finished in mid 80s and the military adopted the BWT-133 and BWT119, and TBR122 only saw limited deployment. The military code name for BWT-133 and BWT-119 are TBR-131 and TBR-120 accordingly.

TBR-131/BWT-133 is the major Division-Regiment level short ware SSB radio starting in 90s replacing all Type 81 Compact radios. BWT-119/TBR-120 is the first general purpose VHF radio replacing 884, 7 series and, in some cases, 861/862/7011 radios.

TBR-115 Company-Platoon level Compact VHF transceiver is a result of Sino-American technology transfer taken place in early 80s during so-called “Honeymoon” period. It is modeled after American AN/PRC-139 and is designed to equip battalion-company-platoon level commanding personal in infantry, artillery, airborne and marine units, replacing 861(A), 862(A), 823, 7011 transceivers and other similar radios. It also could communicate with 861, 823, 884, and other transceiver working within its frequency range. With the technology transfer, design work was started in mid 80s and the machine was certified in early 90s, likely in 1992. An all domestic components version was introduced later as TBR-116. TBR 115 and 116 have exactly the same externals but with redesigned circuit based on domestic produced microprocessor and other IC chips.

TBR-142 artillery communication system was developed in 90s and it contains three major devices, TBR-142(I) VHF transceiver, TBR-142(II) control device and TBR-142(IIID) multi-function field telephone. It is designed to replace 862 radio and equip the artillery front line observation post, individual artillery squad. It could achieve voice or date communicate wired or wireless between command center, observation posts and artillery units within 20Km.

TBR-001 is PLA’s first squad level transceiver developed in 90s. Before TBR-001, there are only receivers (804, 826 and etc) designed to equip in squad level. However, its relative short range (less than 1km) limits its deployment. An improved version TBR-001A was introduced later in 90s with additional feature like speaks, however, it still did not get large scale deployment.

870 paratrooper’s radio series was developed in late 90 to replace 823 radio and 826 receiver. The series contains 870 paratrooper’s transceiver, 871 receiver, 872 signal transmitter and 873 direction locator. An improved series was introduced in late 90s. The 872 signal transmitter is a small device. Once turn on, it transmits a coded signal until it is turned off. It could not only be used by the leaders to gather their troops but also could be used to locate the heavy equipments dropped separately. The 873 direction locator is a small handhold device to locate the 872 transmitter. The 871 receiver equips every paratrooper, and it is a two-piece device mounted on paratrooper’s helmet.

In 80s and 90s, we saw large number (in term of different models) of radio equipments coming out of Chinese electronic industry; however, few was adopted by the military. You could see some fancy toys in newspaper and magazine, but most of them are just in trial. In this period, 10 W SSB, BWT133/TBR131, BWT-119/TBR-120, and TBR-115 are the mainstream man-pack radios in PLA infantry.

VII. Beyond

When history turned away from 80s, it marked the beginning of a new era. We saw a series of incidents. The 89 incident marked the end of military operation between China and the West. The technical assistant from the West is stopped and Russian technology started to flow in, however, in term of field portable wireless technology, Russian is not ahead of China too much. China is on herself once again. The Gulf War in 1990 really shocked the leadership of Chinese military and China Started to emphasize on technology. The US bombing on Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 made Chinese leadership realized that an armed conflict with US is not unlikely. Money started to pour into military R&D after the bombing. Some of the R&D institutes and manufactories started 611 work schedules (6 days a week, 11 hours per day). The result of it started to show up recently.

TBR-121 VHF transceiver, TBR-133 5W and TBR-134 20W SSB transceiver appeared around 2000, they replace BWT-119/TBR-120, TBR-130 and BWT-133/TBR-131 series accordingly. They are characterized by full digital data, self-adaptive control (including automatic antenna tuner) and frequency agile. In 2004, TBR-121C won a national award for its break though in wireless communication technology. It was reported that it had IP based wireless networking capabilities and is on par with US SINCGARS ASIP.

After 60 years, China is finally catching up with the world in term of field tactical portable transceiver. In recent years, the development scale of Chinese military technology is unseen in history, driven by military press from the US and backed by economic and technology boom. Don’t be surprise that there will be more and more new fancy toys coming out of Chinese military manufactories in the near future