China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) developed the WMZ 551 6x6 amphibious armoured personnel carrier (ARC) in the 1980s to meet the operational requirements of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
In the past the PLA has used only full-tracked APCs. However, it has now started to deploy the WMZ 551 -series wheeled vehicle, which has much greater strategic mobility than its tracked counterparts.
In many respects, the WMZ 551 series of wheeled vehicles is like the French Renault Vehicule de I'Avant Blinde (VAB) 6x6 APC. The Chinese vehicle is very similar in layout: the commander and driver sit at the front and the power pack is to the immediate rear. This leaves all of the back of the vehicle clear for the troop compartment, which is provided with roof hatches and a large door in the hull rear.
The latest version is the WMZ 551 B, which is normally fitted with a one-person cupola armed with a 12.7mm machine gun and a bank of four electrically operated smoke grenade launchers either side. A wide range of turrets is also being marketed for installation on the WMZ 551 B, including those armed with a 25mm cannon.
Standard equipment includes powered steering, run-flat tyres, heavy-duty air-conditioning system, bulletproof windows and firing ports. It is fully amphibious: two water jets propel the vehicle through water at a maximum speed of 8km/h. Optional equipment includes a central tyre-inflation system and a power-operated winch.
A number of variants of the WMZ 551B have been developed or proposed, including an ambulance with a raised roof at the rear (WMZ 551JH), an armoured recovery vehicle (WMZ
551QJ), a command-post vehicle with raised roof at the back, a target-acquisition vehicle, a 120mm self-propelled mortar system and a 105mm turret-mounted assault gun. The PLA also deploys 4x4 vehicles on a similar chassis armed with anti-tank guided missiles.