PLA infantry flamethrowers: obsolete but modern

Soviet LPO-50 – later the same Type 58 appeared. Photo War-time.ru

By now, the leading armies of the world have recognized the jet flamethrower as hopelessly obsolete and abandoned it. The exception is the People’s Liberation Army of China, which still has such systems in service. However, these samples are of considerable age, and no replacement is being created for them.

Soviet aid

It is known that the first Chinese flamethrower-incendiary systems appeared in the 10th century AD. and then used for several centuries. However, then such a weapon was forgotten, and the revival of this class took place only at the end of the fifties of the XX century.

During that period, the USSR was actively sharing with the young PRC finished military products and technologies for their production. Among other things, light and heavy infantry flamethrowers LPO-50 and TPO-50, as well as documentation for their release, went to China. These deliveries predetermined the development of Chinese flamethrower weapons for several decades to come – right up to our time.


Heavy TPO-50. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Soviet aid provided for the supply of several thousand finished products of two types. In addition, the Chinese industry was able to master their independent production, and by the beginning of the sixties, two flamethrowers with the general name “Type 58” appeared in service with the PLA. Soon, relations between the two countries deteriorated, as a result of which the supply of imported weapons stopped. However, China already had the opportunity to independently support its army.

First samples

The LPO-50 light infantry flamethrower and its Chinese version “Type 58” were a knapsack-type system designed to engage manpower in open areas or in shelters. The flamethrower appeared in the early fifties and by the middle of the decade had taken its place in the troops; a little later he went to China.

LPO-50 included a knapsack unit with three cylinders for fire mixture and a trigger in the form of a “gun” with a bipod. The flamethrower had three cylinders with a capacity of 3.3 liters, each of which was equipped with its own pressure accumulator pyro cartridge and was connected to a common pipe system. When the trigger was pulled, the electrical system ignited the cartridge, and it released gases that pushed the fire mixture through the pipes and the trigger. For ignition, there were three separate squibs in the muzzle of the “gun”.


Experienced flamethrower tank using Type 58 barrels. Photo Reddit.com

A flamethrower with a curb weight of 23 kg could make three shots lasting 2-3 seconds. The range of flamethrowing, depending on the type of mixture, is 20-70 m. After the three cylinders were used up, it was necessary to reload with the filling of the fire mixture and the installation of new cartridges.

Heavy TPO-50 was a towed high-explosive system. Three identical barrels were fixed on a common gun carriage, each of which was made in the form of a balloon with a head equipped with the necessary devices. A powder chamber was attached to the head, in which the charge was burned with the formation of gases. The gases got inside the cylinder and acted on the piston, which pushed the fire mixture through the siphon to the hose.

The mass of the combat-ready TPO-50 was 165 kg, which excluded carrying. It was proposed to move the flamethrower using a tractor or rolling by the forces of calculation. When firing with direct fire, the flamethrowing range reached 140 m, with a mounted one – up to 200 m. During the shot, the barrel completely consumed its charge, and without reloading the flamethrower could fire only three shots.

Chinese modifications

As far as is known, the Chinese military appreciated the Soviet flamethrowers and introduced them widely enough in the infantry and engineering units. In addition, work began almost immediately to improve the designs and search for new options for their application.


A Type 74 flamethrower prepares to fire. Photo Slide.mil.news.sina.com.cn

The bulk of such work concerned only the production of two Type 58 products. Technologies were improved and the design was optimized, incl. with some increase in basic characteristics. In parallel, fundamentally new projects were proposed. In particular, self-propelled versions of heavy TPO-50 were developed.

A well-known prototype of a flamethrower tank based on the T-34, located in one of the Chinese museums. Two swinging armored boxes are installed on the sides of the turret of this vehicle, each of which can hold six barrels from TPO-50 / “Type 58”. Horizontal guidance was carried out by turning the turret, the vertical drive was organized using a cannon. However, this version of the use of a flamethrower did not reach the series and mass use in the army.

New generation

Light flamethrowers “Type 58” / LPO-50 were actively used by the PLA until the beginning of the seventies, when it was decided to replace them. It was proposed to carry out a deep modernization of the existing model, improving its operational and combat characteristics, as well as using modern technologies. The work was completed in 1974, as a result of which the flamethrower entered service under the designation “Type 74”.


Flamethrowing process. Photo Slide.mil.news.sina.com.cn

In terms of overall architecture, operating principles, etc. “Type 74” is most similar to the previous “Type 58”. The most noticeable external difference is the other means of storing the fire mixture. The number of cylinders was reduced to two, but their volume increased slightly. This improved ergonomics and increased jet mass, but reduced the number of shots. The launcher lost one of the ignition cartridges and underwent several other changes. The chemical industry has developed new gasoline-based fire mixtures. Modern additives and thickeners have made it possible to improve the parameters of the range and quality of flamethrowing.

“Type 74” has two cylinders with a capacity of approx. 4 liters each and can make shots lasting up to 3-4 seconds. The total weight of the product is 20 kg. Simplified and accelerated reloading with liquid filling and installation of new squibs.

Obsolete and modern

The PLA actively used several types of flamethrowers in infantry and engineering units. Such weapons were intended to defeat enemy manpower in open areas and inside various structures. In general, the Chinese tactics of using infantry flamethrowers were based on Soviet developments and did not undergo any significant changes in the future.


Dual flame throwing. Photo 81.cn

Until a certain time, “Type 58” and “Type 74” were used only on training grounds and in exercises. The first episodes of their real combat use date back to the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Probably, the results of these events led to conclusions that influenced the further use of infantry flame-throwing incendiary weapons.

According to various sources, it was during that period that two Type 58 products began to be removed from service. The light flamethrower based on LPO-50 was replaced with the modernized Type 74, and the heavy TPO-50 / Type 58 was not replaced – this class of weapons was abandoned. As a result, only one model of a jet flamethrower remained in service with the PLA ground forces.

In the early eighties, the People’s Armed Militia of China (internal troops) was formed, whose task was to protect important objects in the country. The NVMK received a variety of infantry weapons, incl. backpack jet flamethrowers.

Clear perspectives

Oddly enough, “Type 74” remains in service to this day. Such systems are used in the PLA engineer troops and in the NVMK units, and the training of flamethrower fighters is still underway. From time to time, the press services of the security forces publish photographs and videos of training events, and they always attract attention. Particular interest in such materials is shown in foreign countries, where jet flamethrowers have long been abandoned.


Checking the hardware. Photo Slide.mil.news.sina.com.cn

According to known data, to date, only one type of jet flamethrower has remained in service with China. Other developments of this class were either considered obsolete and removed from service, or did not reach the series. Over time, the tactics of the army and internal troops change, and the place of flamethrowers in them is reduced.

It can be assumed that in the foreseeable future, Type 74 products will follow their predecessors and will also be removed from service due to moral and physical obsolescence. Apparently, a replacement for them is not being created – because there is no need.

However, the timing of the complete abandonment of the “Type 74” remains unknown. And therefore, China is the last developed country, which is armed with jet flamethrowers.

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