October 27, 2010

PLA Makes Big Investments In Artillery

By Richard D. Fisher, Jr.
Alexandria, Va.(Avaition Week)
The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2010 report places China third in the number of artillery systems it fields, after Russia and North Korea. But China doubtless exceeds both in resource commitment and breadth of artillery investments. Credited with an estimated 17,700-plus towed, self-propelled and rocket systems, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has at least 56 artillery systems in use, development or available for export. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps, by contrast, have 8,137-plus artillery pieces of roughly 10 types.
China has had a mixed record of using artillery for military and political-military goals. Its successes, as when it routed Indian forces in 1962 with the high-altitude use of artillery and mortars, have been offset by incidents provoking third-party responses or leading to regional standoffs. Examples include the shelling of islands controlled by Taiwan in 1955-58, resulting in U.S. intervention and a stalemate over the Taiwan Strait. In July, a unit based in the Nanjing military region fired missiles from 300-mm. PHL-03 multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) into the Yellow Sea to show China’s anger at U.S. naval exercises with South Korea. The exercises, a result of China-backed North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonon in March, went ahead anyway.
China’s evolution as an artillery power stems from Soviet and Russian influences dating to the Korean War. Soviet artillery and training improved PLA artillery operations during the war and led to the formation of the first formal artillery command. Soviet aid continued through the 1950s, and by the time of the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, China was producing copies or modified versions of Soviet pieces.
The PLA makes extensive use of Soviet-origin 152-, 130- and 122-mm. calibers, though Western calibers such as the 155- and 105-mm. are seeing greater use.China purchased the Russian 9A52 Smerch 300-mm. MRL in the 1990s, and the PLA produced a near facsimile in the A-100/PHL-03 MRL. The 155-mm. PLZ-05 self-propelled artillery system that emerged in 2005 bears an uncanny resemblance to the Russian 2S19 MSTA.
In the 1990s, PLA artillery was affected by reforms in strategy (its closest concept to doctrine) and organization. Toward the end of the decade, the PLA was immersed in strategy goals of “informatization” and “mechanization.” The former included the broad application of improving information technologies, which for artillery included new computer-based fire controls and ever-improving digital communication and command linkages. PLA artillery units increasingly include fire-finding counter-battery radar such as the 50-km.-range (31-mi.) SLC-2 and Type 704, and use sophisticated electronic warfare systems such as the Russian SPR-2 radio fuse jammer, a possible Chinese facsimile and possibly a recently revealed artillery radar jammer. Artillery recon vehicles and recon troops feature advanced optronic and digital communication capabilities. In addition, PLA artillery units have sophisticated meteorological capabilities and use muzzle velocity radar to improve accuracy.
Mechanization put renewed emphasis on developing tracked and wheeled self-propelled tubed artillery, with rocket artillery largely truck-mounted. This trend was emphasized in late 2004 when Chinese Communist Party and PLA leader Hu Jintao enunciated the PLA’s new “historic missions,” a euphemism for invasions, which call on the PLA to defend state interests abroad. It is likely that new medium-weight artillery systems based on airmobile armored personnel carriers will follow for these strategic missions.
Organic PLA artillery units have decreased in size, following the pattern of general large-scale troop reductions. When combined with “informatization” advances, this will permit many infantry and armored divisions to be reformed into mechanized brigades. However, in a counter-trend that emphasizes their continued importance, the PLA maintains five independent artillery divisions and 20 independent brigades. Of these, two divisions and six brigades are stationed in the Shenyang and Beijing military regions, for potential Korean contingencies. Three divisions and eight brigades are in the Nanjing, Guangzhou and Jinan military regions, for Taiwan contingencies.
Among artillery systems, mortars include a 60-mm. hand-held system used by infantry and special forces. The new Type 93 60-mm. fixed mortar weighs 22.4 kg. (49.2 lb.) and fires 20 rounds/min. to 5.5 km. There are also fixed W91 and W87 81-mm. mortars that fire to 8 km. and 5.6 km., respectively. The PLA has largely copied Russia’s Vasiliyek 81-mm. automatic mortar, called the W99 or SM-4, which comes in a towed version or mounted in a Hummer-like vehicle. It fires four rounds in 2 sec. out to 6.2 km. The W86 120-mm. towed mortar weighs 206 kg. and fires 20 rounds/min. to 4.7 km.
In 2001, the PLA revealed the PLL-05 mobile mortar, based on the Russian 120-mm. 2S23 NONA-SVK that it purchased in the 1990s, but mounted on a WZ-551 6 X 6 armored personnel carrier (APC). It fires a rocket-assisted round 13.5 km. In 2007, the PLA revealed a laser-guided 120-mm. mortar round, though it is not clear if it is in service.
Towed and self-propelled tubed systems dominate artillery units. The largest number of towed guns are likely the 122-mm. versions. These include the Type-96, based on the Russian D-30, with a 360-deg. traversing base, and the simpler Type-83. Their rocket-assisted rounds have a 27-km. range. The Type‑59 130-mm. towed gun fires a rocket-assisted round 44 km. Of heavy towed artillery, the 152-mm. Type-66, a copy of the Russian D-20, is most numerous and fires rocket-assisted rounds 28 km. In 1999, the PLA revealed the 155‑mm. PLL01/WA 021 towed artillery system, based on the Austrian Noricum GH N-45, which fires a rocket-assisted round 50 km. The PLL01 and the Type‑66 fire 155- and 152-mm. versions of the Russian Krasnopol laser-guided shell.
Self-propelled tubed artillery includes the PLL02, which places the Type-86 100‑mm. gun on a WZ-551 APC. In 2009, the PLA revealed the new Type-07 122-mm. tracked artillery system, which features hull and electronic improvements over the previous Type-89 tracked 122-mm. system. In 2009, photographs appeared on the Internet of the SH-3, a truck-mounted 122-mm. artillery system with digital control systems in a hatch over the cab.
Heavy self-propelled systems include the 155-mm. PLZ-05, which has a version of the PLL01 gun, and appeared in 2005. It is replacing the 152-mm. Type‑83, which entered service in 1983. The PLZ-05 also fires the Krasnopol laser-guided projectile and a rocket-assisted round 50 km., and is capable of flat-trajectory antitank fire. Unconfirmed reports state the PLZ-05 has an automatic gun-loading system and weighs 35 tons.
PLA investments in rocket artillery are impressive. A five-wheel all-terrain vehicle has been modified to carry a 107‑mm. MRL for experimental mechanized special forces units. The tracked Type-89 and more recent Type-90 truck-mounted 122-mm. MRL feature self-contained 40-round rocket reloaders. In addition, the Smerch-derived 12-round PHL-03, which reportedly fires a 150-km.-range missile, is entering increasing numbers of artillery units. The latest AR1A export variant features a modular U.S. MLR system-style 5-round rocket carrier, which speeds reloading. In 2009, Norinco revealed an as yet unidentified truck carrier for this 5-round rocket box, similar to Lockheed Martin’s High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
The PLA is also investing in larger MRL systems. The 400-mm. WS-2D reportedly has a range of 400 km., and one payload features three “killer unmanned aerial vehicles,” according to a Chinese report. An earlier 200-km.-range version, the WS-3, uses navigation satellite guidance to achieve a remarkable 50-meter (164-ft.) circular error probable. The WS family complements the 150-km.-range P-12 and 250-km. B-611M maneuverable navsat-guided short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which could supplement or replace the PLA’s two brigades of 300‑600-km. DF-11A SRBMs.
New artillery systems are entering amphibious and airborne units for possible missions abroad. PLA marine and army amphibious units are receiving the Type‑07B tracked 122-mm. amphibious artillery system, which places the gun from the Type-07 on a larger hull. Airborne units are equipped with a version of the Type-96 122-mm. gun, but a new tracked airmobile APC may feature a mortar or gun system. The ZBD-09 122‑mm. gun system could eventually feature in airmobile army units. Future artillery systems may feature electromagnetic launch, an area of extensive research. The PLA is also interested in ramjet-powered and stealth-coated artillery shells.

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