China's most advanced vehicle-mounted howitzer, the PCL-181, recently entered service with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, the theater command confirmed on Thursday. With technical details revealed for the first time, experts say the weapon is one of the best in the world.
In the past few days, troops of a brigade under the Eastern Theater Command received the 155mm vehicle-mounted howitzer, which made its public debut as a newly developed weapon at the National Day military parade on October 1, 2019 in Beijing, the Eastern Theater Command confirmed on its Sina Weibo account on Thursday.
The statement came after China Central Television (CCTV) on Wednesday reported the weapon had been commissioned. This report is also seemingly the first time an official source has identified the designation of the howitzer as the PCL-181.
Neither the Eastern Theater Command nor CCTV has specified how many howitzers were included in this delivery, but at least 18 were seen in the report.
The 155mm wheeled vehicle-mounted howitzer weighs only 25 tons, making it much lighter and faster and with longer endurance than the previous self-propelled howitzer which uses crawler tracks and weighs more than 40 tons, the CCTV report said, noting it can also hit targets at longer ranges with increased firepower.
This data means the PCL-181 not only has high mobility, but it can also be transported by large transport aircraft like the domestically made Y-20, which has a cargo capacity of more than 60 tons, a military expert who requested to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Thursday.
A single Y-20 can likely carry two PCL-181s, or a combination of one PCL-181 and one 30 ton-class Type 15 lightweight main battle tank, both of which are choices that offer frontline troops immense firepower, the expert said, noting that this will give the Chinese military more tactical flexibility in strategic transport and quick reaction operations.
The vehicle the howitzer is mounted on has a large driver's cab that can accommodate all six artillery squad members, protecting them with bulletproof glass that enhances the unit's survivability.
Digitalized control panels can be found in the cab, and this highly digitalized system allows artillery gun deployment with the press of a button, automatic gun calibration and half-automatic ammo reload. This can shorten the preparation time to shoot the weapon, giving the artillery stronger combat capabilities, according to the report.
China has been leading the world in the artillery sector for many years, and the PCL-181 has set yet another example, the expert said.
One key mission of the PLA Eastern Theater Command is to prepare for potential military struggle on the island of Taiwan, military observers noted.
The PCL-181 was also spotted earlier this year in a round of PLA exercises in a high-elevation plateau region in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, CCTV reported in January.