Recently, it has been widely reported that China's new generation of 155mm vehicle-mounted howitzers, the PCL-181, have been delivered to troops of a brigade under the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command in batches. This reveals both the renewal of the main equipment, and even the overall improvement of the authorization system, tactical thinking, and equipment system of the PLA Army artillery troops.
Faster in response
The PCL-181 currently delivered to the PLA Army artillery troops will be mainly used to replace the active PL-66 152-mm towed gun-howitzers and a small part of the remaining Type 59-1 130-mm towed cannons. Compared with the latter two, the PCL-181 features "fastness" as its most prominent technical advantage --- to be specific, its "fastness" in response, marching, and aiming.
First, its response is fast. Within three minutes, the PL-66 152-mm towed gun-howitzer can only complete the transition from marching state to combat state; while thanks to its integrated wheeled chassis and highly automated electromechanical hydraulic servo system, the PCL-181 can realize the whole process from parking to combat state, then to launching six projectiles, and finally to withdrawing and transferring. This means a qualitative leap for the tactics of the PLA Army artillery troops.
Second, its marching is fast. With the integration of wheeled chassis and artillery, the PCL-181 can reach the maximum design speed in marching, with no need to worry about the rollover accident caused by overspeed, which is hardly possible for the PL-66 152-mm towed gun-howitzer.
Third, its aiming is fast. The PCL-181 is equipped with the world-leading automatic fire control system (AFCS). Following the input of the target azimuth data, the vehicle-mounted fire control computer can automatically settle the shooting elements and automatically adjust the azimuth and height of the artillery. However, such element adjustments of the PL-66 rely entirely on manual operation.
Lighter and smaller
At present, the PLA Army artillery troops have already been equipped with the PLZ-05 155mm self-propelled howitzers. Why is the PCL-181 still needed?
The PCL-181 has a full combat weight of 25 tons, only about half compared with the PLZ-05. Since there are certain restrictions on the total weight of vehicles on many bridges and highways, the PCL-181 is superior to such heavy-duty tracked vehicles as the PLZ-05 in terms of mobility. In addition, with a smaller overall size, the PCL-181 has no worries about "overrun"(the overall height exceeds 3.6 meters or overall width exceeds the train cabin) when transported by rail, and can get through almost all railway sections to reach a freight station nearest to the destination.
Besides, the PCL-181 weighs only 25 tons, which is just within the cargo capacity of China's Y-9 tactical transport aircraft. Each Y-9 tactical transport aircraft can carry one PCL-181, and as long as there are a sufficient number of transport aircraft groups, the rapid deployment of the organically assigned artillery troops as a whole within nearly a thousand kilometers can be realized. This will undoubtedly greatly improve the rapid reaction capability of the PLA Army.
In addition, the PCL-181 is more cost-effective with a lower price, so the procurement cost can be reduced to a considerable extent while ensuring equivalent firepower. Under the premise of controlling the procurement cost, it is possible to completely replace the old towed artilleries such as the Type 59-1 the PL-66, which are now active in quantity. In this way, the situation in which a variety of large-caliber artillery coexist in the equipment system of the PLA Army artillery units will be thoroughly changed: artillery of 130 mm and 152 mm calibers are to be completely eliminated, only with that of 122 mm and 155 mm calibers retained.
The PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzer is equipped with the military high-mobility truck chassis, which make it good at long-distance mobility on road. It was reported that the service members of an Army brigade under the Eastern Theater Command just drove the PCL-181 to their camp after unloading at the freight station. However, when it came to receiving the PLZ-05 155mm self-propelled howitzers in the past, they had to carry them back with heavy-duty wheeled trailers.
According to statistics, the total mileage of China's expressway network has exceeded 100,000 kilometers at present. Therefore, the PCL-181 can quickly reach designated areas by using its wheeled chassis of long-distance rapid maneuverability in North China, East China, and South China where the expressway network is relatively dense. In addition, the PCL-181 is also superior to the PLZ-05 in terms of maneuverability and operational flexibility in mountainous areas, deserts, Gobi deserts, and plateaus.