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China, Not Russia, Makes The Best Rocket Artillery

July 25, 2019

Via China Military Online.

The PLA’s news website released photos of its latest rocket artillery weapon this month. After some perusal of open sources it turned out the tracked vehicle mounting 122mm rocket cells is known as the PZH-10. The naming system used by the Chinese military for its kit corresponds to the type and date. This means the PZH-10 is classified as a “tracked rocket artillery launcher” that entered service in 2010. As per Chinese media the PLA’s 76th Group Army are its first known operators.

The PZH-10 is based on a proven chassis with six road wheels housed in rubber treads. Its layout features a small cab at the front and a spacious bed where a pivoting mount supports two cells holding 20 tubes each for 122mm rockets.

The current arsenal of the PLA often draws comparisons to their possible analogs in the Russian military or a specific NATO army. But while the idea of Chinese manufacturers copying foreign models is pervasive, this is far from the truth. The PZH-10, for example, is very different from Russia’s TOS-1A, which is a tracked mobile launcher for 220mm thermobaric or incendiary rockets. The TOS-1A, which has seen extensive use in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, utilizes the hull of a T-72 main battle tank.

Tracked rocket artillery vehicles have a long tradition within the PLA. Because of China’s difficult geography the PLA’s corps-sized formations in the north and northeast required a dependable force multiplier alongside towed howitzers. At first, this requirement was fulfilled by the Type 71 that combined a Type 63 APC and a pivoting mount with rows of tubes for 130mm short-range rockets favored by China’s ground forces. The massive production output of China’s military industries meant the Type 71 enjoyed a long career even when it was surpassed by other rocket artillery weapons.

The earliest proof of the PLA adopting Soviet 122mm “Grad” rockets originated in the 1980s when the same 40 tube launcher was mounted on a 6×6 truck and then on the same hull as a self-propelled howitzer. In the latter case, the resulting Type 89 could be the only known example of a 122mm rocket launcher on a tracked vehicle although North Korea’s ground forces do have a small troop carrier armed with 122mm rockets. Indeed, the PZH-10 looks like it’s a further improvement on the 30-year-old Type 89. Chinese conglomerates such as Norinco and its partner firms have no doubt improved the 122mm rocket and extended its range from a mere 20 kilometers to 40 kilometers. It’s also possible to arm a Grad rocket with submunitions and a precision guidance system.

The PZH-10 joins the PLA’s existing rocket artillery comprised of the older Type 81’s that are no different from the Soviet vintage BM-21 Grad and the larger PHL-03 based on an 8×8 TEL similar to the Russian army’s feared BM-30 Smerch. When combined with the division-level 155mm, 152mm, 130mm, and 122mm tube artillery the cumulative effect on a hypothetical battle is impressive. The PLA isn’t known to possess any 240 mm rocket artillery like Iran and North Korea. Some infantry formations, however, such as the airborne and the marines, still possess the portable Type 63 107mm rocket launcher that’s a fixture in many conflicts today.

The same manufacturers who equipped the PLA with its rocket artillery are also enthusiastic exporters. The PHL-03, for example, has been delivered to Pakistan and Chinese input no doubt made the Nasr “ballistic missile” a success. The most lethal Chinese rocket artillery weapon ever sold abroad is the “Polonez” that Belarus is touting as a homegrown innovation. Each of the 300mm conventional rockets on a Polonez have an absurd range covering 200 km and the same launch vehicle can be armed with M20 missiles. China is responsible for transferring its battlefield rocket technology to Turkey, whose TR-122 is based on the Type 90, a Chinese improvement on the Soviet Grad launcher. Besides the TR-107 and TR-122 rocket launchers, with both derived from Chinese munition types, Turkey’s Roketsan boasts the T-300 that can bombard targets 100 km away.

Russia’s present catalog of rocket artillery weapons is limited to the BM-21 Grad, the BM-27 Uragan, BM-30 Smerch, and the TOS-1A. To their credit, all have combat records. But Chinese firms such as Norinco offer a ridiculous catalog overflowing with appealing choices. Aside from small 107mm rocket launchers in numerous variants, China offers whatever tickles the customer’s fancy. The new-ish SR5, having been sold to Algeria, Laos, and the UAE, can be loaded with varying munitions and even a short-range ballistic missile.

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