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Asia Is Overflowing With Rocket Artillery

April 15, 2022

The annual Pakistan Day parade held on March 23 is an open air spectacle where the armed forces shows off nearly all its kit. What made the latest one different is the remarkable variety of newer and Chinese-made hardware that appeared. The army in particular didn’t hesitation rolling out its latest weapon systems including the Fatah large diameter rocket artillery with accurized warheads. It helps the reader to know the Fatah is separate from the A100 and the Nasr road mobile rocket artillery systems. The transporter of the Fatah is the same as the A100 but its eight munitions loaded on rectangular containers have larger dimensions.

For Pakistan’s army to collect a full selection of rocket artillery, from locally made 122mm “Grad” launchers (copied from a North Korean variant) to the 300mm A100 supplied by China’s Norinco and now the Fatah, shows how its vision for ground warfare isn’t focused on deterring its opponent across the line of control. If the ongoing war in Ukraine has proven anything it’s the importance of artillery in whatever role it can be applied to. Rocket artillery in particular can demolish whole neighborhoods and wreck armored formations in a matter of seconds while logistics and other “soft” infrastructure are at its mercy. With the Fatah’s eight munitions, each having a range of 140 kilometers, and the deployment of entire batteries the army have a potent tool for saturation bombardment deep in their opponent’s territory.

What’s interesting about the Fatah is its export potential–brochures were spied at an arms show in Saudi Arabia–as a tactical weapon system for armies that struggle with modernization when Western suppliers are out of reach. The variety of road mobile long-range weapons available today is the greatest it has ever been and users are left spoiled for choices. Pakistan’s belated efforts at selling its homegrown models arrives at the tail end of an unexpected flourishing in the commerce for long-range munitions and the means to deliver them.

Despite the competition China reigns as the world’s top proliferator of rocket artillery and its secret for success is an unfailing willingness to help end users establish their own production line and adapt current vehicles as transporters for the resulting weapon system. This is apparent with the Turkish manufacturer Roketsan whose production of 107mm, 122mm, and 300mm munitions (along with a ballistic missile) were all achieved with Chinese help. The same patron-client relationship helped the military industries of Belarus pivot away from Russia and assemble their own rocket artillery such as the BelGrad (based on the Norinco Type 90) and later the Polonez, which is still the most lethal weapon system of its kind in Europe.

North Korea forged ahead in this specific category with new calibers of large diameter rocket artillery starting from 300mm until the munitions blur the fine line distinguishing it from a ballistic missile. How these weapons haven’t reached other countries yet is a miracle considering North Korea’s decades of experience transferring lethal technology to paying customers. South Korea isn’t allowing its military-industrial sector to be left behind when arms exports can be so lucrative. Hanwha Techwin has the Chunmoo rocket artillery system with a unique family of accurized rockets and even an MTCR-compliant ballistic missile.

The military industries of Israel and Iran are contributing to the same trend. The Israeli aerospace manufacturer Elbit Systems offers what’s perhaps the deadliest product line for battlefield rockets today that spans the Accular, Extra, and Predator Hawk munition types whose characteristics can be tailored according to the end user’s requirements. Iranian rocket artillery is even more diverse and its mass-production is unhindered by severe economic sanctions; in 2021 the IRGC unveiled the “Fateh” large diameter rockets whose launchers are mounted on commercial trucks. Iran’s military-industrial sector boasts as many as six distinct types of large diameter rocket artillery exceeding the 122mm caliber with options to accurize them all. Arab countries are refusing to be left behind and Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Syria, Sudan, the UAE, and Yemen have small-scale production lines for assembling rocket artillery.

Of course, India’s sprawling military-industrial sector and its local partners are adding to an impressive arsenal with superb characteristics. The firepower and range of India’s precision rockets are competitive although their export potential is weak. Other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam have established the means to assemble rocket artillery on their own.

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