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China Is Inventing Too Much Artillery

April 18, 2022
Via Chinese state media.

As far back as the 1980s the artillery that was mass-produced in China broke away from copies of Soviet towed howitzers as NATO engineering and manufacturing processes got absorbed by state-owned enterprises such as Norinco. The trend continued in the following decades but lately, in the latter half of the 2010s, each year saw new artillery weapons put together by the military-industrial sector. This is aside from the non-stop overproduction in other Chinese “war material.” A recent addition that enjoyed press coverage was a heavy mortar with an automated muzzle-loading function and it’s probably intended for export. (See photo above.)

It’s indisputable how the Dongfeng CSK181 has surpassed its competitors and peers as a multirole vehicle. At this stage it’s an armored “tactical” truck that can be assembled to match whatever variant engineers and military planners envision. A “self-propelled” heavy mortar, with a 120mm caliber, is just the latest to emerge this year. This Dongfeng artillery truck features an elongated chassis with three axles to support the bed where folding container serve as the ammunition storage or magazine for the main armament; this is a 120mm mortar with an autoloader of sorts that slides a round up toward the muzzle and inserts it. The needed crew looks to be two or three soldiers aside from the vehicle’s driver.

The Dongfeng CSK181 is the PLA’s equivalent to the Oshkosh JLTV although the vehicles are incomparable in many aspects. The PLA consider the CSK181, along with its smaller sibling the CSK131, as an armored personnel carrier foremost and have thousands as fully enclosed trucks carrying a remote controlled heavy machine gun on the roof. Yet Dongfeng and other state-owned manufacturers such as Norinco and Poly Defense are creating new variants at an astonishing rate. A 122mm howitzer with fully automated controls is offered globally and so many different high tech weapons have been tailored for the CSK181’s spacious bed. In case the reader is wondering if the CSK181 is export approved–that would be a resounding “yes.” When advertised abroad the CSK181 is sometimes rebranded as the EQ2091XFB.

Installing heavy mortars on wheeled transports is a cost-effective method for providing mobile artillery to ground forces. Rather than just assemble a mortar, along with its cumbersome baseplate, at the back of a truck, designing automated features and a convenient layout for the rest of the vehicle are the important details among manufacturers competing in the same niche. An attractive selling point for heavy mortars is, based on the dimensions of the barrel, the ammunition is effective at maximum ranges between 10 to 15 kilometers. The Israeli aerospace manufacturer Elbit Systems reaped substantial profits off its popular Spear mortar that’s billed as a “soft recoil” weapon system. Another example is the Spanish EXPAL Eimos self-propelled mortar albeit available in the 81mm caliber. Other recent competitors are from South Africa and South Korea. Entering a lucrative market could be the impetus for this most recent joint venture involving Dongfeng’s best protected vehicle and a large caliber weapon system.

It’s possible PLA artillery units are scheduled to receive this weapon system before the year is out. A heavy mortar on a 6×6 transport is valuable for the less accessible geography of China’s southern and western frontiers. However, at the moment there’s no shortage of self-propelled mortars among the different branches –be they airborne or the “naval infantry”–and there are numerous options in Norinco’s export catalog alone. This lethal variant of the Dongfeng CSK181 is attractive to many foreign armies who can’t be supplied with locally made equivalents or lack self-propelled artillery altogether. When it comes to “light artillery” as a well-defined niche for mortars and rockets China’s military-industrial sector is the best at providing these at the moment.

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