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Vietnam Keeps A Huge Artillery Stockpile

November 11, 2022
M-30 howitzers in storage. Via Vietnamese media.

Since its reunification in 1975 huge quantities of conventional weapons have been stored across the country and refurbished for continued use. But it was only in the past decade when evidence of this long-standing effort began to emerge online. What is now revealed in the public domain through state media is an astonishing cycle of repair and maintenance for an inventory most countries would struggle to match. So far, proof of a thriving armaments sector focused on basic infantry equipment is abundant. But what hasn’t received enough attention is another vital aspect of Vietnam’s military preparedness: vintage towed artillery.

Although there are a multitude of choices for towed heavy artillery such as 155mm howitzers–excluding North America, these are manufactured in 18 different countries–Vietnam’s defense ministry haven’t procured a brand new system in 50 years. This avoidance is understandable when their current inventory is assessed. Thanks to the online presence of state media, including the armed forces’ own news agency, there are now helpful references on how vast the artillery collection is. In one storage site featured in a news clip this year at least several dozen Soviet vintage M-30 and US-made M101 however were kept in impeccable condition. (See photo above.)

Since North Vietnam received material support from the Soviet Union and the rest of the Communist Bloc from the 1950s onward its army ended up collecting every known caliber that originated from World War 2 and beyond. The M-30, for example, is a 122mm towed howitzer mass-produced from 1938 onward and its production was even transferred to China where several thousand more rolled out of state-owned factories. Although the M-30 is an 80-year-old design and is outdated it’s renowned for its constant use with armies in any circumstances. Since World War 2 its combat record stretches all the way to the Syrian Civil War (2011-present) and as recently as the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020.

M-46 howitzers in storage. Via Vietnamese media.

Other Soviet vintage howitzers maintained by Vietnam’s army are the D-20, D-30, D-44, D-74, M-46, ZiS-3 and by extension an uncounted anti-aircraft artillery stockpile in the calibers 14.5mm, 23mm, 37mm, 57mm, and 100mm. The rocket artillery in service with Vietnam’s army is just as diverse and includes the BM-14 and BM-21 mobile launchers. Of course, until relations nosedived in the late 1970s, China also supplied North Vietnam with sufficient large caliber weaponry and ordnance to sustain its war effort against the United States and South Vietnam. A curious addition to the artillery still in service are the outdated ASU-85 and SU-100 “tank destroyers” or tracked field guns that are in perfect working order.

The army also keeps a substantial collection of US-made towed howitzers although the self-propelled M107’s that mount 175mm guns captured after 1975 are believed to have been retired. Vietnam’s US-made artillery spans the familiar 105mm M101 and the 155mm M114 that were both introduced in World War 2. The same models are widely used throughout Asia and, much like their Soviet counterparts, are renowned for remaining usable across decades. South Korea’s own ground force was so reliant on either model, for example, that it spun off locally made variants (the KH178 and KH179) that are now exported. What’s perplexing about Vietnam’s long-term program to maintain an artillery stockpile is they have multiple sites equipped to overhaul and repair the diverse models and even have ammunition factories to sustain them but there still isn’t any discernible program for updating the artillery with redesigned barrels when the production and tooling for the job is at hand.

Vietnam’s army is in the middle of transitioning to self-propelled howitzers. Its preferred models are locally made hybrids based on wheeled transports. The exact number of towed howitzers in service is hard to estimate although, if mortars, recoilless rifles, and rocket launchers are set aside, the inventory reaches several thousand.

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