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Ethiopia Acquired The Newest Chinese Artillery

May 25, 2023
Norinco SH15’s at an exercise in January. Via Ethiopian media.

A number of factors have ensured Chinese arms exports to the African continent rose significantly in the 2010s. A crucial one is the cost of Western-made arms compared with shoestring acquisition budgets. But an even more important influence is Beijing’s reputation as an all-weather friend for governments with less than sterling reputations in the West. Ethiopia ended its recent civil war in January this year and fresh evidence has emerged its army fields Norinco’s latest truck howitzer–a 155mm artillery piece combined with a fully protected all-terrain 6×6 transporter. These vehicles are a step up from the towed Norinco AH2’s the army used during the 2020-2022 Tigray War.

After it was introduced to Norinco’s catalog in the late 2010s this specific artillery model was delivered to Pakistan whose army now employ it together with aging US-made self-propelled howitzers. In the PLA the model is designated as the PCL-181 and is replacing older 130mm and 152mm towed howitzers. Ethiopia’s own ground forces boast a substantial collection of artillery pieces, including the ubiquitous Soviet D-30 that are assembled by a state-owned manufacturer (the actual origin of this artillery piece could be North Korean), but added the SH15 as an alternative to older guns. The army’s prized Russian-made Msta-S’, by the way, come armed with 152mm guns and the army’s rationale after the Tigray War may have seen the benefits of the 155mm gun with a 52 caliber barrel length instead.

Ethiopian SH15’s at the same exercises in late January. Via Ethiopian media.

As a distinct military product for export the SH15 is a departure from Norinco’s earlier selection of truck or truck mounted howitzers. The vehicle is recognizable for its three axle suspension and six road wheels, low ground clearance, and a double cab layout with a noticeable gap on the roof that fits the howitzer’s barrel, which has a cylindrical muzzle brake. The ammunition along with their propellant charges are kept in cylinders fitted on either side of the bed. In other truck howitzers the rounds and propellant are enclosed in sealed rectangular containers on the bed. Sliding fresh rounds into the breach is done via a mechanical arm that loads the gun. The quantity and variety of ammunition provided for Ethiopia’s SH15’s can’t be determined at the moment. The SH15’s 155mm gun with a 52 caliber length is supported by two large trails that fold upward when the vehicle in on the move and are lowered as the gun is being prepared.

Besides small arms there are a lot of Chinese-made weapon systems in the army such as the Type 85/89 armored personnel carrier, the Type 90 wheeled APC, and the “Weishi” rocket artillery system configured to transport and launch short-range ballistic missiles. When considering Ethiopia’s regional problems a category of Chinese-made weapon systems it has shunned are air defenses when Addis Ababa’s commitment to its Grand Renaissance Dam is treated as a threat by Egypt and Sudan. As far as can be ascertained Ethiopia’s air defenses are provided by Russian-made systems. China is now the world’s largest manufacturer of air defense systems and anti-aircraft counter-measures in all domains and offers a broad catalog for road mobile and modular applications.

For all its destructiveness the course of the Tigray War left the national economy intact and Ethiopia is poised to reap above average GDP growth this year–at least this is what the government claims. China’s arms sales to the country should continue as it’s better positioned than other competitors such as Israel or Türkiye at delivering products in volume over short timelines. Beyond the Horn of Africa all the countries in the continent’s eastern half are reliant on Beijing’s role as an affordable arsenal to varying degrees and this won’t change soon.


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