June 9, 2020:
In April, China put the PCL-181, a new truck-mounted 155mm artillery vehicle into service. With this, they follow the example of France, Sweden, South Africa and Israel. These other nations have been using similar systems.
PCL-181 is a 25 ton 6x6 truck carrying a gun crew of eight and a truck bed mounted 155mm howitzer. PCL-181 will replace current towed howitzers. PCL-181 can be carried in heavy transport aircraft China recently introduced and builds on the experience of similar systems built by other nations since the 1990s. China plans to offer an export version and these will compete with the earlier and very similar, SH-1 system that was developed just for the export market and introduced in 2006.
In the 1990s, a French firm developed its truck-mounted 155mm Caesar, which entered service in 2003. In 2009 France sent eight Caesar howitzers to Afghanistan. The roads in Afghanistan are pretty bad, and wheeled combat vehicles have a hard time of it. But Caesar was built to handle cross country operations. Afghanistan was the first time Caesar has served in combat and was successful. The French Army has ordered about a hundred and another hundred have been exported. Caesar is the lightest of the truck-mounted 155mm howitzers, weighing 18 tons. Other nations have built heavier (20-30 ton) systems, usually on a 6x6 heavy truck chassis.
This French experience with Caesar in Afghanistan encouraged Sweden about the ability of its Archer system to operate in the vast rural areas of Scandanavia. Some parts of rural Sweden are similar to Afghanistan, but worse (more swamps). Sweden had had some Archer systems in service 2013 and 24 by 2017 and eventually 48. There have been no export customers.
South Africa introduced a similar T5-52 in 2002 but was unable to find any export customers. Israel introduced the ATMOS 2000 in 2001 and, until the Israeli Army agreed to buy some, the only users have been seven export customers who purchased fifty systems.
None of these systems can be considered an exotic piece of technology. For example, Archer is an FH77 155mm/L52 howitzer mounted on a modified Volvo 6x6 dump truck. The vehicle, with the howitzer on board, weighs 30 tons. L52 means the barrel is 52 times the caliber (8 meters/25 feet). When the vehicle halts, the four-man crew can extend the metal braces in the rear, raise the barrel, and be firing within minutes. After firing, the vehicle can be moving in less than a minute. Archer can use the Excalibur GPS guided round, which means Archer and an ammo vehicle can supply lots of effective firepower without the need for constant resupply. Each Archer vehicle costs about $5 million.