July 25, 2010:
China has deployed a fifth battalion of its new 35 ton PLZ 05 self-propelled howitzers. Each battalion has three batteries, of six howitzers each. There is also a support battery for carrying more ammo and for equipment maintenance. There is also an artillery spotting radar and a weather radar (to improve the accuracy of unguided shells). At least four other battalions have entered service since 2007.
The PLZ 05 is a further development of the 33 ton PLZ 45, which entered service in the 1990s as an export item. This system had a crew of five and a semi-automatic loader. The PLZ 04/05 uses an automatic loader, thus a crew of only four is required. Kuwait, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia bought PLZ 45s in the last decade.
Dimensions of both vehicles are 10.5 meters (1 meter=3.1 feet) long, 3.3 meters wide and 2.6 meters high (3.5 meters if you include the 12.7mm machine-gun usually mounted on top of the turret.) The PLZ 05 barrel is 15.5 percent longer than the one on the PLZ 45.
There is another model, the PLZ 04, with a slightly (4 percent) longer barrel than the PLZ 05. For all of these vehicles, the 155mm barrel is good for about 2,500 rounds. Computerized control systems and satellite navigation enable the weapon to be ready for firing within minutes. The vehicle carries 30 rounds of 155mm ammo, with 24 ready to be used by the autoloader. Max rate of fire (for a few minutes) is ten rounds a minute (five in the PLZ 45). Max range of the howitzer is 50 kilometers (with rocket assisted shells). Normal shells are good to about 39 kilometers and laser guided shells for 20 kilometers. All three of these systems use a lot of technology stolen from the Russians.
The Russian and Chinese systems compete with the fifty year old U.S. M-109 design, which is a 25 ton vehicle with a crew of five.