Artillery: Cheap Chinese Rockets Invade South America


August 11, 2015:   Peru recently ordered 27 Chinese Type 90 MLRS vehicles for about $1.46 million each. This vehicle uses the 1960s era Russian 122mm BM-21 rocket. Introduced in 1992, the Type 90 is an improved (with a reload of 40 rockets onboard as well as the reload mechanism) Type 81, which entered service in the 1980s as a truck mounted launcher capable of firing 40 122mm rockets. Both vehicles use an improved version of the Russian 122mm (BM-21, also known as Grad or Katyusha) rocket. The original was introduced during World War II and has been a favorite ever since.

The Type 90 vehicle uses a Chinese 6x6 military truck similar to the one used in the Type 81 but with a longer truck bed to accommodate the reloads and reloading mechanism. This allows the launcher to be reloaded in less than three minutes. Additional reloads are provided by trucks that just carry rockets and a reload mechanism. The truck has a top speed of 85 kilometers an hour and a road range of 800 kilometers on internal fuel. Off road travel can use up to twice as much fuel. The Type 90 is actually a complete system, including a truck mounted launcher that holds a launcher box holding 40 rockets. The truck has an automated aiming and reloading system.

The new Chinese 122mm rocket weighs 74 kg (163 pounds), is 2.9 meters (9 feet) long and has a 21.5 kg (47.3 pound) warhead. Minimum range is 20 kilometers, although a max range of 40 kilometers is available in a version that uses a lighter warhead. The Chinese 122mm rocket is interchangeable with the older BM-21 type rockets.

The older BM-21s weigh 68.2 kg (150 pounds), are 2.9 meters (9 feet) long, and have a 20.5 kg (45 pound) warhead. The BM-21 rockets have a maximum range of 20 kilometers. Again, because they are unguided, they are only effective if fired in salvos or at large targets (like cities, large military bases, or large groups of troops or vehicles on the battlefield). There are Egyptian and Chinese variants that have smaller warheads and larger rocket motors, giving them a range of about 40 kilometers.

BM-21 was introduced in 1962 and replaced the World War II era BM-13 132mm rocket. That weapon entered service in 1939, weighed 23 kg (50 pounds), was 600mm (24 inches) long, had a 4.9 kg (15 pound) warhead, and a max range of 11.8 kilometers. The BM-21 was a big improvement. As can be seen with the Type 90, the original BM-21 design is hard to completely replace.

China is pushing weapons sales in South America, where there are few modern weapons and the older, and much cheaper, Chinese designs are adequate for dealing with the neighbors. The Chinese also have no problems paying bribes or selling to dictators with bad reputations.



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