Artillery: China Will Try Anything

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October 26, 2018: China now has added a SH11 155mm howitzer version of its ZBLo9 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle family. There is already a ABL09 version, the PLL09, carrying a 122mm howitzer in a smaller turret and another version with a smaller (than the 122mm howitzer) turret containing a 105mm gun, for providing direct fire support for troops. The ZBL09 proved popular with users as a basis for inexpensive and easier to maintain (than tracked vehicles) mobile artillery. So the next step was the SH11, carrying the widely used NATO standard 155mm gun.

The basic ZBL09 is a 21 ton vehicle that has a crew of three and carries seven passengers. The vehicle is 8 meters (25 feet) long, three meters (9.2 feet) wide and 2.1 meters (6.5 feet, to the hull roof) high. It's amphibious and has a top water speed of 8 kilometers an hour. On roads, top speed is 100 kilometers an hour, and max road range on internal fuel is 800 kilometers. The infantry carrier version has a small turret with a 30mm autocannon.

China already has a self-propelled 155mm howitzer, the PLZ05 but this one weighs 35 tons and travels on tracks, not wheels. The PLZ05 has been in service since 2005 and the SH11 is meant for units like marines or troops operating in areas where maintaining tracked vehicles would be different. The SH11 howitzer has a shorter 6 meter 155/39 barrel than the 8 meter long 155/52 on the PLZ05.

A battalion of PLZ05s or SH11s would be similar, with 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 five PZL05 battalions were in service by 2010. The PLZ05 is a further development of the 33 ton PLZ45, 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 PLZ45s. Dimensions of both vehicles are 10.5 meters (32.5 feet) long, 3.4 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 PLZ05 barrel is 15.5 percent longer than the one on the PLZ45.

The SH11 is currently mainly for export but could eventually become useful for Chinese forces. SH11 has a much larger turret than the PLL09 122mm howitzer and probably weighs 25 tons or more. It appears top heavy, which would make it prone to tipping over on difficult terrain, but appearances are probably deceiving. The armor on that larger turret is thin and the turret is not as heavy as it looks. The turret of the SH11 is more similar to that found on the PLZ05, a vehicle that is 3.4 meters wide. That, plus the fact that the PLZ05 travels on tracks, not wheels makes it more stable. Apparently, the Chinese tested the turret on the SH11 and found it stable enough.

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 Chinese tracked 155mm systems compete with the 1960s era U.S. M-109 design, which is a 25 ton vehicle with a crew of five. Putting a 155mm howitzer on a wheeled armored chassis is uncommon so Western manufacturers and users of mobile artillery gear are watching how the SH11 performs in service. An Italian manufacturer presented a prototype 155mm 8x8 system in 2011 but it never attracted enough interest to justify going into production.

 


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