On 07 May 2020, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) showcased its new self-propelled howitzer (SPH), the PCL-181.
According to an article by China Military Online, a media website supported by the PLA, the PCL-181 was delivered to a brigade in the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command. This unit acquired the PCL-181 to supplant its PL-66 152-mm and Type 59-1 130-mm towed howitzer guns.
The PCL-181 is a wheeled 155 mm SPH, but with a stronger focus rapid deployment through an integrated wheeled chassis and automated electromechanical hydraulic servo system. The PCL-181 can transition to its combat mode and fire six shells, and then quickly shift to its mobile-ready state and relocate.
To help with its responsiveness, the PCL-181 uses an automatic fire control system (AFCS). The AFCS needs the user to give target azimuth data, but after that, the AFCS will automatically manage system’s targeting process (i.e., adjust azimuth and height).
Notes & Comments:
The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) states that China is “streamlining its top-heavy command structure; creating smaller, more agile units; and empowering lower-level commanders.” Basically, besides replacing old equipment, China is working to raise the qualitative side of its capabilities.
The PCL-181 achieves this goal by both supplanting the legacy PL-66 and Type 59-1 as well as by imbuing PLA units with greater tactical effectiveness and responsiveness. The latter comes through greater use of automation (e.g., for targeting) and additional engineering investment (e.g., for rapid relocation).
Though these improvements may not impress outside observers (who may cite more mature works of this nature in the West), China still leverages the advantage of economies-of-scale to affordably build large inventories of higher quality systems and iterate improved variants. These shifts are not restricted to only the PCL-181, but apply to China’s other artillery, armour, aviation, and missile programs as well.