CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — China’s state-owned land systems manufacturer Norinco has revealed a new type of truck-mounted howitzer. The highly automated system, which is aimed at export markets, mates a 6x6 truck chassis with an unmanned turret containing a 155mm L/52 howitzer.

The weapon was shown alongside existing artillery products in a Norinco promotional video clip circulated to coincide with Lunar New Year celebrations around Feb. 10. The video was highlighting a Chinese artillery marketing event attended by foreign delegations.

The turret on the new artillery piece is identical to that used on the SH16 tracked self-propelled howitzer, a design that first appeared in Norinco’s catalog in 2022. There is no evidence the tracked SH16 exists in prototype form, but there are no such questions about the wheeled SH16 since the video showed it performing live firing.

The new platform sees the same 14-tonne SH16 unmanned turret mounted onto a 6x6 truck chassis. Norinco lists a combat weight of 32 tonnes, or 70,000 pounds. An earth spade at the rear provides stability when firing, and it is operated by just two crewmen in an armored cab.

Dennis Blasko — a former U.S. defense attache in Beijing and Hong Kong and a prominent expert on the PLA — told Defense News the gun appears to be the same as that on the PLC-181 truck-mounted howitzer in widespread PLA service.

Blasko said the PLC-181 is fielded in more than half the artillery brigades assigned to the PLA’s 13 group armies, and in Xinjiang and Tibet. The Military Balance 2023 report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates 600 PLC-181s are in service.

Blasko said this wheeled SH16 is aimed squarely at the export market. “In the past, I’ve seen Norinco show prototypes or models of a family of weapons and hope that foreign buyers would help finance further development of some of the variants,” he said. “That might be the case with this turreted variant.”

China recently completed development of an automated rotary magazine for artillery modular charges. It possesses at least seven magazine tubes, each of which can contain up to six propellant charges. This system, featured on a CCTV news clip, is presumably used on the SH16, but could be destined for the PLA’s next-generation 155mm artillery systems too.

Discussing the trajectory of PLA artillery, Blasko said, “Over the past 15 years, as PLA modernization has hit its stride, artillery has been a major component for organization, equipment and doctrinal development.

“Though there are still some legacy types of artillery in the inventory, the bulk of the force is new, produced since the 2000s,” he added.

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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