Monday, February 9, 2009

China sells heavy artillery to host of African nations


HONG KONG,(UPI) -- The Angolan army is in contact with Chinese defense manufacturer Norinco, seeking to buy heavy artillery, armored vehicles and ammunition.

China already has been supplying an extensive range of light weapons and ammunition to Zimbabwe and Angola.

African military sources told United Press International that Norinco recently exported a number of 155mm howitzers to North African countries, including Algeria, Sudan and Egypt.

One source told UPI that Algeria purchased enough 155mm auto-propulsion howitzers to equip a battalion. Algeria traditionally has not been a purchaser of Chinese ground-force equipment, but seems to have taken its lead from Sudan, which first bought the howitzers.

One company of Chinese auto-propulsion 155mm howitzers consists of six artillery vehicles, one 704-1 positioning radar and one 720-D meteorological radar. One battalion is composed of 18 155mm howitzers, one command vehicle and one surveillance vehicle.

This type of auto-propulsion 155mm howitzer originated from the 45-caliber PLL01 towed howitzer, which uses extended range full bore, base bleed or rocket-assisted -- ERFB-BB/RA -- ammunition with a maximum range of 50 kilometers (30 miles).

Other ammunition used for the howitzer includes the 30-kilometer (18 mile) range ERFB/HE -- high explosive -- and the 39-kilometer (24 mile) range ERFB-BB/HE. The weight of the artillery weapon is 13 tons.

Analysts from the African military industry believe China has fitted Russian Krasnopol semi-active laser-guided gun launch projectiles on its 155mm howitzers. The United Arab Emirates uses the Chinese-version Krasnopols, which are almost one-third cheaper than the Russian originals.

A military source also told the author that Norinco has delivered WMZ-551 6X6 wheeled armored vehicles to both Zambia and Kenya in the past three years.

Kenya is not a traditional market for Chinese ground-force equipment, but as China has been competing fiercely with Russia and South Africa in selling arms in Africa, it appears to be opening up new markets.

The Royal Guards of Oman have imported 50 of these vehicles, and the Sudanese army also has them.

The WMZ-551 uses a new turret and is equipped with the 2A72 30mm gun produced under license from Russia. The armored vehicle can be fitted with a 12.7mm machine gun, 105mm smooth-bore gun, 120mm mortar and four HJ-8 anti-tank missiles.

It has been reported recently that the Chinese army's light mechanized brigades have received batches of WMZ-551 wheeled armored vehicles fitted with 120mm mortar guns, 105mm smooth-bore guns and 2A72 30mm cannon guns. A source from the Chinese military industry told United Press International that the turrets of the WMZ-551 can be transferred to 8X8 wheeled vehicles once those have been developed.

Aside from the weapon systems fitted on board, the WMZ-551 has a combat weight of 13.5 to 19 tons. It is powered by one 235-kilowatt diesel engine, has a maximum speed of 85 kilometers per hour, a maximum duration of 600 kilometers (360 miles), a length of 6.69 meters, width of 2.86 meters, and its speed in water is 8 kilometers per hour.


(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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