China’s PLA has recently held a live-fire exercise with its newly commissioned self-propelled mortar systems in the Tibetan Plateau close to its disputed border with India.
This comes days after PLA deployed precision-strike rocket system and self-propelled howitzers in this region.
According to the state media Global Times, the exercise was conducted by a battalion affiliated with the PLA’s Xinjiang Military Command in a plateau region “at an elevation of 4,800 meters”.
These new self-propelled mortar vehicles were delivered to the troops only a month ago, China Central Television (CCTV) reported last week.
The self-propelled mortars give the forces a unique tactical advantage of high-mobile firepower with infantry units, acting like a short-range howitzer.
Mortars have been historically used to provide effective fire support to infantry units on-the-go, and range from small single-man portable 50 mm mortars to even 914 mm mortars that were so massive that never even saw combat.
The most common caliber for high-powered mortars is the 120mm, which is powerful enough to inflict large damage to infrastructure and enemy personnel.
Self-propelled mortars reduce the personnel workload by loading themselves, saving a soldier to pick up the heavy mortar round and putting it into the muzzle each time.
Compared to conventional systems, the key advantage of SPMs is that they can be brought into action much faster. Also, self-propelled artillery systems can stop at a chosen location and begin firing almost immediately, then quickly move on to a new position.
This shoot-and-scoot ability is very useful in a mobile conflict and particularly on the advance.
“These weapons are very accurate and fast, enabling the fire support units that could previously only operate in the rear to transform into mobile, hit-and-run firing positions,” state-owned CCTV said.
According to the reports, this new Chinese system is based on a four-wheeled off-road assault vehicle, and many such vehicles operated in the exercises. The mortar units practiced “direct aim-shooting” at their targets and shoot-and-scoot skills.
“We are very excited to get the new weapons,” Li Jun, a soldier with the unit, told CCTV. “It’s very fast and saves stamina. It’s a very big change for us.”
These new mortar systems are a part of the artillery and heavy equipment modernization plan for the PLA and are being deployed due to the border standoff with India in Ladakh.
Before this, high-powered systems have been recently inducted such as PHL-03 300mm Multiple Launch Rocket System with new guided munitions, and PCL-181 and PCL-161 self-propelled mounted howitzers.