Practice makes perfect, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may have been seeking to reach perfection as it recently conducted a series of live-fire exercises of long-range rocket artillery and anti-tank missiles. The type of ordnance is traditionally used against ground as well as maritime targets, which has led military analysts to speculate that the PLA was honing its skills to work with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and other military branches in anti-ship operations.
Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported that “[A] brigade affiliated with the PLA 80th Group Army organized a long-range rocket artillery unit in a live-fire shooting practice at Bohai Bay and tested the damage effectiveness of long-range rockets against different types of maritime targets.”
Video of the exercise was also shared by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) last Saturday.
According to the reports, multiple PHL-03 long-range multiple rocket launcher (MRL) systems were utilized in the exercises. The PHL-03 is a 12-tube 300mm long-range multiple rocket launcher that is essentially a clone of the Russian-produced BM-30 Smerch rocket artillery system. The main role of the rocket launcher has been to engage strategic targets including large concentrations of troops, airfields, command centers, air defense batteries, and support facilities; while it can also be used to engage in a counter-battery fire mission.
The PHL-03 mounted MRL and vehicle has a total combat weight of 43 tons, while the vehicle platform is twelve meters in length, three meters in width, and three meters in height. The maximum range of its basic rocket shell is 70 kilometers with a salvo time of thirty-eight seconds and refill time being twenty minutes.
The PLA is reported to operate around 175 of the systems. The system is in the process of being replaced by the more modular and new PHL-15.
However, according to Janes, the PHL-03 has been upgraded with a new, longer-range, and more accurate rocket – and it is possible that is what the PLA had been using in the recent exercises.
DefenseWorld.net also reported last month that a PLA unit from the Xinjiang Military Command deployed the PHL-03 in an exercise in Tibet, suggesting that there is still life in the aging rocket launcher.
In this past weekend’s drills, the Global Times reported that the PLA troops conducted long-range reconnaissance via drones and launched multiple rockets “at targets in a calculated manner so the rockets impacted simultaneously and intensively, and suppressed the targets, although the maritime targets were mobile and difficult to spot.”
In a separate exercise, the PLA Army Academy of Artillery and Air Defense also recently conducted a live-fire exercise, using the HJ-10 anti-tank (also called the Red Arrow-10) vehicle-loaded guided missile system against maritime targets on the shore of the Yellow Sea. It is believed the same platform was used in last year’s “Taiwan Drill” exercise in Bohai Bay.
According to the Global Times, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity said the recent drills are mean to highlight the role that PLA can plan in operating with the PLAN, the Chinese Air Force, and Rocket Force in “joint area denial” operations against hostile warships. Additionally, this demonstrates that the PLA can participate in amphibious and anti-landing operations.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.