(This was originally posted in SCMP by Minnie Chan)
The People’s Liberation Army has deployed an advanced long-range rocket launcher to the Himalayas, in a move aimed at reinforcing China’s border defence and acting as a deterrent to India, according to a military mouthpiece and analysts.It is the first time that the PLA has confirmed the deployment of long-range rocket systems to the border with India, after the neighbors last week failed to reach an agreement in their latest round of corps commander-level talks over full disengagement along the disputed frontier.
An artillery brigade stationed 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) above sea level in Xinjiang military district has intensified its drills using a rocket system during full-wing combat-ready training, a report on the front page of PLA Daily said on Monday The report did not give the type or firing range of the weapon but said it was a system with a long-range rocket with precision strike capability and had entered service in 2019.
Last July, reports from Indian media outlets said China had deployed advanced weapons systems to border areas in the high-altitude desert in its northwest, and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in its southwest, including the Type PHL-03 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), which has a firing range of 70 to 130km, and PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzers. But experts said the PHL-03 and PCL-181 were not new advanced weapons, with their ranges being too short to pose a threat.
“The new weapon system should be a long-range rocket launcher that can carry multiple 300mm [12-inch] or even bigger rockets with more than 100km of firing range,” said military commentator Song Zhongping, a former instructor in the PLA’s Artillery Corps, the predecessor of Rocket Force.
“Only a long-range MLRS is powerful enough to act as a deterrent to India, as the Indian troops are also stepping up military deployment along the borders.” Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said the long-range MLRS mentioned by PLA Daily was likely to be the most advanced PHL-16 or the Type PCL-191. “The 42-tonne PHL-03 is too bulky for the high altitude … while earlier reports implied that the new PCL-191 would become the military’s main battle rocket system,” he said. The mysterious Type PCL-191 was debuted in the National Day Parade in 2019, but with its name concealed. The name was disclosed a few months later by Chinese military magazine Modern Ships.
The modular rocket system of the PCL-191 is able to carry eight 370mm rockets, each with a range of 350km (220 miles), or two 750mm Fire Dragon 480 tactical ballistic missiles, each capable of flying up to 500km, according to Modern Ships.It is not known how many PCL-191 units China has built, but according to a military source an artillery brigade equipped with the cutting-edge weapon system was in December 2019 deployed to Zhejiang province under the Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the Taiwan Strait. “All new advanced weapon systems need to be tested and deployed to different areas to make sure functions still work under extreme weather,” Song said.