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SOURCE: THE PRINT

Pakistan seems to have procured another ultra-modern piece of artillery equipment from China — the SH-15 howitzer. And the significance for India is that the system could be nuclear-capable, if Pakistan’s attempts to miniaturise nuclear weapons has been successful. The howitzer made an appearance at Pakistan’s 10th International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), organised in Karachi this week. Only one picture of the weapon appeared, indicating some kind of secrecy or embargo, but that was enough to confirm that Pakistan has begun importing the system.

The SH-15 was also exhibited at the Zhuhai Airshow held this month in China. It is already in service with the People’s Liberation Army’s 72 Group Army in the Eastern Theatre Command, with the artillery brigade firing alongside the PHL03 MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) and the PLZ05 howitzer SP (self-propelled).

The SH-15 trials in Pakistan were carried out in secret in the mountains near Karachi. A leaked picture of the trials was published in Chinese magazines.

Pakistan is learnt to have ordered at least 52 SH-15, enough for three regiments of the artillery.

How it works

The SH-15 system uses a 6×6 wheeled Shaanxi truck chassis for carrying a 155 mm howitzer mounted at the rear of the truck. The truck also has two spades connected to the howitzer at the rear for stabilising the system.

The howitzer system is operated by a crew of five and carries almost 22.5 tons of load.

It is protected against small arms firing and shell splinters by an armoured cabin at the front, which has all bulletproof windows and windshields.

The 155mm/52 calibre long-barrel howitzer is fitted with a double-baffle muzzle brake. It has four boxes for carrying 60 rounds of ammunition as first line.

Northern Industries Corporation (NORINCO), the state-run defence manufacturer that makes the SH-15, claims it has a maximum firing range of 53 km with a rocket-assisted artillery projectile, similar to the eight-year-old SH-1 system.

The elevation and traverse of this howitzer is operated hydraulically. It can also be operated by manual controls in case of emergencies. The maximum rate of fire is six rounds per minute.

The SH-15 can be used to perform a direct firing role, which the Pakistan Army seems very fond of.

Nuclear dimension

So, why is Pakistan so fixated on 155mm howitzers? The answer is that the SH-15 will be the best ‘shoot and scoot’ system for the use of nuclear shells — easy to hide and easy to use against troop concentration.

Pakistan has been working on the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons since 1984, with Plutonium as the core. The US nuclear artillery shell W-48 uses 10kg high density alpha-plutonium with a sphere of barely 54mm.

Pakistan’s ex-martial law administrator and self-proclaimed president Pervez Musharraf had told a US diplomat that Pakistan had produced the smallest nuclear warhead in the latter half of 2011.

Such a warhead, if fitted in a 155 mm shell with a stated range of 53 km, will be a game-changer against India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine.