Type 59-1 130mm Howitzer
The Chinese 130mm Type 59-1 field gun is aa heavy artillery piece with updated 1950s Soviet technology. In 1959, the Ministry of Industry directed #127 weapons plant to develop a field gun in accordance with the Soviet M-46 cannon, resulting in the successful imitation Type 59 130 mm cannon.
In the late 1960s, based on comprehensive analysis and research of Soviet-made M1946 130mm, D-74 122mm, and D-20 152mm artillery, the experience of imitating the M1946 130mm cannon was summarized, and the 59 type cannon was maintained. With the same ballistic performance, comprehensive improvements have been made to greatly improve the tactical and technical performance of this type of gun. The improved artillery was finalized as the "1959-1 130mm cannon" and passed the design finalization test of the National Range in 1970. The Type 59-1 cannon adopts an improved type 60 122mm cannon mount, the breech block is changed to a semi-automatic vertical wedge type, the anti-recoil device is changed from the top and bottom configuration to the left and right configuration of the gun body, and the cradle is changed from a frame type to a barrel type It also increases the design of the support seat plate and cancels the push-pull device of the gun body, which reduces the weight by 1500 kg, increases the rate of fire, reduces the height of the line of fire, increases the range of fire, and improves the stability of the gunís small firing angle.
The Chinese engineers began to work on the improved variant of the Type 59 in the late 1960s. The goal was to the fixing many of the shortcomings of the Type 59ís design while try to expands its capability. Many of the new components for the improved design were borrowed or influenced by the Type 66 152mm howitzer and Type 60 122mm field gun. The first thing changed was the Type 59ís carriage. The new carriage was based on that of the new Type 66 152mm howitzerís spit-trail wheel carriage. The new carriage offered many features the old carriage lacked. It removed the need to uses a limber wheels and therefore not only it offered better cross-country mobility but also greatly reduced deploy and recovery time. The newly added flip-up metal coaster wheel at the end each trails makes it much easier to open and close the spit-trail. The new carriage also added a base-plate that when lowered to the ground, it helps improve the overall stability and reduce recoil during firing. The lowered base-plate together with the coaster wheels on the trail also allows 360 degree traverse for the field gun.
The Type 59ís recoil mechanism had to be redesigned in order to fits into the new carriage. The original Type 59 uses an over and under configuration for its recoil and counter recoil buffers. In the new carriage the bottom position is taking up by the new base-plate. The counter-recoil buffer cylinder had to be relocated to the top of the breech assembly and along side of the recoil buffer cylinder. The side benefit of the new configuration is that it makes servicing both buffer cylinders a much simpler job.
A simpler double-buffed muzzle brake replaced the multi-port ďpepperboxĒ type design used on the original Type 59. The new muzzle brake is cheaper and easier to manufacture, weights less and it also increases the efficiency to over 45 percents.
The Type 59ís breech mechanism also received an upgrade. The old manually operated horizontal sliding-wedge breech was replaced by a semi-automatic vertical sliding-wedge breech. The new breech was based on the Type 66 152mm howitzerís breech. The new breech added a coil spring and uses gravity to reduce the effort in open and close the breechblock. The ďsemi-automaticĒ function is that the breech mechanism can be configured to automatically to open the breechblock and ejects the spent propellant case at the end of the recoil cycle. This does help speed up the reloading operation somewhat. The maximum firing rate had increased from the originalís 6-8 rpm to 8-10 rpm with the Type 59-1ís new semi-automatic breech. However, the realistic rate of fire is still depends on the efficiency of the gun crew. After the first few minutes of firing, even the most experienced crew will be slow down due to fatigue. The other improvements to the breech assembly include a retention device that holds the projectile or the propellant case in place while the breechblock is opened during high-angle ammo loading operation. The redesigned firing mechanism has added safety to prevent it from firing if the breechblock is not closed completely.
Besides those major changes, there were other smaller but no less significant improvements. New ball bearings and rollers were added to the field gunís mechanical components. Those help to reduce frictions while improve the reliability. Light emitting diodes and fiber optic lightings replaced conventional light buds for the sight illumination and the running lights. The automotive braking system was replaced by a pneumatic brake system thatís comparable with common PLA trucks and artillery prime movers.
The 130mm field gunís formidable ballistic performance remained unchanged in the Type 59-1. Most of the upgrades were focused on improve its mobility and operational efficiency. The biggest improvement resulted from all those upgrades is a major 2,100 kilograms weight reduction from the original Type 59ís 8.2 tons towing weight to new Type 59-1ís 6.1 tons. This in term, lead to a significant improvement to the field gunís mobility and itís light enough to be tow by most of the medium trucks in service with the Chinese military.
The Type 59-1 variantís development was completed in the early 1970s. However, due the turmoil of the Maoís Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution the Type 59-1ís initial production was grinded to a halt after few small batches. The Chinese military only started to receive the Type 59-1 130mm field gun in numbers in the early 1980s.
The second modernization of the Type 59 field gun system occurred the 1980s. The emphases of the second modernization was not on the Type 59 field gun itself but to enhance its targeting capability, effective range, ammunitions and an attempt of developing a self-propel version of it.
Combat experiences gained in the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 indicated that the PLA artillery units had ineffective surveillance and target acquisition ability. The major cause of this deficiency was not enough artillery forward observers (FO) and the few FOs that they had were either poorly equipped or often poorly trained for their jobs.
The PLA used a two-prong approach to modernize their artillery target acquisition capability. The first one was the creation more FO positions in the artillery units. The best surveillance and communication equipment the PLA had at the time were issued to those new FOs. They were one of the first to received light-intensifier night version equipment, handheld laser range finder and digital communication gears in the PLA. Their trainings were also updated with new tactics and modified according to the new equipments.
The second approach was by adding artillery radars to the Type 59 unitís organic table of equipment (TOE). In the early 1980s, Chinaís relation with the European and American begin to warming up. The Western nations started to allow military sales to the China. Since one of the Type 59 unitís main tactical role is counter-battery operation, the artillery locating radar was on the top of the PLAís shopping list. The first artillery radar the PLA ordered was the British made Green Archer Mark I. The first four Green Archer units were sent to the initial stage of the Second Sino-Vietnamese War in 1984. The imported artillery radars together with the newly trained and better equipped FOs demonstrated to be highly effective in combat engagements. The Vietnamese artillery supports were quickly eliminated by the Chinese artillery radar equipped Type 59 batteries. The well directed Chinese artillery fires inflicted devastating causality on the unsupported Vietnamese infantries. The PLA was so impressed with the artillery radarís combat performance; they later brought the production license for the Green Archer series.
At the same time, the PLA was also looking for larger and longer range artillery radar system with more capabilities for their artillery division level TOE. The state of the art American made Fiefinder AN/TPQ-37 was chosen by the PLA for the task. The AN/TPQ-37 utilizes a phased array antenna and computer controlled digital signal processor. Itís capable of first round detection at range up to 50km for mortar, tube artillery and rockets. Its phased array antenna allows the radar to tracks multiple targets simultaneously and the onboard computer automatically calculates both the firing position and the impact point of each projectiles. Only two units of the AN/TPQ-37 were delivered to the PLA in the late 1980s before the new American led arms embargo cancelled the rest of the order. Subsequently, the Chinese engineer developed a reverse engineer AN/TPQ-37 copy based on the two examples they received. The Chinese made copy was designated the Type 704 artillery radar. However, the early version was still relied heavily on foreign made components. It took the Chinese engineers ten years to achieve the completely indigenous production of the Type 704.
By the 1980s, the Type 59 finally gave up its class leading long-range crown to the new long barrel 155 mm howitzers; which including Chinaís own 45 calibers 155mm howitzer. To close the performance gap, a new family of enhanced 130mm ammunitions was developed for the Type 59. The first to become available was the Extended Range Full-bore Base-Bleed (ERFB-BB) rounds. It increases the Type 59ís maximum range from 27.5km to 35km and 37km if fires at 52 degrees instead of the standard 45 degrees. The ERFB-BB ammo works by having a very streamlined projectile shape and burns gas generating chemicals at its tail in flight to reduce air drags. Comparing to the old rocket-assisted extended range ammo, the base-bleed ammo is not only more efficient in increase the range but it also without having the penalty of decrease the size of the main explosive charge. The gas generating chemical base burner takes up much less space than the rocket motor in the rocket assisted round. In fact, the base-bleed rounds actually carries slightly more explosive than the regular high-explosive (HE) round due to its longer projectile. The 130mm ERFB-BB round has a dispersion of 1/170 or 0.58% at its maximum range.
The 130mm cargo carrying ammo was developed along side with the base-bleed round. For the longest time, no one had developed a cargo carry round for the 130mm field gun. The difficulty was due to the 130mmís projectile design. It needs a thick projectile case wall construction to cope with the Type 59ís high chamber pressure design. However, in the mid 1980s, the Chinese engineers had finally overcome that obstacle and developed the cargo carrying round for the Type 59. The new 130 mm cargo ammo is what the American military would calls it the DPICM or Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions. The 130mm DPICM contains 35 dual-purpose bomblets. Each of those bomblets is capable of penetrating 80mm of rolled homogeneous steel with the build-in small shape-charge warhead. The detonation of the bomblet also produces fragmentation for incapacitating near by unprotected infantries. The 130mm cargo carrying ammo has a maximum range of 25km.
Those new enhanced 130mm rounds indicated a major advance in Chinese munitions technology. On the other hand, the Chinese engineers may have gotten some outside helps. In coincidence, the Canadian-born artillery ballistic genius Dr. Gerald Bull was doing some consulting works for the Chinese arms industry during the mid 1980s. In fact, the new Chinese 45 caliber 155mm long range howitzer was designed by Dr. Bull. Itís highly possible that Dr. Bull may have provided technical assistances to the Chinese engineers in developing those enhanced 130mm ammo. In addition, the new 130mm ERFB-BB round also resembles the Dr. Bullís signature base-bleed extended range ammo design.
Even the Type 59ís conventional ammos received some upgrades. The more powerful RDX replaced the TNT as the main explosive charge in the standard HE round. However, the old TNT filled HE round remain in production because of its lower cost.
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