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Chinese SH-15 howitzers for Ethiopia
A recent Ethiopian state media FBC (Fana Broadcasting Corporate) report describes a visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Force) facilities. During the visit, PM Abiy Ahmed Ali highlighted ongoing modernizations of the ENDF. Pictures included in the Facebook version of the FBC report show 32 Chinese-made self-propelled howitzers not previously seen in Ethiopia. In this blog post, I will identify these howitzers and explain what can be seen in the pictures.
The set of photos included in the Facebook post includes nine pictures showing the new self-propelled howitzers on a truck chassis. Six of them were taken when the trucks were parked in four rows of eight trucks on the large apron at Harar Meda Military Airport in Ethiopia. This Ethiopian Air Force Base played a key role during the Tigray War, receiving over 100 cargo flights from the UAE and Iran in 2021.
An analysis of VHR satellite imagery (not shown) shows that the 32 trucks first arrived at this location between 18 Jan 2023, 07:13 UTC and 19 Jan 2023, 11:13 UTC, and did not move until the 21st. On 21 Jan 2023 at 07:01 UTC, they were still parked in their eight by four grid. This can be seen in the satellite image below, which was taken that morning.
On the apron
On the taxiway
At 10:59 UTC however, the 32 had moved to a taxiway slightly further southeast. Image 9 clearly shows the bright apron on which the vehicles were parked in the left half of the image.
Longer term followers of my account Gerjon_ on Twitter will know that I specialize in aviation and not in any ground vehicles. I did therefore not immediately recognize the vehicles. Searching one of the pictures in Google Lens allowed me to identify them after all: the PCL-181/SH-15, a modern Chinese self-propelled howitzer with a large 155 mm caliber gun. Its PLA (People’s Liberation Army, i.e. Chinese Military) designation is PCL-181. For export, the PCL-181 is called SH-15.
A visual comparison between the PCL-181/SH-15 and the vehicles seen in Ethiopia shows that they are largely identical, minor (customer-specific) details aside, confirming the Google Lens identification.
According to military-today.com, the SH-15 was first observed in China in 2017, before its public reveal in 2018, when it first entered service with China. In 2019 the SH-15 found its first foreign customer, when Pakistan ordered 236 SH-15s at a cost of around $2.1 million USD each. The 155 mm gun has a range of 20-25 km and has a fire rate of 4-6 rounds per minute. At a total weight of approximately 22 tonnes per vehicle, one PLAAF (Chinese Air Force) Y-20A is able to carry no more than two SH-15s at a time.
In order to transport the 32 SH-15s, at least 16 flights would be required. I have been unable to find any evidence for any Y-20A flight into Ethiopia. I therefore consider it more likely that the SH-15s were delivered to Ethiopia in a different way, perhaps by ship, via Djibouti.
I have been unable to find any indication of exports to Ethiopia. This therefore likely marks the first evidence for the delivery of SH-15s to Ethiopia.
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