Military Review

AH4 Lightweight Towed Howitzer (China)

To solve certain combat missions and operation in some conditions, artillery guns must be distinguished not only by high firing characteristics, but also by ease of transportation. Lightweight large-caliber guns are of great interest to various armies, which leads to the emergence of appropriate new projects. Not so long ago, a new proposal appeared on the international market for light-towed howitzers - the Chinese-made AH4 cannon.

A new project of promising artillery weapons, having a number of characteristics, was created by the designers of NORINCO Corporation - the leading Chinese developer and manufacturer of weapons and equipment. The aim of the work was the creation of a new towed system of caliber 155 mm with reduced dimensions and weight, which can significantly facilitate the transportation of guns on various roads and over rough terrain. According to reports, the project AH4 was originally created taking into account the output to the international market. Thus, a new type of weapon is exclusively an export sample and is not intended for supply to the Chinese armed forces.

The existence of the project AH4 became known in 2012 year. In the middle of 2014, the first photograph of a promising weapon was published. In the photo, the howitzer was captured in a transport position on a special trailer. In November of the same year, NORINCO took part in one of the Chinese military-technical exhibitions, presenting a number of already well-known and new developments. Among other samples weapons and equipment at this exhibition for the first time publicly showed a full-fledged sample of a promising tool. In the future, the product AH4 was repeatedly demonstrated at various exhibitions and showrooms, however, until recently, the development prospects were not specified.

Howitzer AH4 at the Airshow China 2014.

In mid-July last year, the development company talked about getting the required results. According to the official report of NORINCO, by the summer of 2016, all design work was completed, and all necessary tests were carried out. In addition, the production lines necessary for the production of serial guns were prepared. The assembly of serial weapons could begin at any time, immediately after receiving the corresponding order. However, at the time of publication of such News AH4 howitzer orders were not available.

From the point of view of the general concept, the Chinese NORINCO AH4 gun is often referred to as an analogue of the BAE M777 towed howitzer, which is already in serial production and is in service with several countries. At the same time, despite the similarity of ideas underlying the two projects, the samples have a lot of noticeable differences. The two guns differ both in their design and in terms of the materials used. This situation is quite understandable and explainable: the designers of two different companies had similar goals, but achieved them in different ways.

Rapid transfer of weapons to the desired firing position should be carried out with the help of a carriage with a wheel course. In order to facilitate the transportation of the howitzer in difficult conditions, a lightweight gun carriage design was developed, capable of providing the required stability during firing. At the same time, the carriage has the smallest possible size, but provides a solution to all tasks.

The basis of the AH4 gun carriage is a relatively large-sized support platform, to which all other units are attached, including the bed and the wheel course and the attachment devices of the swinging artillery unit. In front of the platform, articulated mounts are provided for the two swinging wheel balancers. When moving from a transport position to a combat position and vice versa, balancers with wheels can move up or down, lowering the platform on the ground or raising it. When moving, the hydropneumatic system responsible for the movement of the balancers performs the functions of a shock absorber, providing a soft stroke.

AH4 Lightweight Towed Howitzer (China)
The first published image of the gun. Photo

On the sides of the platform, directly behind the wheels, there are protruding units, which are the basis of the front legs. The beds consist of two parts: one is an element of the platform, while the second is hinged on it. In a combat position, the movable part of the frame rotates forward and sideways. When translated into the stowed position, this device turns back and is fixed at the side of the platform. To distribute the weight of the implement to the ground, relatively small flat supports without coulters are used.

In the back of the platform there are two fixed base of the bed. In connection with some features of the layout of the carriage, these devices are located at an angle to the ground, with the rise of the rear. The bases of the beds have hinges for mounting swinging devices. Swinging units rear bed made in the form of large box-like parts, equipped with wide openers. When lowering the bedding on the ground, the coulters provide support to the ground. In addition, when transferring to a combat position, hydraulic shock absorbers must be in contact, partially damping the recoil impulse.

On the base platform of the gun carriage there is an axis for mounting the support of the artillery unit. For the implementation of the horizontal pickup is responsible U-shaped device with mounts for trunnions on the side racks. The design of the support and its drives allows you to fire in a horizontal sector of width 22,5 °. It also provides a change in elevation angles ranging from -3 ° to + 72 °. The aiming control is carried out with the help of mechanisms with hydraulic drives. Control over such processes is carried out from the console at the gunner’s workplace.

The swinging artillery part of the AH4 howitzer consists of the gun itself and a set of devices for mounting it on a gun carriage. An interesting feature of the layout of the swinging part is the shift of the trunnions as far back as possible to the level of the breech of the gun. This allows to a certain extent to simplify the vertical guidance, as well as to facilitate the construction of the mast. The connection of the gun with a carriage is carried out with the help of several transverse details-clips and longitudinal beams. The latter are in contact with the guidance mechanisms and supports.

The carriage is characterized by a simplified and lightweight design. Photo

The main element of the perspective howitzer is a rifled barrel caliber 155 mm long 39 caliber (6045 mm). The barrel is equipped with a developed multi-chamber muzzle brake and is sealed to the bolt group. The use of hydropneumatic recoil devices is foreseen. The breech of the gun is located between the longitudinal beams of the swinging part, which determines the specific ergonomics of the loading process.

To the left of the cannon on the rocking installation is placed the sighting equipment, which allows attacking targets both in direct fire and when firing from closed positions. The sight is placed directly above the gunner's console, which is used to monitor the operation of the pointing drives.

The promising howitzer NORINCO AH4 is said to be capable of using the entire existing range of 155-mm artillery shells of Chinese and foreign production. In particular, full compatibility with shots that meet NATO standards is ensured. Thus, the gun operator can use any available projectiles of the appropriate caliber. The type of ammunition, respectively, should be chosen based on the assigned combat missions.

Together with the "traditional" high-explosive and other projectiles, the gun is capable of using new types of ammunition. In recent years, the Chinese defense industry has developed and offered customers several new products with various features. Together with the weapon, the customer can purchase adjustable projectiles guided by satellite navigation signals or a GP6 projectile with aiming at a target illuminated by a laser. In the latter case, allegedly, the gun is capable of hitting a stationary or moving target from a distance of up to 25 km with a probability of up to 90%.

The gun in the firing position. Photo NORINCO /

The lightweight towed howitzer AH4 has a combat weight of 4,5 tons, which allows it to be transported using various tractors. In addition, it is possible to transport military transport guns aviation. In particular, some of the existing Chinese or foreign-built helicopters can carry an external howitzer. According to published data, after arriving at the indicated position, a calculation of seven people takes no more than 3 minutes to deploy a howitzer. Transfer to a stowed position for departure from a position takes about 2 minutes. Due to the lack of own styling on the carriage, the transportation of the ammunition is assigned to transport equipment, primarily to the artillery tractor.

A characteristic feature of the new weapon is an unconventional mast design, which simplifies deployment at the firing position and reduces the mass of the howitzer while retaining other characteristics. In the combat position, the gun rests on a relatively large main platform, and additional stabilization is provided by two side supports and rear beds, equipped with shock absorbers and openers. Several points of support, including those that burrow into the ground, shock absorbers and a muzzle brake, ensure acceptable stability of the position of the howitzers during firing.

The lack of automatic loader and a relatively large mass of 155-mm separate shots imposes certain restrictions on the rate of fire, but this parameter still meets modern requirements. A trained calculation can show a firing rate up to 5 shots per minute for a short time. With prolonged firing, the rate of fire drops to 2 shots per minute.

When firing standard shells for various purposes, the maximum range of the shot reaches 25 km. This can be used as a normal "blanks" and guided projectiles. Also, Chinese specialists have recently created several new projectiles of the active-reactive type. The presence of the bottom gas generator optimizes the aerodynamics of the projectile, which allows you to get the firing range to 30 km. According to some reports, the latest Chinese active-missiles show even higher performance. Their firing range reaches 40 km, although the accuracy of hitting at such distances may deteriorate.

Howitzer in position for direct fire. Photo

The newest Chinese light howitzer NORINCO AH4 is considered to be a direct analogue of the American gun M777. Moreover, some features of the design of the two samples suggest that the Chinese gunsmiths, at least, took into account foreign experience. Thus, similar means of distributing weight and recoil to the ground were used, and a similar system for installing the tool body was used. It is known that the company BAE Systems when creating their guns actively used aluminum and titanium, which made it possible to drastically reduce the mass of the structure. Probably, the Chinese designers also used lighter materials and alloys, which made it possible to obtain the corresponding results. However, in terms of mass, the AH4 is inferior to the M777: the American gun weighs 4,2 t against 4,5 t Chinese.

From the point of view of the declared fighting qualities, a promising weapon of Chinese development is not inferior to the main foreign competitor. According to the well-known data on the capabilities of the AH4, a howitzer can send an ordinary projectile to 24 km, an active-reactive projectile to 30 km, and products of the latest models can fly to 40 km. M777 also shows similar characteristics. There should be noticeable differences.

According to the latest development company reports, the AH4 project has passed the development and testing stage. The light towed howitzer has already proven its capabilities and is now ready for the start of mass production. The project was initially developed with a view to entering the international market, which is why the People’s Liberation Army of China has not yet shown its interest in it and is unlikely to do so in the future. As for potential customers represented by foreign armies, information on their account is not yet available. During past exhibitions, third-country military showed interest in new weapons, but as far as we know, no one has yet wished to sign a firm contract for the supply of artillery.

To solve various combat missions, modern armies need weapons with various specific features. In particular, in recent years there has clearly been a tendency to increase the potential of large-caliber howitzers with the lowest possible weight. The answer to this challenge should be the newest Chinese towed system NORINCO AH4. A few months ago, the developer of this gun completed all the required work, and now accepts orders for the supply of mass-produced weapons. However, as far as is known, the prospective light howitzer has not become the subject of a contract.

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  1. Comrade Stalin
    Comrade Stalin 27 January 2017 07: 11
    Good gun, but that's why the PLA in such a caliber? In my opinion, they have 152-mm shells as the standard. Could immediately in the caliber 152 mm to do. It is unlikely that the Chinese will be able to squeeze the Americans from the arms trade market.
    1. Herman
      Herman 27 January 2017 08: 31
      All of their new 155mm SAUs, towed guns in my opinion too.
      1. Monster_Fat
        Monster_Fat 27 January 2017 09: 28
        China is gradually switching to NATO standards in order to increase the export potential of its military equipment, both new and used.
        1. acrshooter
          acrshooter 27 January 2017 20: 20
          After all, the article says Russian in white:
          The project [howitzers] was originally developed with the aim of entering the international market ...

          Looks like not only articles are not being read on the Hansa! ..
          Sincerely, Arthur
      2. Lopatov
        Lopatov 27 January 2017 11: 53
        Quote: Herman
        All of their new 155mm SAUs, towed guns in my opinion too.

        No. Do not confuse export options and the PLA technique. And NORINCO generally works exclusively for export.
        1. Herman
          Herman 27 January 2017 14: 31
          I don’t know, for example sau 155mm plz-05 is only in the PLA.
          1. Lopatov
            Lopatov 27 January 2017 22: 24
            And is it precisely in caliber 155 and not 152? 2C19 also exists in two calibers.
            1. Herman
              Herman 28 January 2017 07: 12
              They write that 155mm, and that plz-05 should replace the PLA 152mm type 83 sau.
    2. Lopatov
      Lopatov 27 January 2017 11: 51
      Quote: Comrade_Stalin
      It is unlikely that the Chinese will be able to squeeze the Americans from the arms trade market.

      Is not a fact...
      For example, in Saudi Arabia they beat the Americans. They sold 54 self-propelled guns PLZ-45 with all support vehicles.

      Here, in fact, it is not a matter of caliber, the point is the realization that most countries use not the Russian, but the British method of combat use of artillery. With advanced artillery observers and commanders of batteries and battalions in the area of ​​firing positions, and not at the front in conjunction with the infantry, as is customary with us.
      Accordingly, they supply the entire line of self-propelled guns, KShM, and support vehicles specifically for the method that customers have, and not they themselves.
      As D. Carnegie used to say, "I love strawberries with cream, the fish loves the worm, when I go fishing I take not strawberries with plums, but take the worm"
      Our "sellers of death" cannot understand this simple thing in any way.
    3. Zaurbek
      Zaurbek 27 January 2017 12: 29
      They make almost all guns in two calibers with an eye on export ... They are basically equivalent, but under 155mm there is more assortment of shells
  2. demiurg
    demiurg 27 January 2017 08: 27
    When the D-30s finally shoot the trunks, the third world will need something in return. Although judging by Vika, we still have four thousand in storage.
    The projectile is weaker, and does not fly 25km, but lighter per ton.
    1. Zaurbek
      Zaurbek 27 January 2017 12: 31
      most likely the 122mm caliber will be replaced by 120mm mortars with a long barrel and such lightweight 152-155 howitzers ... In the west, there is also a light 105mm howitzer.
      1. marshes
        marshes 27 January 2017 13: 16
        Quote: Zaurbek
        most likely 122mm caliber will be replaced

        The CSTO countries will provide military-technical assistance, while they themselves will transfer to 152.
        1. Zaurbek
          Zaurbek 27 January 2017 13: 22
          Yes something like that. But the CSTO countries do not have the same threats as the Russian Federation. For any irregular troops, the power of a 122mm HE projectile is quite enough. 155 and 152mm are needed for grinding serious fortified areas
          1. marshes
            marshes 27 January 2017 13: 29
            Quote: Zaurbek
            Yes something like that. But the CSTO countries do not have the same threats as the Russian Federation. For any irregular troops, the power of a 122mm HE projectile is quite enough. 155 and 152mm are needed for grinding serious fortified areas

            That’s why we should think about the appearance of an air-transportable "mountain" howitzer in China. Another 130mm light anti-tank gun would be muddied with unitary shells. It could be transported on the external suspension of the Mi-8/17 helicopter in high altitude conditions.
            1. Zaurbek
              Zaurbek 27 January 2017 14: 39
              PT gun for the mountains has already been invented-PTUR-Bassoon ....
              1. marshes
                marshes 27 January 2017 14: 43
                Quote: Zaurbek
                PT gun for the mountains has already been invented-PTUR-Bassoon ....

                ATGM, ATGM - and if development further goes along KAZ, there is no way to get along without ATGM.
                Although Lopatov is talking about the possibility of creating ATGMs with hyper, supersonic speeds.
    2. glasha3032
      glasha3032 27 January 2017 18: 44
      We also have good long-barreled howitzers 152 mm "Pat-B" on the D-30 carriage, we can sell in the export version ....
      1. Zaurbek
        Zaurbek 29 January 2017 21: 28
        There is an emphasis on the fact that the howitzer is not inferior to our MCTA (charge, barrel length, range) and weight, due to light alloys at the D-30 level ...
  3. chenia
    chenia 27 January 2017 20: 23
    I perceive 152-155 mm as a system of artillery attack on echeloned defense or defense on fire against an advancing enemy. Any airborne, other landing and mountain problems without this caliber, and first of all - the weight of the projectile.
    D-1 cadet years, shooting with one gun, measured (without fluent) -individualka. So it’s hard to pull out of the drawer, it’s not easy to drag, put on the holder and put on the rifling with a duster (at certain angles), not everyone can (okay now mechanized). And for the sake of what - the expense is only a third less.

    But 122 -120mm for a third (mine is twice as light) and you can work endlessly without fatigue.
    By the way, with my health in my young years it was not bad (lying 130 stings and two pounds twice a dozen), but I would have survived only one - another full OH.
  4. voyaka uh
    voyaka uh 28 January 2017 13: 56
    The Chinese do not pull time. If they see that some foreign novelty has received good combat reviews (like 777 in Afghanistan) - they copy it.
    1. Zaurbek
      Zaurbek 29 January 2017 21: 26
      Sometimes it seems to me that the passion for copying is so strong in China that they first copy, and then think about the application .. and what caliber is needed ...
  5. mr.redpartizan
    mr.redpartizan 29 January 2017 23: 07
    It is a decent gun, capable of being transported by helicopter. With proper manufacturing quality, it is in no way inferior to M777. Another question is, do we need such tools?
  6. DimerVladimer
    DimerVladimer 29 March 2017 14: 22
    Towed artillery in the war against the Papuans is good or in a protracted war - when the release of self-propelled guns can not keep up with the needs of molokh.
    In the conditions of modern means of counter-battery control, 2-3 minutes of folding towed systems are equivalent to destroying the battery in position.
  7. Farhad Mamadiev
    Farhad Mamadiev 16 July 2022 09: 52
    Good day to everyone, a question to the author of the article, and not only, who knows how effective the gun carriage with double barrel recoil was that the Germans had on heavy art systems, how much could it potentially give a gain in weight? And why was this novelty not used in the future? And the last question is whether it is possible to achieve approximately similar parameters in terms of weight and performance characteristics with the howitzer described above without using light alloys, but only relying on a muzzle brake like in 2A61 and double recoil Mrs 18 plus when using a similar carriage design like in m777 or an4 or more simplified ?