Perhaps inspired by the American M109 series of self-propelled artillery systems, the NORINCO PZL-45 is a relatively new arrival in the category. The vehicle is produced by China NORth INdustries COrporation (note caps) and first appeared publically in 1988 after several years of design and development. As the vehicle was designed to fire NATO-standard projectiles, it is understood that the PLZ45 was only meant for export as the Chinese Army does not formally conform to NATO-standard munitions. As such, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are the only known operators of the type. The PLZ45 is produced out of Chinese state factories with design attributed to Beijing University of Science and Technology.
Doing what they have grown to do best, Chinese engineers learned much through license production of foreign armaments, stolen information and re-engineering of existing systems to forge a world-recognized, indigenous defense industry all their own. Outwardly, the PLZ45 borrows much of the appearance of the American 1960s-era M109. The system consists of a fully-tracked chassis designed specifically for the PLZ45 system with a boxy gun emplacement superstructure turret fitted to the rear. Tracks include 6 x double-tired road wheels with a forward-mounted drive sprocket and a rear-set track idler. Three track return rollers guide the top portion of the track. The wheel pairings are distinct with the rearmost pairs close to one another and the front most set spaced apart. The hull features vertical slab sides while the glacis plate is extremely sloped, nearly vertical, as in the M109. The engine is mounted to the front right of the hull and aspirated through a screened opening, forcing the driver to take a front-left position in the hull. The turret houses the four-man gunnery crew, gun mount, breech and recoil system as well as the gun barrel with access hatches along the roof panel. The turret sides are only slightly sloped while the front facings are more exaggerated for basic ballistics protection. Overall hull and turret construction is believed to be of conventional welded steel. The vehicle weighs in at 33,000 kilograms and is powered by a Deutz turbocharged, air-cooled, diesel-fueled engine of 525 horsepower. This supplies the vehicle with a top speed of 56 kilometers and an operational range of approximately 450 kilometers. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBA) protection is thought to be a standard fixture in the PLZ45 as is a fire suppression system to protect the crew within.
The 155mm /45 WAC-21 caliber main gun (thought to be based on the towed 155mm WAC-021 field gun of Austrian origin) protrudes out over the front hull and is clamped down during travel. The gun is aimed both optically and by way of an automatic laying system that is digitally-oriented by the internal GPS navigation system. The recoil system is clearly visible from the outside of the vehicle at the gun's base. The muzzle is fitted with a smooth-sided or three-baffled muzzle brake. A fume extractor is noted at the midway point of the barrel assembly. The turret design allows for complete 360-degree traversal as well as +72 to -3 degrees of elevation and fires independent of the hull's current facing. Range of the main gun can reach out to target areas some 39 kilometers away and a trained crew can achieve a reported firing rate of up to 5 rounds per minute. Loading is achieved through a electronically-controlled, semi-automatic mechanism with a hydraulically-powered rammer (charges being loaded manually). The rammer can also operate regardless of current gun elevation giving tactical flexibility to the crew. Total onboard ammunition is 30 x 155mm projectiles with 24 stored in the turret itself within easy reach by the crew. Ammunition types range from standard High-Explosive, Fragmentation (HI-FRAG) projectiles to "extended range" types as well as basic illumination and smoke rounds. Guided munitions are also cleared for use by the PLZ45 series, putting her on par with any SPA currently in service today, and based on acquired Russian technology. Ammunition can be resupplied by an accompanying ammunition carrier (offered by NORINCO as a complete artillery package to interested customers) based on the PLZ45 chassis sans its turret, though fitting a fixed superstructure instead.
Self-defense is provided by 1 x 12.7mm W85 series heavy machine gun suitable for use against enemy troops, light armored vehicles and low-flying aircraft. 480 x 12.7mm rounds of ammunition is afforded this gun which is an optional fitting along the turret roof. Two banks of four grenade launchers each allow for smoke screens to be developed by the vehicle itself for use in offensive actions or tactical retreats.
The PLZ45 is thought to compare favorably to the American M109 though the former utilizes a heavier frame, longer main gun and more powerful engine. Kuwait became the first customer of this NORINCO product and placed an order in 1997 after evaluating several possibilities. These examples were then delivered complete with Chinese field support which led to a follow-up order for 74 more vehicles. Saudi Arabia committed to the purchase of the Chinese PLZ45 SPA in 2007 which will net the oil-rich country some 54 examples.