The Soviet influence on Chinese ground warfare military doctrine today is still apparent as proven by the many rocket projecting weapon systems currently in service with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The Type 81 was developed to fulfill this role and succeeded the Type 70 units then in service. Based on the successful Soviet BM-21 "Grad" wheeled rocket projectors, the original Type 81 design entered service in 1982 with evermore evolved forms appearing into the 2000s. These variants are all based around the same wheeled chassis / rocket projecting concept.
The Type 81 and its kin all follow the tried and true design form established by Soviet-era rocket launching trucks of World War 2, offering low-cost, effective battlefield support services. The Chinese take is also a 6x6 wheeled truck chassis with forward cab and engine arrangement with rear-mounted traversable launcher unit (virtually any 6-wheeled vehicle can play the MLRS role provided that the chassis can sustain the weight of armor and the weapons unit). The standard 122mm rocket features a 40lb warhead and several other warhead types have been developed by Chinese industry in increase the tactical flexibility of the Type 81. Power is through a diesel-fueled engine to which road speeds reach 35 miles per hour with a 280 miles driving range. A 12.7mm heavy machine gun is normally fitted to provide for local air-defense and protection against enemy infantry and light armored vehicles. MLRS vehicles generally operate some distance away from active, fluid frontlines primarily in the support role. A standard operating crew numbers five personnel and support vehicles are typically fielded with MLRSs in battle.
Original vehicles were known as "Type 81" and these mounted the basic 40-round launcher atop the chassis of a Honyan OQ261 series 6x6 truck (exported systems to Pakistan differed in their use of the "Azar" truck line). The "Type 83" then followed, also on a 6x6 truck chassis, but mounting a 24-round launcher unit instead. The "Type 89" reverted to a 40-round launcher unit and this was set atop the tracked chassis of the Type 83 Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) vehicle providing better crew protection as well as improved off road mobility. A reload pack with forty extra rockets was featured ahead of the launcher for quick reloading (in under three minutes). The "Type 90" utilized a 40-round launcher unit with the Tiema SC2030 series 6x6 truck chassis and was also finalized with a 40-round rocket reload pack for successive firing actions. The "Type 90A" then became an improved form of this version and retained the 40-round launcher pack though on a Tienna XC2200 series 6x6 truck. The "Type 90B" was a more evolved version with 40-round launcher on a Beifang Benchi 2629 series 6x6 truck. Its fire control system, communications suite, and battlefield awareness qualities were all improved with this mark. The most modern representation of the Type 81 appears to be the PR50 "Sandstorm" which holds a 50-round rocket launching pack and improvements throughout its design for a sounder, more modernized tactical vehicle - its debut was in 2006.
The Type 81 and its kind have proven quite the successful investment for the PLA and this has led to its various stated forms. The type stocks artillery formations within corps and battalion levels forming a potent fire support reach for Chinese ground forces. Beyond the obvious destructive effects of rockets featured in MLRS systems, they also hold a devastating psychological effect against enemy infantry unlucky enough to find themselves on the receiving end of a salvo. Multiple MLRS vehicles targeting a wide area can provide extensive saturation, softening up ground targets in preparation for a major offensive with tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and infantry forces.