Note: This article features China’s PCL-191 GMLRS & its role in dispute between China, India & Taiwan.
The PCL-191 Multi Launch Rocket System(MLRS) is a long-range, stand-off precision rocket artillery system. The system is designed to deliver guided, precision firepower at long ranges deep inside enemy territory, regardless of the electromagnetic environment at the target location, and specifically designed to both saturate and bypass a modern, layered, and integrated air defense network. The weapon system presents considerable advantages over traditionally used military methods to deliver precise firepower to vital enemy tactical and strategic targets, including having longer ranges than conventional artillery and MLRS units, faster speed than turbojet/turbofan cruise missiles, and being much cheaper than tactical/battlefield ballistic missiles. With these theatre-wide advantages in view, it offers a far superior capability evident from the fact that the PLA tested it over Taiwan after U.S. speaker Nancy Pelosi’s destabilizing trip to the secessionist Island.
The PLA was very eager to test the system in a real environment in order to gauge its performance, evidence that the weapon features big in China’s plan for a military takeover of Taiwan. The Chinese PCL-191 itself is a self-propelled guided MRL system. The system is operated in a battery of 6 or more transporter-erector launchers, each having 8-10 tubes, and supporting two types of modularized ‘cells’ of 5 or 4 launch tubes each, for 300 mm and 370 mm rockets respectively, with a range of 350 kilometers. Specialized variants of the system can also fire 750 mm aeroballistics rockets with a range of 500 kilometers and 380 mm guided anti-ship rockets.
These systems were spotted in Ladakh during the 2020 India-China standoff. India currently has no system that can either counter or replicate the PCL-191’s capabilities.
The weapon system, if deployed in Ladakh, puts all Indian military targets into range up to and including New Delhi, a significant concern for the Indian Armed Forces. If placed in Pakistan’s strike arsenal, the system would essentially encompass virtually the entirety of India’s western and northern flank military assets, which includes over 60-70% of the country’s military capacity, including Kashmir’s occupation force.
A PCL-191 battery has been placed 38 kilometers away from Shiquanhe airport, a dual-use civil-military airport that acts as a staging port and forward operating base for the People’s Liberation Army’s forces engaged towards the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) in our scenario. Range circles shown in the image indicate the distance of different munitions in the PCL-191 system, the 350 kilometer-ranged 370 mm rocket indicated by the yellow circle and the 500 kilometer-ranged 750 mm aeroballistics rockets indicated by the blue circle. Major Indian airbases inside the range circles are also marked. The Indian capital of New Delhi, as can be seen, is within range of the MLR system even if fired from within Chinese territory.
This presents severe problems for Indian warplanners. Not only are some major Indian military bases, radar installations, air defense sites and airbases included in these ranges, but also strategic-level infrastructure including potential targets in and around New Delhi, including but not limited to strategic oil reserves, electrical power grids, railway nodes, bridges located over major river systems, large scale military cantonments, UAV stations, command and control nodes and early warning radars. Indian nuclear facilities are also located in the range. The range also covers crucial Indian military ground lines of communication chokepoints and army logistics roads and railway lines. All in all, it offers a massive conventional advantage to PLA forces in a serious conflict with the Indian military. As for the system’s foe in such a conflict: our analysis of the Indian air defense umbrella shows a system that is certainly layered, but not as well integrated, and consisting of Russian or Russian-origin Indian manufactured systems that will undoubtedly perform critically poorly against a modern saturation attack consisting of these rockets combined with both large and small drones, cruise missiles and strike aircraft, layered with a simultaneous large-scale electronic attack. The Indian air defense sites in the theatre will be forced to choose in between protecting themselves, dispersing and switching off for safety and survivability, or shooting down aerial threats engaging extremely vital military nerve-centers and air bases.
All in all, a very bad day for the Indian military, with the very real potential of nearly crippling its ability to coordinate its forces, counterattack or move equipment in the northern and western sectors of the country.