Photos published online suggest that China may be testing a ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun.
If confirmed, this would make China the first nation to develop such a superweapon, with potential implications for the power-struggle between China and the US in Asia.
A railgun uses electromagnetic force to fire projectiles along electrically charged rails at very high speeds. The US has been developing its own railgun technology over the past 10 years.
In tests, prototype weapons shot projectiles at speeds around 7800 kilometres an hour – more than Mach 6 – with a range of around 150 kilometres. But after sinking $500 million into the project, the US government pulled the plug last year because it could only fire just under five rounds per minute, instead of the 10 originally set out for the project.
China appears to be ploughing ahead, however. Making a railgun that would be reliable in combat is hard because of the huge pressures exerted on the structure of the gun. Mounting it on a ship adds extra challenges. If China has succeeded, it could change the balance of power at sea – as there is not really
a known defence mechanism against a railgun shot at high
Mach numbers. It is too fast and too small for current anti-ship missile and anti-aircraft defence systems. As well as being difficult to defend against, railguns have a long range.
The US would still have a superior submarine fleet, however.
But do the photos doing the rounds on social media, February 2018, really show the genuine article?