An Electromagnetic Arms Race Has Begun: China Is Making Railguns Too

This BAE graphic illustrates the basic principles behind railgun technology, as well as its advantages (high launch speed and range, affordability, high firing volume). Chinese railguns on the Type 055A destroyer would likely have such similar characteristics.


A Chinese defense contractor may be on its way to key breakthroughs in railgun weaponry.

Railguns are one of the potential game-changing weapons of future war. Instead of using the power of chemical explosives such as gunpowder, a railgun uses electromagnetic force to propel projectiles to hypersonic speeds, potentially up to ranges of several hundred miles. A railgun’s barrel has two parallel conducting rails built into it. When a moving armature (usually the projectile) is inserted into the barrel, it connects the parallel rails to complete the current, thus generating an intense electromagnetic field. The projectile then accelerates out of the barrel at high speeds.

These new class of weapons are considered by the US Navy to be a key technology for meeting 21st century warfighting needs, most notably in plans for countering China’s military growth. Until now, the tech have been primarily a US dominated space; the U.S. Navy for example will test a railgun on the USNS Trenton starting in 2016. This seems to be changing.

Despite longstanding public conceptions of China only developing copycat weapons aided by intellectual property theft and espionage (such as the F-35 and J31 fighter jet similarity) , China’s progress in developing new cutting edge military technologies like railguns actually reflects a deep investment in the field. Chinese scientists from civilian and military universities submitted the most papers at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’s [sic] 2014 Symposium on Electromagentic Launch in California, and China will host the upcoming 2016 Symposium as well.

A railgun technology arms race seems to be happening, and it is something to keep a close watch. It could very well reshape what is possible or not in the Pacific security issues in the decades to come.

Full article: An Electromagnetic Arms Race Has Begun: China Is Making Railguns Too (Popular Science)

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