China in world-first deployment of experimental electromagnetic rail ‘supergun’ aboard a warship


CHINA has just changed the game. It has released photos of a new “supergun” capable of making many of the West’s defences obsolete.

WANT to win a war? Build a better gun. Now China appears to have taken a huge stride ahead of the United States with the first experimental deployment of a new ‘supergun’ aboard a warship.

The first images began circulating on the internet last week.

They showed a Chinese amphibious assault ship — usually used to deploy troops and tanks on a beach — fitted with an enormous cannon on its bows.

Overnight, Beijing’s official mouthpiece The People’s Daily Online published an article reporting speculation the unusually large single-barrelled weapon was an electromagnetic rail gun.

This is significant.

Traditional guns use an explosive charge to generate a high-pressure cloud of gas, forcing a projectile out the open end of a barrel at high velocities.

But they are limited.

The propellant generates heat and pressure. This restricts the practical size, speed and durability of such a weapon. It also requires large, deadly stores of explosives be carried aboard a ship.

But an electromagnetic rail gun does away with many of these negatives.

Instead of explosives, it uses powerful magnets to sling warheads down its barrel and into the air. It is calculated this will enable larger warheads to be fired much faster — and further — than traditional cannons.

Once fully operational, such guns could sink ships, attack land targets — and even destroy aircraft and missiles in flight — at ranges and accuracy normally expected from missiles.


“Though the US has been openly developing electromagnetic guns for years, it doesn’t mean that China is far behind in this field, as the latter [usually] keeps quiet about its progress due to secrecy concerns,” military commentator Chen Shuoren told the Science and Technology Daily component of the People’s Daily.

“If the pictures are confirmed to be true, this would be a milestone for China’s electromagnetic weapons research program, with epoch-making significance.”


Photos of the ship berthed at a facility at Wuchang Shipyard in Hubei province appear to show three large shipping containers braced on its open deck. These likely house the electrical generators necessary to power the railgun’s intense magnetic field. The ship has also had a new control room added, as well as a set of new sensors, above the superstructure.

The gun itself is big. Roughly the same size as a 32-megajoule rail gun the US has been testing.

The US-BAE rail gun is intended to fire a 10kg projectile at Mach 7 (8500km/h) over 150km.

China is believed to have acquired a key technology enabling the development of the electromagnetic weapon after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 when it bought out the British firm Dynex Semiconductor. This led to the production of insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) chips which are vital for modern energy conversion systems.

Military technology expert Wang Ping at the Institute of Electrical Engineering under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing told Chinese media the new system meant electricity-hungry launch systems and weapons could now be used on any conventionally powered vessel.



The US has had a troubled time with its electromagnetic propulsion systems.

Since fitted to the USS Ford, the electromagnetic launch catapults (EMALS) have frequently misfired. Under operational circumstances, this could mean the loss of a $100 million jet fighter and its pilot as it plunges into the sea ahead of the ship.

Late last month the US Navy announced it had found a software fix for the problem, but the USS Ford is not expected to be capable of high-intensity operations of combat aircraft until 2019.

It had been intended to retrofit the US Navy’s latest Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers with railguns in the 2020s. But the advanced conventional guns the three vessels carry at the moment have no ammunition due to its exorbitant cost.

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