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.”
The Chinese government newspaper encourages speculation that the Type 072 II landing ship named Haiyangshan had been fitted with a rail gun, stating the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation had announced a major breakthrough in electromagnetic research in 2015.
The Chinese newspaper says cutbacks in US funding for rail gun research had allowed Beijing to catch up: “the US Navy demonstrated its rail gun prototypes in 2006 and announced in 2016 that it would test electromagnetic railguns on the joint high-speed vessel USS Millinocket (JHSV 3), though no rail gun has ever been seen on any US military vessels …
“Though the test rail gun is not the final version of the hi-tech weapon, its size does fit the 055 destroyer, which would become an invincible vessel once equipped with electromagnetic weapons.”