China is getting closer to equipping its warships with electromagnetic railguns, state media reports – which, if true, means its fleet could soon boast some of the most advanced weapons technology on the planet.
Citing CCTV, the state-run Global Times on Thursday reported the underlying railgun technology – which utilizes electrical power rather than explosives to launch projectiles – was based on “fully independent intellectual property,” rather than copied from other countries.
Unconfirmed sightings of a Chinese landing ship apparently equipped with a test railgun in an undisclosed location have circulated around the internet this week.
Military expert Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN that if the reports were accurate, the weapon was likely to be “a year or two away from being operational.”
“They’ll say it’s operational – what that mean the operational evaluation has started, (and they’re) testing it under more realistic conditions,” he said. “Typically you’re looking at a year before being deployed.”
Schuster said it was significant that China appeared to be transitioning from copying foreign weapon designs to “developing their own” technology.
“It also tells you (that China) is no longer 10-15 years behind (the US)… They are now approaching parity with the west in terms of weapons development,” he added.
Technological sea change
Railgun technology, which uses electromagnetic force to send projectiles up to 125 miles at 7.5 times the speed of sound, is cheaper and more accurate than traditional gunpowder-based methods.
“Using a massive electrical pulse rather than a chemical propellant, the railgun can launch projectiles much farther than the 13-nautical-mile range of the US Navy’s standard 5-inch naval gun,” the US Office of Naval Research says.
Railgun projectiles also don’t need explosive warheads – they do their damage with sheer speed.
“(Railguns) give you more firepower, more range, (and they can be better) guided, as you control acceleration in the barrel,” Schuster added.
The claim that China is a step closer to having a combat-ready railgun comes on the heels of another Global Times report that a Chinese arms company has tested a massive bomb which, according to a Chinese military analyst quoted in the story, “can easily and completely wipe out fortified ground targets such as reinforced buildings, bastions and defense shelters.”
The device, developed by Chinese arms giant China North Industries Group Corporation, better known as NORINCO, is approximately 5 to 6 meters (17 to 20 feet) long, according to Wei Dongxu, the quoted analyst.
While smaller, the Chinese bomb is similar in capability to the US’ GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs.”
MOAB, the US military’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, was first used operationally in 2017, when one was dropped on ISIS targets in Afghanistan, according to US officials.