An electromagnetic arms race has begun: China is making rail guns too

(From Popular Science)

By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer

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.

Chinese Railgun This early Chinese railgun or coilgun (pre-2005) is part of Chinese electromagnetic research, which began in the 1980s. While railguns are relatively simple to build, the difficulty lies in scaling them up, as well as making the barrel durable enough for multiple firings. Chinese Internet, via Strategy Center

Chinese Railgun
This early Chinese railgun or coilgun (pre-2005) is part of Chinese electromagnetic research, which began in the 1980s. While railguns are relatively simple to build, the difficulty lies in scaling them up, as well as making the barrel durable enough for multiple firings.
Chinese Internet, via Strategy Center

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.

The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) has reported online that its 206 Institute, which researches electromagnetic launch technologies, has made breakthroughs in electromagnetically launch boosted missiles and railguns designed for close in weapons systems (CIWS). This follows the 206 Institute’s hosting of the Seventh Chinese Electromagnetic Technology Conference in Oct 2015, which also reported advances in material sciences to reduce railgun barrel wear (while railgun technology have been tested since 1918, power generation and the wearing out of the barrel are longstanding barriers to the deployment of militarily useful railguns). Read more

 



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