Ever since Eraser, everyone wants a railgun. Turns out China is no exception. Some photos posted by Dafeng Cao, a Twitter user who keeps close tabs on Chinese military developments, show a ship-mounted gun that could very well be the country’s very own homegrown electromagnetically propelled mass driver.
Railguns, or coil guns, accelerate solid metal projectiles using ultra-strong electromagnets, firing them well above speeds achieved by conventional ballistic methods. We’re talking Mach 6 here. The U.S. has been working on them for years, and has produced some very cool test videos, but I haven’t heard about any of them being mounted on ships.
It’s all speculation — not like the Chinese military would confirm, although apparently the railgun research is an open secret — but a few things point to the idea that this isn’t just an ordinary deck-mounted gun with a special fairing.
First, its relatively short barrel tucked deep in that housing suggests that the acceleration components are all under there, much like the functioning American guns we’ve seen demonstrated. No sense having all that surface area unless it’s protecting something, otherwise you might as well paint a target on it.
Second, the ship it’s on isn’t China’s standard test bed ship, the Type 909, despite those vessels being quite new and created for at-sea testing. Dafeng Cao cites a former Chinese Navy officer who says that this is likely because the power output of the 909 is not high enough nor flexible enough to sustain the enormous power load necessary to fire these guns. The Type 072, which was used, is more easily retrofitted with…
…The third clue, a set of shipping containers mounted just aft of the gun; if it’s anything like the railguns we’ve seen, there’s a bunch of power and operational infrastructure that wouldn’t fit inside that fairing, but would fit in a couple of containers.
Last, a banner has just been raised on the ship that reads, roughly, “Providing first-class weapons and equipment for building the best navy in the world.” A bit of military fanfare for a show or anniversary is a great venue for showing off your cool new gun, though that camo wrapping might complicate firing it.
If China has managed to mount its railgun on a ship, that means they’ve gone to great means to miniaturize and modularize this sophisticated and extremely heavy piece of equipment. Like the U.S. one, it’s almost certainly nowhere near ready for deployment (conventional munitions are far more practical right now), but it may yet be — unlike ours, which has apparently fallen out of favor with naval authorities and will likely never see combat.