China’s nascent railgun is just the tip of its shipboard R&D

DefenseOne.com reports: “China’s researchers recently claimed to have developed a working electromagnetic railgun, potentially providing the PLA with one of the most disruptive new weapons of the 21st century. Whether they actually have overcome the technical issues that long stymied U.S. work in this space remains to be seen, but it is clear that the PLA research investment in electromagnetic and power-generation systems goes back well over a decade. 

Artillery has been powered by relatively inefficient chemical explosions since at least 1128, when the first depiction of a cannon was carved in western China. By contrast, a railgun uses magnets to accelerate projectiles to speeds that can surpass Mach 6. Railguns promise to match the greater range and accuracy of missiles and rockets with the low-cost-per-shot of traditional artillery. This flips the cost-imposition problem that bedevils modern militaries, where even successful systems can become incredibly expensive to operate or simply overwhelmed by enemies firing swarms of cheaper weapons. U.S. forces off Yemen, for instance, are shooting cruise missiles, which cost at least three orders of magnitude more than the drones they are intended to destroy.

The U.S. military was a leader in railgun research for many years, but it ended its program in 2021 after spending over $500 million. The stated reasons were the engineering challenges involved, particularly the tendency for the barrel to wear down after only a few shots, as well as a desire to shift resources to other programs, such as hypersonic missiles…”

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