Key point: Beijing may end up beating America in building a working, viable naval railgun.
China could have the world’s most powerful naval gun by 2025, according to a U.S. intelligence report.
China is testing a ship-mounted railgun “capable of striking a target 124 miles away at speeds of up to 1.6 miles per second,” according to CNBC, citing anonymous sources familiar with the report.
“For perspective, a shot fired from Washington, DC could reach Philadelphia in under 90 seconds.”
A railgun is a sort of exotic cross between a catapult and a cannon, that uses electromagnetic energy instead of gunpowder to hurl projectiles at hypersonic speeds up to Mach 7. Electrical currents generate magnetic fields that accelerate a projectile along two rails. In theory, a railgun should be much cheaper than, say, a $1.4 million Tomahawk missile, which offers greater range but also can be shot down or jammed. A warship could also carry a huge number of small but high-velocity railgun projectiles
U.S. intelligence apparently possesses remarkably specific information, such as each Chinese railgun round costs between $25,000 and $50,000.
“China's railgun was first seen in 2011 and underwent testing in 2014,” sources told CNBC.
“Between 2015 and 2017 the weapon was calibrated to strike at extended ranges, increasing its lethality. By December 2017, the weapon was successfully mounted on a warship and began at-sea testing, a feat no other nation has accomplished.”
America has been working on its own railgun for more than a decade. The flagship project is the Electromagnetic Railgun Innovative Naval Prototype, launched in 2005 by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research. The goal was to develop a weapon with a muzzle velocity of thirty-two megajoules and a range of one hundred miles.
The U.S. Army is also now interested in railguns. In March 2018, General Atomics announced that it had been awarded a three-year Army contract to develop an electromagnetic weapon.