A tank landing ship and what appears to be an electromagnetic railgun weapon were spotted along the Yangtze River, presumably heading for sea trials.

Chinese outlets said recently that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is “making notable achievements on advanced weapons, including sea tests of electromagnetic railguns”.

According to a report from US intelligence, China’s railgun system was first revealed in 2011, and ground testing began in 2014. A major breakthrough happened in 2015 when the weapon system gained the ability to strike over extended ranges. The weapon system was successfully mounted on a Chinese Navy ship in December 2017, with sea trials happening later.

In early February 2018, pictures of what is claimed to be a Chinese railgun were published online. The sea trials now appear to be underway.

Outside of China, a 32 Megajoule prototype was delivered by BAE Systems for the US Navy. Their particular rail gun delivers fire from up to 220 miles in range, around 10 times the distance capable of standard ship mounted guns with rounds landing more swiftly and with little or no warning compared to a volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

A previous 32-megajoule installation existed at Kirkcudbright Electromagnetic Launch Facility at the Dundrennan Weapons Testing Range in Scotland, UK.

China is the first to take a railgun to sea.

40 COMMENTS

  1. I thought it was a shame that the experimental electro thermal tank gun being developed by Germany/USA/UK was dropped at the end of the cold war. The experiment was 120mm, but the production version, had it got that far, would probably have been 135mm.
    A Challenger 3 tank with 135mm ET gun would have been impressive, as would the Vickers 114mm naval mount, rebuilt for 135mm ET.

    • a chinese warship with such powerful ability, built and designed by BAE? am i missing something here? the M.O.D fixation for buying BAE all the time, shows valuable technology is going elsewhere rather than being utilised at home

        • Yes, and BAE were not the only firm to build an experimental railgun for the USN. General Atomics also built a 10mj medium range railgun. The leak/hack could have come from them.
          It is unwise to blame until we know the truth.
          The Chinese gun could be a propaganda hoax. Or it could be a hack of BAE &/or General Atomics.
          Lets not play the blame game until we know the truth.

  2. How long is the West going to allow Chinese theft of military technology? Just because we can buy plastic junk at low prices does not mean we are getting a bargain.

    • It won’t be long before we will be stealing the tech from them.
      Their spending on R&D is significantly higher than what ours is.

      • I’m sure we already are stealing from them, do you really think it’s only the Chinese/Russians doing the hacking?

    • after all santa moved his toy making facility to china from the north pole, well all toys have ‘made in china on them

  3. Wow! We could do with about a dozen of them say in the Mediterranean or Gulf or perhaps with efforts in Norway. No not the rail gun. The landing ship it is bolted on to………….

      • What landing craft? We always have landing craft and ships in Gibraltar, be it Bay class or Albion or Bulwark and the Spanish don’t care. Hell we have nuclear submarines routinely at the rock and all the Spanish do is sometimes annoy the ships ect with speedboats and the odd patrol boat.

  4. Are the Chinese ahead of the West in railgun technology or is this a propaganda exercise that should be treated as the headlines of them having developed a submarine shaftless drive, which turned out to be false?

    • It’s significantly harder to tell these days. Western democracies tend to be a lot more open with actual facts: that’s why you can a Haines Owners Manual for a Type 45 or an Astute. The two main reasons for this: freedom of the press, and avoiding lying to voters.

      Russia and China on the other hand…well, you’ve already pointed out one Chinese propaganda piece, and Russia are claiming to have a weapon capable of Mach 27, which is so far beyond anything else on this planet that it’s almost certainly a lie.

      However, it’s important to also look at what we know they already have. Russia has been the world leader in big offensive missiles for decades: Avangard PROBABLY isn’t Mach 27, but from what we’ve already seen it’s going to be very hypersonic. Similarly, China has a big R&D budget, and railguns aren’t a new or even especially advanced concept (I built a conceptually similar coilgun in Physics, using copper wire and a cardboard tube, that could fire a screwdriver across the room). This railgun test ship might not actually be functional (it could just be testing the naval mount and supporting systems for the future gun, not the gun itself), but it’s within the realm of possibility that it is an actual railgun. Even then though, China has no current warship design that uses IEP or a nuclear drive, so we won’t be seeing an operational railgun until a new surface combatant is developed

  5. It’s a pity that this development is directly linked to a Chinese purchase of a British company, Dynex, back in 2008. It’s important that we stand up to China on the commercial and state backed enterprise front as China makes it clear it does not respect its own private companies boundaries and expects them to assist the government in all mattters. This is why it’s importnat to to stand up against Huawei on 5 G technology today until China plays ball.

    That being said I still doubt the effectiveness of railguns in non line of sight operation. Where would you get the targeting data for a strike at 220 miles and how accurate can a lump of metal fired through the atmosphere be at those ranges. Look at the issues the US and UK have had with electrical distribution on Ford, Zumwalt and T45. No way China has solved those problems yet. I’ll put this rail gun in the same category as Putin’s hypersonic missiles and dr Stangelove esk torpedos.

    • Almost all NGS is non line of sight.
      You use shore side spotters, helo spotters or drones to target and give you adjustments to fall of shot.
      As for accuracy that is an issue both in being accurate and inaccurate.
      Terminally guided munitions are one solution but the USN guided shells debacle for the Zumwalt is a lesson in how not to do it.

      So you are left with calling fall of shot and adjusting where the shells land.
      Whilst accuracy is good you do need some spread . All the shells landing in the same hole does not provide the destruction you are after against say targets in the open. Shells landing or airbursting in an imaginary circle drawn around the target is far better

  6. You can’t just mount a large gun like that on the bow of a ship without causing all sorts issues to the ships sea worthiness. I know its only a ‘test bed’ but look at the size of it compared to the rest of the ship, I’m pretty certain this is a mock up for propaganda purposes. The USN has been working on this project for years and haven’t come close to even mounting a test bed on to a ship.

  7. Nothing changes. Good old ballistics, simple but always effective just given added horsepower using advanced technology. The UK should consider building the big battleships again? Such a platform would suit this form of weapon as stability appears to be essential? One thing is clear; both Russia and China are proceeding with advanced weapon systems that must be matched by the West.

    • I still can’t believe every single battleship was scrapped for metal.
      How broke where we as a country that at least one could not be saved as a museum ship.
      It would have made its money many times over like HMS Belfast. It must have have been considered far cheaper to preserve and maintain and joe public wouldn’t know the difference.

      • Remember HMS Vanguard? That was virtually a brand new ship an ideal platform for upgraded guns. Sadly, in the age of missiles, there was no room for so-called outdated weapons.

        A purpose built heavy platform could become a feasible vessel if rail guns really take off. A vessel that can hold steady could offer other opportunities too, such as self-landing reusable rockets platform for long distance rocket recon etc?

        • The age of the Battleship was over when airpower at sea came of age. If you wanted to bring back suvh a platform you would need to give it very heavy anti-air protection (aircraft, SAMs, etc). By the time you have done all that you might as well spent the money on something more modern like a heavy missile ship….

          Rob N

          • Missiles are inadequate for protection of amphibious landings against defending opponents.
            As for the age of the Battleship ending due to airpower? That has often been overplayed. Attacks on ships at anchor in harbor would have been just as if not more fatal to Carriers as to Battleships. Remember how many Battleships were actually sunk at sea in combat by aircraft. The only battleships which were lost to airpower in open water with full crews were:
            HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse
            RN Roma (sunk by former allies by surprise)
            Yamamoto and Musashi
            Note the devil is in the details.
            Yamamoto and Musashi were sent on a suicide mission without escorts which would have been a death sentence even before aircraft due to swarming in the Philippines Islands narrows by Destroyers
            Roma was under flag of truce and was attacked by her former comrades with a completely new type of bomb. The Fritz-X which was really the first guided anti-ship weapon. So a completely unprepared target, hit with a weapon no one had designed a defense against yet at the time.
            Prince of Wales and Repulse were the victims of probably the man who should receive the dumbest Admiral of war award. Admiral Sir Thomas Phillips ordered his ships stay within bomber range of the peninsula without significant escorts (he only had Destroyers) and no air cover. No air cover despite having fighters in range to support him due to his insistence on radio silence.
            Every other naval battle where battleships were sunk was the result or rendered useless for the res of the war was result of other battleships hammering away at each other.

          • Or a cruiser Would be a great idea. Big enough for multiple weapons systems and various missiles.

          • I think the Tirpitz had air cover and AAA and was still sunk by air power.

            The fact is that Battleships would need to be protecred like carriers. You might as well build a carrier.

            However I wold have liked us to have kept Nelson and Rodney and fitted them with 9 rail guns, Sea Viper etc… now that would have been a beast.

            Rob N

          • Tirpitz at anchor in a fjord as mentioned in my earlier post would have been just as lethal to a Carrier.
            Tirpitz took 4 years and multiple bombing raids some consisting of hundreds of aircraft to destroy and in the end wasn’t sunk by a Carrier but by strategic bombers dropping 12000lb bombs on her at anchor.
            She was not in the open ocean. She was not escorted.
            The other thing to remember is by the logic of “it needs a Carrier to be safe” should we stop building Destroyers or Frigates? By the logic of they can all be hit by a submarine should we only build submarines? No of course not. A fleet requires a mix of all ships to be determined by the National objective it serves. Nothing has proven to be able to provide a walking barrage gunfire support like the Battleships once did. Without them any amphibious landings had better be conducted against a completely undefended beach or with total surprise against a lightly defended one.

      • Its one of the most anoying things for me! I have been saying this for years! We don’t have any battleships or aircraft carriers as museum ships and for future generations! If USA can do it why can’t we!. We do have old Hms Hermes aircraft carrier that India wants to sell for a few million, we should campaign to get her home and turn her into a business/ museum ship paying her own way. Say in London where tourists would be alll over it.

  8. And with China’s statement on Taiwan that it must be reunited then how long before the west learn the lesson that we have been to soft on China wrt IP theft. Basically our own weapon designs will be used against us.

  9. Interesting story, but I have my doubts. Firstly 32 megajoules is a heck of a lot of power, it would be interesting to see what generating capacity you would need, and I assume a large bank of capacitors to discharge the necessary energy when the device is fired. If that is correct then how long before the capacitors are recharged and able to fire the next round? I’m pretty sure it won’t be 20 or so rounds a minute!
    Also as Gunbuster has pointed out, targeting at beyond visual range is not an exact science even for relatively close range NGS, doing it at 220 miles opens up a whole new set of problems.
    However it does show, as has been pointed out, the Chinese are moving ahead with building up their blue water capability as fast as they can, I suspect that the writings of Mahan are required reading for any ambitious officer in the PLAN

  10. Besides the cogent points on stability, actual state of development, and propaganda etc, I point to Nick’s point above in terms of the power generation capability required to use these systems in a deployed role. Aside from specially fitted ships such as the Chinese test bed here as far as I know, only the the USN’s (still) not operationally ready GRF and Zumwalt classes have the built in excess power generation capability to use these systems – the Zumwalts may – in fact end up with them as they have been repurposed for a surface strike role and the mounted AGS will go by the wayside. If a railgun can be developed to fite those mounts it would really be something.

    https://www.businessinsider.com/chinese-railgun-toting-ship-has-apparently-set-sail-2018-12

    Cheers!

    • I think the Zumwalt may work well with powerfull guns. However I am not convinced by the power of stealth these days.

      When the F117 was first in action stealth appeared to be unrouchable. However, the world is wise to stealth now and I think its value has reduced.

      That puts the Zumwalt in a uncertain place. Plus the last of the class will have steel islands and will be less stealthy.

      Rob N

      • Good point on stealth. From what I read the total stealth idea is beginning to be superseded by stealthy enough (or none) and a healthy dose of standoff capabilities. Look at the ancient B52. About to be reengined and modernized to carry an enormous payload of the latest stuff, LRASMs, Stealth Land Attack Cruise Missiles, possibly directed energy weapons, and still nuclear capable. they’re going to continue flying till mid century. I think that the stealthy capability, speed of the weapons, and effectiveness of the targeting sensor network will be more important than the platform launching them in the future.

        The Zumwalts will fall into the stealthy enough category and the weapons being fitted will be the really low observable stuff fired from long distances in the Pacific at targets picked up by other networked sensors to avoid radiating and giving away their positions. 3 operating together as a dispersed SAG would represent a wall of hurt to PLAN units targeted in this fashion. Especially in a first strike role.

        Cheers!

        • Good point about “stealthy enough” and standoff capabilities being more important.

          Makes me think how folly it is to get rid of the Tornados. If the Americans can keep the B52 going for decades to come and have it operational for approx 100 years by the time it goes out of service then I think we should keep the Tornado going at least another 10 years. Even against a peer enemy like Russia with a lot of SAM defences, the Tornado would be invaluable when armed with Storm Shadow and other standoff weapons.

          I think we should keep the 3 remaining Tornado squadrons as well as the F35s and Typhoons. Boosts our numbers of airframes and keeps a potent strike aircraft in operation.

          • Air launched hypersonic missiles from the forthcoming B-21 seems to be an awesome combination. The future 6th Gen fighter might end up being a minimally modified B-21 bomber.

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