China tests game-changing ‘supergun’

IT's a world first.

China has confirmed it has a warship-mounted electromagnetic rail gun, and that sea tests are underway.

It's a new weapon that abandons conventional gunpowder for intense - but carefully controlled - magnetic fields. These can accelerate projectiles to enormous speeds - making them fly further and more difficult to dodge.

The gun works by placing a projectile on an armature between two conductive rails. Once an electric charge is driven into the rails, two powerful magnetic fields form to create a "Lorentz force" blast.

This can launch the projectile at hypersonic speeds.

But immense technological challenges needed to be overcome before the weapon became reliable enough for operational use. This included an immense power supply, as well as maintaining consistent control over the magnetic fields.

China's People's Liberation Army posted an article earlier this week, lauding a leading female member of the research team that has successfully developed the new technology.

Associate research fellow at the People's Liberation Army Navy University of Engineering Zhang Xiao had been awarded the "Red Banner" for her achievements on "the eve of the March 8th Women's Day".

Associate researcher at the Naval Engineering University’s National Defense Technology Key Laboratory for Integrated Power Technology for Ships Zhang Xiao. Picture: People’s Liberation Army Navy
Associate researcher at the Naval Engineering University’s National Defense Technology Key Laboratory for Integrated Power Technology for Ships Zhang Xiao. Picture: People’s Liberation Army Navy

"After hundreds of failures and more than 50,000 tests," Zhang achieved the first ship-borne and largest "repeating power supply system" in the world, the report says.

Zhang states in the video profile that a "new weapon test" aboard a ship was successful, and that she had been responsible for its "power supply maintenance" and "the system simulation".

Her award comes on the heels of speculation surrounding pictures released on Chinese social media in January that appeared to show a distinctive-looking rail gun mounted to a military landing ship, the Haiyang Shan.

Chinese state media outlet Global Times quotes commentators as saying the achievement overtakes the United States as the world leader in rail gun development.

"The repeating power supply system is the power source of an electromagnetic rail gun. The US started developing it earlier than China and has carried out more experiments and tests, and both the US and China's railguns run on the same operating principle. But thanks to the repeating power supply system, China's rail gun has a more stable and continuous power supply," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.

"The use of railguns is more suitable for navy vessels rather than ground forces or other units, because a rail gun requires a sustainable and massive energy supply, and if it is used by a ground force, it will need a power station to follow it all the time. But modernised naval vessels all have electric generators and can provide sustainable and massive power sources."

The rail gun test involved a team of more than 200 researchers and personnel, the report states.


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