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Technology feat gives Navy futuristic weapon

By Zhao Lei | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-10-10 07:30

China has developed electromagnetic launch technologies that allow the People's Liberation Army to build a futuristic naval weapon described as game-changing - an electromagnetic railgun.

According to a news release from the PLA Naval University of Engineering in Wuhan, Hubei province, Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, the university's top researcher, has designed electromagnetic launch systems as part of "a key national defense program".

More than 100 Chinese experts in the field, including 40 academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, were "ecstatic" at a briefing when they saw what Ma had achieved.

Ma's team mastered the cutting-edge technology. Engineers continue to make breakthroughs in this regard, having designed several pieces of equipment and techniques that no one else in the world has created, the university said.

This is the first time that the Chinese military has officially confirmed its railgun program, though the release did not give further details about the program.

Based on electromagnetic force, a railgun uses a pair of conductive rails to launch projectiles and enables them to attain an extremely high speed. The projectile normally does not contain explosives as artillery shells do, but employs its strong kinetic energy generated by the high speed to inflict damage on a target.

This weapon is widely believed to be capable of revolutionizing future naval warfare as its power, range and speed are much better than explosive-powered guns currently mounted on combat ships, experts say.

Chen Hu, editor-in-chief of World Military Affairs magazine, said an electromagnetic railgun is able to carry out anti-ship and land attacks as well as aircraft and missile defense operations, enabling it to replace all the missiles and guns on a ship.

The United States is known for its funding for the research and development of railguns. The US Navy has tested a railgun several times at its Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia that reportedly can fire a projectile at Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound, and hit targets at least 160 kilometers away.

The United Kingdom and Japan have also opened research and development on railguns, according to report.

The US science and technology news magazine Popular Science said China has designed and tested at least one railgun prototype, but the PLA had never disclosed such information.

China became capable of deploying railguns on its ships because it has the ability to install an integrated electric-power system, a state-of-the-art technology on naval vessels that only a handful of countries possess, according to the PLA Naval University of Engineering. It noted this was also an achievement of Ma, who in July became one of the first 10 recipients of the PLA's top medal.

A naval weaponry researcher in Beijing who wished to be identified only as Cui said the integrated electric-power system will reshape the trend of combat vessels.

"It will allow electromagnetic railguns to be mounted on ships while current power systems can't handle the vast electricity consumption by the weapon. Ships with railguns will be much mightier than existing ones," he explained. "In addition, the new system will extensively reduce the noise of submarines as they move underwater, improving their fighting capability and survivability."

In an interview with China Central Television in May, Ma said the integrated electric-power system has been used on the nation's new-generation of nuclear submarines.

(China Daily USA 10/10/2017 page1)

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