Chinese Warship Spotted With Hypersonic Railgun After US Navy Bails On Futuristic Weapon

Just as the U.S. Navy looks to scrap its incredibly powerful railgun, the Chinese Navy have apparently installed a railgun of their own onto one of warships. A leaked image appears to give us our first glimpse at this immensely powerful weapon, but no real details are known about the Chinese weapon at this time.

chinese railgun
Image via NewScientist

The image appears to show parts of the barrel of the railgun wrapped in camouflage (sort of like what we see automotive manufacturers using to hide the lines of their new vehicles during testing). If the weapon in the images is in fact a railgun, it would make China the first nation to install a railgun on a warship. The U.S. Navy has been testing railguns for years, but has not yet installed them on a vessel for trials at sea.

The big upside to a railgun is that it uses electromagnetic energy to hurl the projectile at insane velocities and distances. There is no gunpowder involved, meaning that the ship can instead carry more projectiles or other provisions. The Chinese ship seen with the railgun aboard is said to be a Type 072III landing ship tank (LST) called the Haiyang Shan #936.

chinese railgun blurry

The ship in question is small and lacks other combat features suggesting that the railgun is attached for sea trials. The weapon that normally sits in the turret on the bow of the ship is an H/PJ76F anti-aircraft gun. Word is that the Chinese weapon has a barrel that is 33-feet long and 12-20 inches in diameter. One viable alternative to a railgun is said to be a giant mortar in the 350-400mm range, but that is unlikely.

Reports indicate that there is little reason for a conventional cannon to have such a barrel diameter to caliber ratio meaning that its virtually guaranteed that the size of the barrel is to accommodate the magnetic rails needed to hurl projectiles at hypersonic velocities from a railgun. The barrel length of the Chinese weapon would mean it is similar in size to the BAE 32 megajoule railgun the U.S. Navy has been testing. That weapon fires a 22-pound projectile at Mach 7 for over 100 miles of range.

As for why the U.S. Navy is said to be considering stepping away from its own $500 million railgun, it's said to be an issue with firing speed. The Navy stipulated a railgun that could fire at a rate of 10 rounds per minute, however, current railguns are only able to fire at a rate of 4.8 rounds per minute. Instead, the U.S. Navy is focusing on adapting the hyper velocity projectile to use in existing 5-inch guns already on Naval warships. That projectile in conventional guns delivers a range of 30 miles at velocities of up to Mach 3.