Leaked Photo Suggests China Already Has a Hypersonic Railgun Superweapon
Between arming their soldiers with laser guns and building space weapons to destroy U.S. satellites, China's been ominously busy weaponizing its tech over the last couple of years.
Late last year, news also broke that China was rumored to be building railguns, devices that accelerate a metal rod down a tube using magnets instead of gunpowder. This launching mechanism enables the rods can reach hypersonic speeds, and really do some damage.
Last week, leaked photos circulating the internet have suggested that China is further along in this project than we thought. The concern is that, if these images are accurate, it drastically changes the stakes and ratchets up tensions between superpowers. The barrels unusual size and heavy weight suggest that the canon is meant to fire hypersonic rails, while the shipping containers next to it suggest some sort of power equipment like a generator or capacitor.
The U.S. has tested similar railgun prototypes in the past that managed to shoot projectiles up to 74,850 mph with a long range of up to 93 miles but announced last year that the technology would not be ready for testing until at least 2019. Our government originally planned to install a prototype in the USNS Trenton in 2016, but the budget had other plans. Maybe these photos will convince the Pentagon that funding railgun research should be a bit higher up on the docket.
Meanwhile, these photos are already being analyzed by the scientific community. Popular Science says that "Chinese Navy's Type 072III landing ship tank (LST) Haiyang Shan, #936, has a new turret installed on its bow, replacing the H/PJ76F 37mm anti-aircraft turret. There are also three shipping containers. The turret spotted indicates the presence of a railgun. It's large, for one, with a barrel that measures 26-33 feet in length and 12 to 20 inches in diameter. That's 2-3 times the cannon caliber of conventional tube artillery barrels, which generally have a diameter-to-caliber ratio of 1.25:1. Alternatively, a 350-400mm naval mortar could explain the barrel diameter and length, but such a large mortar would be hilariously unnecessary."
Also worth acknowledging is the fact that, just because this looks an awful lot like a railgun, doesn't mean the thing actually works yet. Because it is still an emerging technology, considerations like material durability and optimal projectile guidance still need be taken into account.