TechChina tests railgun missile: Promising future weapons face hurdles

China tests railgun missile: Promising future weapons face hurdles

Chinese railgun during tests
Chinese railgun during tests
Images source: ©

12:14 PM EDT, May 23, 2024

While Americans abandoned the development of railguns in 2021, Europe and China continue to work on future weapons that will only need electrical energy, not gunpowder. We explain what these weapons are and the problems they cause.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Chinese navy conducted an interesting railgun (electromagnetic gun) test. The test involved launching a guided missile into the stratosphere, but it failed.

The missile reached an altitude of just over 9 miles and moved at a speed exceeding Mach 5 (3,837 mph), but these values were lower than expected. Moreover, the launched missile did not follow the planned trajectory.

Electromagnetic guns - weapons with enormous potential but significant problems

There could be many reasons for the problems, but the most likely culprit is the highly challenging conditions during the launch. The overloads and temperature acting on the launched object are many times higher than in the case of conventional cannons.

In electromagnetic guns, plasma forms around the launched object, which is why the barrel of the railgun in American experiments could withstand only 12-24 shots. The same applies to the projectile, which is not a uniform tungsten block.

No electronics can withstand such a temperature (tens of thousands of degrees Celsius), overload, and electromagnetic field interference. The guided missile was likely damaged during the launch, but only the Chinese knew the truth.

However, this does not change the fact that attempts to use the railgun to launch precise missiles with a range of even hundreds of miles will not continue. Maybe technological advancements will yield satisfactory results over time. Another option is to use the railgun to counter, for example, incoming missiles from a distance of several tens of miles at a much lower unit cost than that of specialized anti-missile missiles costing a few million dollars or euros each.

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