Chinese Navy vessel has railgun that can fire hypersonic missiles

Image: PHOTO: The gun on the bow is claimed to be a prototype railgun. (Haohan-Red Shark via Storyful)

The next generation of naval warfare appears to have come early, as a Chinese naval warship has been pictured out at sea carrying what appears to be an electromagnetic railgun.

A photo taken and posted by Weibo user (and prominent defence blogger) Haohan-Red Shark, purports to show the Type 072II Yuting-class tank landing ship Haiyangshan with a railgun mounted on its bow.

Compared to conventional artillery that uses gunpowder to fire projectiles — a practice that has been in wide use since the 1500s — a railgun uses a high-powered electric circuit to shoot a projectile along magnetic rails, firing at hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 or higher (five times the speed of sound).

While the US has been pursuing its railgun capability since 2005, China has taken the front foot, with anonymous sources confirming the existence of the weapon in 2011 to CNBC.

Since then, Chinese media has been incrementally filing news reports on the development on the technology, with the Global Times reporting in March that Zhang Xiao, an associate research fellow at the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) University of Engineering announced her research team was responsible for the “largest repeating power supply system in the world”.

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Image: Previous US tests have seen railgun mounts melting after projectiles have been fired. (US Navy: 080131-N-0000X-001)

Since 2011, Chinese researchers have been testing the weapon at greater distances.

A US intelligence report found that China’s weapon would be able to strike 200 kilometres away with a projectile velocity of 2.5 kilometres per second (9,000kph — greater than Mach 7).

The sighting appears to pre-date US intelligence estimates that Chinese railguns would arrive by 2025.