China may have made breakthroughs with aircraft carrier electromagnetic launch and railgun technology

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and Office No. 206 of CASIC’s Second Institute has given priority to the research in electromagnetic launch of missile and phalanx close-in air defense and made unspecified breakthroughs.

The 206 Institute’s hosted the Seventh Chinese Electromagnetic Technology Conference in Oct 2015, which also reported advances in material sciences to reduce railgun barrel wear

Phoenix Television reported on a number of other related railgun research advances. An early November 2015 news broadcast stated that Chinese researchers have made breakthroughs in electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS) and railguns, in areas from power storage to tougher barrel materials. EMALS catapults could be installed on Chinese aircraft carriers in the next decade, improving the performance of Chinese naval aircraft. The Phoenix TV broadcast also suggested that the PLAN hopes to test its own operational railgun in the next couple of years.

Wuhan EMALS. This satellite photo shows a test facility at the Chinese naval research facility in Wuhan. Speculation is that it is the prototype for the Chinese EMALS catapult system, which would be equipped on future Chinese carriers (Type 002). hmmwv at China Defense Forum

USA Electromagnetic Railgun deployment by 2020

The EMRG is a cannon that uses electricity rather than chemical propellants (i.e., gunpowder charges) to fire a projectile. EMRG uses magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor. or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at [speeds of] 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph,” or roughly Mach 5.9 to Mach 7.4 at sea level. Like SSLs, EMRG draws its power from the ship’s overall electrical supply.

The two industry-built prototypes are designed to fire projectiles at energy levels of 20 to 32 megajoules, which is enough to propel a projectile 50 to 100 nautical miles. (Such ranges might refer to using the EMRG for NSFS missions. Intercepts of ASCMs and ASBMs might take place at much shorter ranges.)

The US Navy is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to fielding energy weapons by the end of the decade, with the hopes of upgrading its 30 kilowatt laser gun to 100 kw or more, and giving its electromagnetic railgun a higher repetition rate.

Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, chief engineer at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), said in a panel presentation at the Directed Energy Summit, hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Booz Allen Hamilton, that both follow-on technologies should be in the hands of sailors in the fleet by 2020.

“Sometime in the very near future” the Navy will award a development contract for the larger follow-on system, a laser gun of 100 to 150 kw. That weapon will go out to sea for a demonstration by FY 2018, he said, keeping in line with the goal of transitioning technology from the lab to the warfighter as quickly as possible for operational testing.

The other half of the Navy’s push to deliver energy weapons to the fleet is the electromagnetic railgun. A manual-load version will go to sea on a Joint High Speed Vessel next year, but the Navy is already working on a version that would allow for 10 shots per minute. This “rep rate” version, despite challenges including thermal management in the barrel, is expected to go to sea by FY 2019.

The 2015 Navy Expo proceedings for Electromagnetic railguns and solid state lasers is here (42 pages)

The Navy is already working on a railgun that would allow for 10 shots per minute. This “rep rate” version, despite challenges including thermal management in the barrel, is expected to go to sea by FY 2019.

There will be railgun tests in 2016, where about 20 shots will be fired at targets 25-50 miles away.

Once the Navy reaches the higher-powered laser gun and the more operationally useful “rep rate” railgun, the service will have to figure out how to deploy them. Fuller said the Navy just wrapped up a feasibility study on the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 destroyers, and leadership will be briefed on the results soon. Other studies, including one on the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers, are ongoing.

SOURCES – Popular Science,