Boring electrical power distribution could give China’s Navy railguns and other huge advantages

The US is moving ahead with deployment of combat lasers up to 300 kilowatts in power over the next 3-5 years versus 32 megajoule railguns. Only one megawatt of power is needed for combat lasers versus tens of megawatts for railguns.

* China has deployed a demo railgun
* the US thought about a demo railgun in 2015 and 2016 but deferred it for probably 5 years
* China has claimed to have made a breakthrough with medium voltage integrated DC power
* US Navy presentations indicate that medium voltage DC power distribution is the key to making affordable power for railguns and electromagnetic launchers

China’s destroyer program was copying the goals of the US Zumwalt destroyer but the US program went way over budget and failed. The US will only make three Zumwalts. China appears to have better basic electrical engineering and chose more pragmatic options for lower cost.

Medium voltage (about 12000 volt) DC power distribution that is reliable and affordable is the key to having the power for futuristic technology like railguns and electromagnetic launchers.

The US tried to make super-advanced destroyers with a lot of electrical power but they are buggy and cost about 4 times more.

The US has three advanced Zumwalt destroyers that have 78 megawatts of power generation to fire high energy railguns. However the Zumwalts cost $7.5 billion versus the Arleigh Burke class destroyer at about $1.9 billion.

The most recent Burke class destroyers are 9600 tons.

The existing Japanese Atago-class destroyer is over 9,000 tons, the American Zumwalt-class destroyer (only three are built) is over 12,000 tons, and the Russian Udaloy-class destroyer is over 8,000 tons.

Burke Installed power: 3 × Allison AG9140 Generators (2,500 kW each, 440 V)
Propulsion: 4 × General Electric LM2500 gas turbines each generating 26,250 bhp (19,570 kW);
coupled to two shafts, each driving a five-bladed reversible controllable-pitch propeller;
Total output: 105,000 bhp (78,000 kW)

The US has analyzed the use of medium voltage power distribution in order to affordable integrate electrical power on ships.

There was a 2015 presentation on medium voltage power for ships.

MVDC Voltage Standards
• Proposed MVDC nominal voltages based on IEEE 1709
– 6000 VDC
– 12000 VDC
– 18000 VDC
• Current levels and Power Electronic Devices constrain voltage selection
– 4000 amps is practical limit for mechanical switches
– Power electronic device voltages increasing with time (SiC will lead to great increase)
• For now, 12000 VDC appears a good target …
– 4000 amps per bus enables 96 MW on 2 busses

China’s type new 055 destroyers are 12000-14000 tons. The cost is 6 billion yuan or about $900 million.

Type 055 Propulsion:
COGAG 4 × QC-280 gas turbines (27 MW (36,000 hp) each)
Total: 112 MW (150,000 shp)
Speed: In excess of 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph)

The second batch of Chinese Type 055 destroyers will likely feature railguns, starting in the 2020-2025 timeframe. A 32 megajoule railgun on the Type 055 destroyer would be able to launch a ten-kilogram projectile over a 100 nautical miles, with the impact energy of medium artillery. Railgun ammunition can be guided, and programmed to explode over a target, destroying soft targets like parked aircraft and missile launchers.

China would have to build the 055 with integrated electric power distribution systems. They would need intelligent distribution system of the ship power, when the electromagnetic gun needs a large amount of electric energy, electric power control system can provide adequate power.

China has claimed success with electrical power management for its aircraft carrier magnetic launch systems and for their submarine propulsion. Integrated Electrical Propulsion System (IEPS) turns all the output of the ship’s engine into electricity, unlike traditional propulsion designs, which convert engine and reactor output into mechanical action to turn the propeller shaft. The high electrical output can also be used to power motors for the propellers or potentially high-energy weapons.

Rear Adm. Ma Weiming, has developed a medium-voltage, direct-current transmission network to replace an earlier system based on alternating current.

Forming part of an integrated propulsion system, the new system would allow a conventionally powered aircraft carrier to operate an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, which conveys a number of advantages over traditional steam catapults that include increased efficiency, precision and shortening aircraft launch cycles.

China’s EMALS technology is claimed to be more advanced and more reliable than the system used on the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford.

Reliable and affordable delivery of electrical engineering projects could be a huge advantage for China’s Navy.


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