Recently, the United States Navy decided to shelve its electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) project. Soon after the news release, Chinese state-owned media started publicizing that country’s progress in electromagnetic railguns and suggesting that it has surpassed the United States in the field.
The electromagnetic railgun is a new concept weapon. It uses electromagnetic forced to launch non-exploding projectiles at a speed exceeding Mach 7 (i.e. seven times the speed of sound), and a range of up to 124.3 miles. Due to the speed and high kinetic energy, the projectiles can cause considerable damage even without explosives.
However, the U.S. Navy is replacing the EMRG program with a more advanced weapon system, the hypersonic missiles.
With the news that the United States shelved its EMRG program, Chinese state-owned media took the opportunity to publicize its “victory” in the field by showing images of its railgun prototype from two or three years ago.
On June 3, the CCP’s Global Times reported that the Chinese Navy carried what appears to be an electromagnetic railgun on the bow of an older landing ship from 2018.
On June 11, another Chinese state-owned media, China Hot, stated, “the research and development of China’s killer electromagnetic railgun technology have achieved great success.”
China Hot wrote, “The performance of China’s electromagnetic railguns has surpassed that of the U.S. military.”
The article also called it “the world’s first application of electromagnetic railgun technology in an actual battlefield environment,” referring to its very first firing test at Bohai Bay in 2019.
Furthermore, the Chinese state-owned media also started publicizing an old story from 2015 called “The Electromagnetic Railgun Project Leak Incident.” The story insinuated that the United States could not continue its EMRG project because their source of intelligence on the Chinese side was interrupted.
On January 22, 2015, Zhang Jiange, a senior military technician from the 713 Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), was arrested at the airport. The alleged charge against him was suspicion of selling CCP military secrets to foreign intelligence agencies.
Zhang participated in the CCP’s electromagnetic railgun development project and contributed to a research paper titled “Study on the U.S. Naval EMRG Program.” He was accused of selling ten confidential documents to the United States for $50,000 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison.
U.S. Navy Finds EMRG Unsuitable for Long-distance Warfare
For the past decade, the U.S. Navy has invested more than $500 million in the EMRG project and completed its development and functionality tests. However, it recently decided to abandon the further development of EMRG and focus on hypersonic missiles instead.
According to the U.S. Navy’s 2022 fiscal year proposal released on May 28, the EMRG project was listed as “N/A” and hasn’t requested further funding. It also showed that the service did not ask for, or receive, any funding for the project through the Innovative Naval Prototypes (INP) Applied Research account in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
In the 2021 fiscal report, the U.S. Navy stated that the “railgun technology and knowledge attained will be documented and preserved” and “railgun hardware will be realigned to maximize its sustainability to facilitate potential future use.” The report suggested that the railgun program was not terminated and could be revisited in the future.
To more effectively enhance its fighting capabilities with China and Russia, the U.S. Department of Defense turned its attention to the development of hypersonic missiles. Since then, the U.S. Navy has also shelved its Gun-Launched Guided Projectile program in relation to EMRG.
Lt. Courtney Callaghan, a U.S. Navy spokesperson, said, the Navy’s decision to pause research at year’s end frees up resources for hypersonic missiles, directed-energy systems (like lasers), and electronic warfare systems.
“The railgun is, for the moment, dead,” said Matthew Caris, a defense analyst at Avascent Group. He suggests the technology has shortcomings in range compared to hypersonic missiles.
A Navy vessel could not employ the railgun without putting itself within range of enemy missiles. Bryan Clark, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, suggested that compared to the hypersonic missiles, the problems with EMRG are its limited range and rate of fire.