Is China's PLAN About to Test a Railgun at Sea ?

Ship spotters from China released several pictures of what appears to be an electromagnetic (EM) railgun. The pictures released on January 31st show the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy) Type 072 III landing ship Haiyangshan (hull number 936) fitted with the suspected railgun at its bow and several ISO containers amidship.

China PLAN electromagnetic railgun 1Chinese ship spotter picture showing the PLAN Type 072 III landing ship fitted with a large turret which could be a railgun

At least three containers seem to be placed on the landing ship, likely for power supply and control. The shape of the turret itself is in line with what a railgun turret could look like. The shape of the barrel itself shares some similarities with BAE Systems' railgun (in its turreted variant) with a large diameter on one half and a smaller diameter on the second half.

The location where those pictures were taken has not been disclosed, but it could be in Wuhan in central China (on Yangtze river).

China PLAN electromagnetic railgun annotationsChinese ship spotter guestimation on the nature of the various elements fitted aboard Type 072 III landing ship Haiyangshan (translation by Navy Recogintion).

A total of ten Type 072III-class landing ship (NATO designation Yuting-II class) were commissioned with the PLAN from 1992 until 2002. They have a length of 119.5 meters and a displacement of 4,800 tons. They are usually fitted with three H/PJ76F twin 37mm gun system (including at the bow where the suspected railgun is not fitted). All of 072III landing ships were built by Shanghai Zhonghua Shipyard.

China PLAN electromagnetic railgun 3Type 072 III landing ship Haiyangshan underway

Later in the day on January 31st, a picture emmerged showing the landing ship underway showing that the program is likely mature enough to enter a phase of testing at sea. If this turns out to be an actual EM railgun, China would become the very first country to test such a system at sea.

China PLAN electromagnetic railgun 4China PLAN electromagnetic railgun 5Type 072 III landing ship Haiyangshan fitted with what appears to be a railgun and several containers

Chinese advances in the field of EM railguis should not come as a surprise however: According to a Popular Science article published recently (December 2017), China is the nation producing the most unclassified, peer-reviewed electromagnetic launch research in the world. It's the type of public science that suggests China could field a range of military electromagnetic technologies in the future.

Our video on BAE Systems' railgun at Sea Air Space 2016

About railguns
Railgun technology relies on a massive electrical pulse, rather than gunpowder or other chemical propellants, to launch projectiles at distances over 100 nautical miles – and at speeds that exceed Mach 6.

The military applications for this technology are many:
- Long range artillery (in excess of 200 Km)
- Anti-surface (naval)
- Increased penetration thanks to high impact speed
- Anti air and anti missile defense (including against hypersonic threats)
- Simultaneous impacts thanks via rate of fire and velocity control
- No powder (no prytechnic risks)

The U.S. Navy, along with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and BAE Systems has been working on the technology for several years. Last summer, the ONR demonstrated the ability to conduct "multi shot salvo" (with two projectiles are fired in a 12 seconds span or about 5 rounds per minute). But this was at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, a land based facility.

US company General Atomics is also working on the technology.

Other countries countries currently conducting research on railguns include Japan, France and Russia. But those countries are still at "in laboratory testing" stage. Again, if this turret aboard the landing ship is confirmed to be a railgun, China would definitly be ahead with the technology.