China Introduces Railgun Weapon in South China Sea
January 7, 2019 J.D. Simkins / Navy Times & Alan Weedon / Australian Broadcasting Corp
During a Dec. 20 speech to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, China's Rear Adm. Lou Yuan, the deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, added fuel to the South China Sea fire when he stated the key for Chinese domination in those hotly contested waters could lie in the sinking of two US aircraft carriers. The introduction of China's fierce new railgun weaponry could mean an attack on two of the US Navy's steel behemoths could claim upwards of 10,000 lives.
'We'll See How Frightened America Is' – Chinese admiral says sinking US carriers
Is key to dominating South China Sea J.D. Simkins / Navy Times
(January 5, 2019) -- Another Beijing official has sounded off about the communist nation's perceived dominance of the South China Sea region, this time coming as an alarming threat of inflicting mass casualties on the US Navy.
During a Dec. 20 speech to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, China's Rear Adm. Lou Yuan, the deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, added fuel to the South China Sea fire when he stated the key for Chinese domination in those hotly contested waters could lie in the sinking of two US aircraft carriers, according to a report by Australia's news.com.
"What the United States fears the most is taking casualties," the admiral said, before adding that such an attack on two of the US Navy's steel behemoths would claim upwards of 10,000 lives.
Lou went on to call America's military, money, talent, voting system and fear of adversaries the five US weaknesses that can be easily exploited, according to the report.
"We'll see how frightened America is," he said.
China's ongoing insistence on expanding its territory into the Spratly archipelago has agitated neighboring nations and continuously challenged international law, an assertiveness the US attempts to check through routine freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs.
"There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China if they don't find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests," former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in November.
"International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that's what we're doing and we're going to continue to do that," Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, said last February.
The Vinson made history last March when it became the first US carrier to visit a Vietnamese port in more than four decades, a port call that added even more tension to the already-strained US-China relationship.
"The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine Chinese authority and security interests," Yang Jiechi, director of China's Central Foreign Affairs Commission said in November.
Jiechi's stance was dangerously emphasized last September when a Chinese warship nearly collided with the American guided-missile destroyer Decatur in what the US Navy called an "unsafe and unprofessional maneuver."
"They were positioning in to close on our port side, were trying to push us out of the way," a Decatur sailor said in a video documenting the encounter.
China's other primary point of contention with the US has been its friendship with Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that Beijing sees as a breakaway province.
Arms deals between the US and Taiwan have drawn the China's ire and when the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act floated the possibility of future visits by American warships to Taiwanese ports, Chinese officials responded by issuing threats, with one such warning coming from Adm. Lou.
"If the US naval fleet dares to stop in Taiwan, it is time for the People's Liberation Army to deploy troops to promote national unity on (invade) the island," he said. "Those who are trying to stir up trouble in the South China Sea and Taiwan should be careful about their future."
Wang Hongguang, a retired lieutenant general of the People's Liberation Army, emphasized Lou's proclamations.
"The PLA is capable of taking over Taiwan within 100 hours with only a few dozen casualties," he said in the report. "A possible military conflict may take place in Taiwan soon. (But) As long as the US doesn't attack China-built islands and reefs in the South China Sea, no war will take place in the area."
Frequent military drills directly over or adjacent to Taiwan, meanwhile, have cut off access to the island's dwindling list of partner nations and stirred concern among Taipei's defense officials.
"The Chinese military's strength continues to grow rapidly," Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said in a late 2017 report obtained by Reuters. "There have been massive developments in military reforms, combined operations, weapons development and production, the building of overseas military bases and military exercises, and the military threat towards us grows daily."
Ongoing invasion threats have been openly disputed by Taiwan's mainland affairs minister, Chang Hsiao-Yueh, who issued a warning of her own last year.
"If they invade Taiwan militarily they will pay a very very high price," she said. "And so far I believe that's the last resort if all the other means [of unification] are failed then finally they will do that."
(January 2, 2018) -- 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 or cordite 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 seemingly 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) Naval University of Engineering announced her research team was responsible for the "largest repeating power supply system in the world".
The sighting, which comes as China marks the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Navy in 2019, appears to pre-date US intelligence estimates that Chinese railguns would arrive by 2025.
Dr Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the ABC the technology would usher in a "hemispheric battle space".
"This would see belligerents able to strike at each other at distances ranging in the hundreds of kilometres", Dr Davis said. "This would fundamentally change the nature of engagements as you could have adversaries being able to make precise strikes from afar for much less money."
Compared to conventional naval artillery, the railgun does not fire explosives in the round, making warships a touch safer for those onboard, and naval artillery cheaper to acquire for militaries.
"If you think back to the World War II battle between the German battleship Bismarck and HMS Hood, the latter sunk within minutes because the Germans struck near ammunition magazines," he said.
The development of the technology from various powers has been slow, given the incredibly large currents required to power railguns -- about one million amps -- and the practical implications this has on barrel design.
Previous US railgun tests saw barrels melt during firing, and current research has revolved around cooling the rails to maintain high energy per shot.
'Americans Aren't Going Slow'
Previous US tests have seen railgun mounts melt after projectiles were fired. (ABC News)
In the years 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).
While US developments remain classified, the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) gave BAE systems $48.3 million to test phase 2 of their railgun program in 2013.
This phase will usher in the development of a multiple-shot railgun, alongside the development of a Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) that would see missiles fire at hypersonic speeds -- technology that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had successfully tested in December.
Speaking to website Task & Purpose, the US Strategic Capabilities Office's (SCO) spokesperson Chris Sherwood said that the railgun was not high on the agenda.
"SCO shifted the project's focus to conventional powder guns, facilitating a faster transition of HVP technology to the warfighter," he said. "Our priority continues to be the HVP, which is reflected in the program's budget."
The US thus far has spent around $710.5 million on the railgun program, but experts fear it will languish as research weight pulls toward HVPs.
"The Americans certainly aren't going slow. They've realised they've lagged behind Russia and China and are racing to catch up," Dr Davis said.
"What's happened in the past is that the US has years of research and development, but due to funding cuts, a decade of research goes dead in the water."
Advanced Technology Part of Xi's 2025 Plan
China is no stranger to experiments in electromagnetic technology, having created one of the world's first highways lined with solar-powered material to re-charge vehicles in transit.
This forms part of a broader Beijing strategy to move China away from being just a producer of everyday goods into one of advanced manufacturing, with about $US300 billion invested in the "Made in China 2025" plan.
The country already produces many of the world's smartphones, and as its economic weight shifts toward domestic consumption, its push to spearheading technological advances follows in the footsteps of previous superpowers such as the US and Britain.
What also comes with being a superpower is the ability to project hard power across the globe, which China has not shied away from. "The rapid growth of the PLA Navy could easily take over the US Navy in the Asia-Pacific, if not comparable, by the 2030s," Dr Davis said.
"So the 2020s presents a real risk of a US-China military clash, seeing as Xi Jinping has said he will not tolerate Taiwanese independence, and they're not willing to let go of the South China Sea -- which is fundamentally at odds with what the US wants."
The Chinese foreign ministry and the Chinese Consulate have been contacted for comment.
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