The high-tech railgun uses electromagnetic energy to propel devastating rounds at more than seven times the speed of sound. Once only present in science fiction, the weapon requires massive amounts of power but its hugely destructive hypersonic projectiles have the potential for a long range and high accuracy. And China appears to have beaten both the United States and Russia to developing one of the fearsome superguns, CNBC reports.
The new weapon is a major addition to China’s arsenal and its development comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Asian superpower and the US.
Speculation Beijing was testing the technology was ignited in February 2018 when a picture circulating on social media appeared to show a Chinese navy amphibious assault ship armed with a prototype.
Just a month later, Chinese state media confirmed the huge cannon was an experimental railgun.
But according to a US intelligence report, China’s railgun has been undergoing testing since 2014, according to CNBC.
Citing people with direct knowledge of the report, the news outlet said Washington believes the Chinese will complete field testing by 2023.
Unlike traditional guns, which use an explosive charge to propel their projectile, railguns utilise magnetic force.
The amount of power the weapons require has traditionally limited where they can operate.
But China says it has now developed a direct-current electrical system capable of powering the railgun.
Meanwhile, the US Navy is still years away from fielding an operational railgun, according to CNBC, and as of early 2019, its version had not yet been tested at sea.
If mounted on the Chinese navy’s warships, the railgun could be used to devastating effect against enemy vessels.
Its 124-mile range theoretically allow it to target ships over 10 times the distance most naval guns are capable of firing while its projectiles, propelled at 1.6 miles per second, would be impossible to avoid.
The superweapon would give the Chinese navy a major advantage over the US in the South China Sea where the Asian giant continues to flex its muscles.
Beijing has laid claim to vast swathes of the disputed ocean and transformed dozens of its atolls and small islands into heavily fortified military bases.
Republican Senator James Inhofe this week warned that the frenzied activity by the Chinese armed forces in the region made it appear like they were “preparing for World War 3”.
He told a Senate hearing on the new challenges presented by China and Russia that the US had allowed the Beijing to militarise the region by sitting back as it built airstrips and ports in the disputed Spratly Islands.