Official media reports on two scientists during China's Two Sessions period have revealed that the Chinese navy is making notable achievements on advanced weapons, including sea tests of electromagnetic railguns, and noise-reduction of its nuclear submarines.
The PLA Navy fleet participates in a drill in the South China Sea in 2008. Photo: IC
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy indirectly confirmed tests of electromagnetic railguns on a warship through a profile of a female scientist on its official website, experts said.
On Thursday, navy.81.cn published a report about Zhang Xiao, an associate research fellow at the PLA Naval University of Engineering. The report mentioned that Zhang is a key figure in China's research into "electromagnetic launching technology," and she is also a core member of the team led by Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Ma's team is responsible for research into the most significant areas for the Chinese navy, including nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, and Zhang has also made her own contributions to the navy.
"After hundreds of failures and more than 50,000 tests," Zhang has successfully developed the largest "repeating power supply system" in the world, the report said.
"The repeating power supply system is the power source of an electromagnetic railgun. The US started developing it earlier than China and has carried out more experiments and tests, and both the US and China's railguns run on the same operating principle. But thanks to the repeating power supply system, China's railgun has a more stable and continuous power supply," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
"Electromagnetic railgun is an entirely new type of weapon system that uses electricity and magnetism instead of the energy of a gunpowder explosion. Railguns use electricity to generate very strong electromagnetic fields between two rails. A conductive metal device, called an armature, picks up a projectile and accelerates down the path between the rails, slinging the projectile downrange," according to The Popular Mechanics, a New York-based classic magazine of popular science and technology.
The US began developing its railgun more than 10 years ago, and the US Naval Surface Warfare Center conducted a test firing in 2008. However, China appears to be the first country to place an electromagnetic railgun on a ship.
The weapon was spotted on a Chinese Navy landing craft and images of it have quickly spread across the Internet since it was first uploaded on Sina Weibo on January 31.
"If this is true, then China has placed a real railgun on a warship before the US Navy, which has been testing its own railgun on land for years," The Popular Mechanics reported on February 2.
However, no official information regarding the photo has been released so far. The report from navy.81.cn on Zhang mentioned a "new weapon test" on a ship and that Zhang was responsible for the "maintenance of the power supply" and "the system simulation."
The test was a massive project, with more than 200 people and over 20 different units participating in it, the report said. Military observers believe that the test reported by the PLA Navy's official website could be related to the photo uploaded on January 31.
"The use of railguns is more suitable for navy vessels rather than ground forces or other units, because a railgun requires a sustainable and massive energy supply, and if it is used by a ground force, it will need a power station to follow it all the time. But modernized naval vessels all have electric generators and can provide sustainable and massive power sources," Song said.
In addition to railguns, China is also making notable progress on noise-reduction to upgrade its nuclear submarines.
According to a report on March 5 by the Science and Technology Daily, a Beijing-based official journal, He Lin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that "in 2025, noise on a nuclear submarine will be largely reduced, and Chinese nuclear submarines' performances will be improved to world class level."
He is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. As he came out of the meeting of the Two Sessions on March 4, he told the Science and Technology Daily that his biggest wish is to prevent other countries from being able to detect Chinese submarines.
Compared to other naval powers, China currently lags behind in terms of submarine noise-reduction. But in recent years, China has been making efforts to close the gap with other major powers such as the US and Russia, said Zhang Ye, a research fellow at the PLA Naval Research Institute.
"Noise under the sea will allow a nuclear submarine to be detected easily by its enemies. In real combat, this is deadly," Zhang said.