Japan successfully tested the first electromagnetic cannon fired from a ship. This technology, also known as a railgun, is capable of firing projectiles at speeds around Mach 7, 7 times the speed of sound, against targets such as ships, planes, and missiles, including hypersonic ones.
“ATLA conducted the shipboard railgun firing test for the first time in the world with the cooperation of JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force). To protect ships against aerial and surface threats with high-velocity ammunition, ATLA strongly promotes the early deployment of railgun technology,” the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency published on Tuesday. ATLA for its acronym in English.
#ATLA has accomplished ship-board firing test of railgun first time in the world with the cooperation of the JMSDF. To protect vessels against air-threats and surface-threats by high-speed bullets, ATLA strongly promotes early deployment of railgun technology. pic.twitter.com/MG5NqqENcG
— Acquisition Technology & Logistics Agency (@atla_kouhou_en) October 17, 2023
An electromagnetic cannon is a type of weapon that uses electromagnetic energy to accelerate a projectile to extremely high speeds. Instead of using chemical explosives or conventional propellants to fire projectiles, the railgun exploits the principles of electromagnetic force.
Japan’s Defense Ministry wants to develop a missile interception system based on magnetic projectiles to deal with the growing threat posed by hypersonic weapons from China, North Korea, and Russia, according to Nikkei Asia. The successful integration of an electromagnetic cannon on a ship is a step in this direction that is part of Japan’s Defense Development Program launched in December 2022. This program promotes the development of electromagnetic cannon technology for, in conjunction with missiles that are long-range, strengthening Japan’s defensive capabilities against aerial threats.
Japan’s efforts to develop this type of weapon began in 1990 at the Ground Systems Research Center, GSRC, which developed a 16mm electromagnetic cannon. Until 2016 ATLA began the development of a prototype, revealed in 2018, whose projectiles reached a speed of Mach 6.5, 2,229 meters per second. The version recently successfully tested in Japan at sea has improved the capabilities of the prototype, although technical details are scarce.
Above the speed of Mach 7, which is equal to 2,383 meters per second or 8,578 kilometers per hour, it is known that it is a medium-sized cannon that fires 40 mm and 320 gr steel bullets. These projectiles do not have explosive charges, but their ability to cause damage comes from kinetic energy. According to the Eurasian Times, it uses five megajoules (MJ), or five million joules (J), of charge energy and ATLA’s goal is to reach 20 MJ. The weapon weighs 8 tons and its barrel measures 6 meters.
It is also not known which ships carried this weapon, although it has been suggested that they may have been destroyers. On the ground, ATLA plans to equip several trucks with railguns to counter hypersonic missile attacks.
The electromagnetic cannon, which is expected to enter service in the second half of this decade, can fire bullets at different speeds depending on the speed of the target and by adjusting the electricity. Japan did not disclose which contractor developed the technology, but it is known that Japan Steel Works Ltd.