This article was first published in French language by East Pendulum
While the details of the test program are not made public – unsurprisingly – it is a known fact that the vessel and its valuable payload have been prepared not only for navigation tests but also for firing trials at sea. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy) has several weapons testing centers in the Bohai Bay (Yellow Sea, in northeast China) , including one located on the Liaodong Peninsula.
According to American sources, the Chinese Naval Railgun would have already made its first firings in early 2019. In its article published on January 30 this year, American television business news channel CNBC, citing sources with direct access to American intelligence reports, explains that China had in fact tested its new electromagnetic gun earlier in that month.
According to the same CNBC sources, the Chinese Railgun would be able to hit a target over a distance of 200 km (108 nautical miles) at a speed of 2,575 meters per second (1.6 mile / s). However, it is unclear how this fairly accurate data could be retrieved by US intelligence – is it a mere supposition based on their own systems under development, or have large-scale measurement tools been (somehow) deployed ?
Be that as it may, the satellite images dated February 26, 2019 show that the 4,800-ton landing ship was at that time near Huludao, at a PLAN naval base.
Assuming that the evidence revealed by the American sources is correct, at least for the period when the first test was carried out namely “in the month of January and before the 30th”, it is possible to figure out the location in which the Chinese Railgun made its first firing.
Using navigational alerts (NOTAM) published by the Liaoning Marine Safety Administration, which manages all maritime affairs in the Bohai Bay, a total of 8 military exercises, 3 of which involving “live firing” can be identified for the period.
However It is difficult to know which of these officially announced exercises correspond to the Railgun tests. For a first trial at sea, it seems unlikely that the system would be tested at maximum power for maximum range. It is possible that the system first performed short range shots at varying powers, before extending the range and increasing the firing rate.
Of course, this is just a working hypothesis. The Chinese Navy could and should apply a number of pre-defined procedures to run these tests, such as the GJB-592 to assess hit efficiency, the GJB-4739 on precision testing, the GJB-254 on testing. design qualification … etc.
It should be noted that the 3 “live fire” exercises as mentioned in the respective notifications all took place around Haimao Dao (海 猫 岛), an island located near Lüshunkou and which is a historical firing range of the Chinese Navy. These exercises, dated 9 to 12, then 17 to 22 and 21 to 24 of January, share exactly the same zone of forbidden access, form square shape, covering this island on a perimeter of 43, 9 km and an area of 120 km².
If the Chinese Railgun actually fired at a range of 200 km, as suggested by US intelligence, then the test could actually have taken place on January 14 as the maritime area closed for “military operation” that day is exactly a 220 km x 25.5 km rectangle shape.
But firing from such a distance still presents significant risks and also uncertainties on the monitoring and measurements, whether from the sea to the coastline or from the coastline to the sea (see diagrams above).
As far as the characteristics of this Railgun are concerned, the only elements that can be exploited today, by ruling out any far-fetched reporting in the local media, are almost all from a letter of nomination from the China Association for Science and Technology, which nominates 45 scientists and researchers at the 12th Guanghua Engineering Science and Technology Award (光华 工程 科技 奖), a national award of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Among this list, which already contains several well-known names, including one of the main designers of the DF-26 IRBM /AShBM, is the name of LI Xiang (李翔), a researcher from the 713 Institute belonging to the Chinese naval group CSIC.
LI is named in this document for his many contributions in the development of Chinese naval guns, including the new H/PJ-45 that now equips the Type 052D destroyers, but also for being the deputy chief designer for a “Naval Electro-Magnetic Cannon” project, in which he and his team “broke into key technologies in resistance to the thermal abrasion of the barrel and the loading of long-range shells”, and carried out “continuous test firings with a muzzle velocity of 2,500 meter per seconds and a power of 32 MJ”.
According to the document dated November 6, 2017, “the development of the prototype for sea trials is over, the tests at sea will begin soon.” Unfortunately the document provides no details on the mass of the projectile.
Apart from this letter of appointment, whose data seems to be consistent with the Chinese progress observed so far, a report by Central South University (中南 大学), and more specifically by its State Key Laboratory of High Performance Complex Manufacturing, also talks about a new friction stir welding technology that has been applied on the “water-cooled rails of a Railgun”, but its direct link with the gun currently being tested can not be established for the moment.
To be continued.