China is developing the world’s first electromagnetic surface-to-surface rocket, with a greater fire range than conventional rockets, as announced by Chinese State Media, cited by South China Morning Post on August 26th.
The greater fire range of the electromagnetic rocket could possibly give an advantage to the People’s Liberation Army in high-altitude regions such as the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.
South China Morning Post reported that the rocket’s precise range and deployment schedule have not been revealed. However, the outlet cited Han Junli, the program’s lead scientist, who spoke to Science and Technology Daily. He said that “substantial progress” has been made on the rocket.
Conventional rockets are launched via explosive powder for the initial push, China’s new rockets will be launched using additional electromagnetic force, similar to the catapult launchers that China and the US are developing for their next-generation aircraft carriers.
An electromagnetic catapult system “can give the rocket a very high initial speed on its launching stage”, said Han. South China Morning Post cites unnamed observes who claim that China’s domestically built aircraft carrier, which went into its second sea trials on August 26th, will be equipped with such electromagnetic catapult launchers.
The same technology is used to develop railguns. An electromagnetic railgun is also supposedly to be equipped on the new Chinese Missile Destroyer Type 055.
“An electromagnetic catapult may also be able to help stabilize the rocket during launch and improve its accuracy,” said Zhou Chenming, a military expert based in Beijing, cited by South China Morning Post.
The Chinese State Media, cited by South China Morning Post, suggested that the new rockets may be deployed in Tibet. Han, who is stationed with a research institute of the ground force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), describes the project as the first one of its kind in the world. He also praised that it has been going according to plan “with great breakthroughs.”
The PLA has deployed many 300mm PHL-03 rockets. Their flight range is about 150 km. According to the South China Morning Post, the range of the electromagnetic rocket is believed to be much larger, however no specifications have been announced. China has also developed laser-guided rockets which can slightly amend their trajectory during flight, though they cannot actively search for targets the way a missile can.
As cited by South China Morning Post, Han told Science and Technology Daily it would be unnecessary to transport forward-deploy rockets all the way to the frontline, which on the Tibetan plateau would be expensive. Instead, they could be fired from further away in the vast plateau region.
China Military initially reported of the electromagnetic rocket on August 3rd. Unnamed Chinese experts, cited by the outlet on August 2nd, said that China’s unprecedented innovation of electromagnetic catapult rocket artillery technology will made the weapon more powerful than most conventional artillery, especially in Qinghai-Tibet plateau areas. Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator was cited as saying that “Electromagnetic rocket artillery can easily reach targets beyond 200 kilometers at a relatively lower cost than conventional artillery.”
The arms race continues in full force, with military developments by China and Russia. The US does want not to fall behind.
On August 20th, Space reported of two contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin by the US Air Force. They are worth a maximum of $1.4 billion.
The first contract, announced in April, awards $928 million to develop something called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW).
On August 13th, the Second contract was awarded to begin designing the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). It is worth up to $480 million.
“We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the war fighter as soon as possible,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement on August 13th.
Currently not much is known for the HCSW or the ARRW, however hypersonic vehicles generally reach their astounding speeds using supersonic combustion ramjet engines, also called a scramjet.
The two contracts aren’t the US Air Force’s first investment into hypersonic technology. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched several test flights of an unmanned hypersonic bomber prototype called the HTV-2. DARPA and the Air Force worked together from 2004 through 2013 on the $300 million X-51A program, which developed and tested a robotic scramjet vehicle known as Waverider.
China and Russia are also developing their own hypersonic vehicles. Russia’s Kinzhal is to reportedly be ready by 2020, while China successfully tested its Xingkong-2, which reached a top speed of Mach 6.