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Japan to Use Railguns to Counter Hypersonic Threat

Sub-Calibre Prototype Already Achieving Mach 6

The Japanese MoD is increasing funding for development of electromagnetic (EM) railguns and examining the possibility of using such systems to counter hypersonic weapons.

Specifically, the ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) has been allocated ¥6.5 billion ($56 million) for FY2022, which starts in April, to fund efforts to complete the development of an EM railgun weapon system by FY2026.

In order to counter threats such as those posed by hypersonic missiles, the research on future railguns enabling a barrage of gunfire with a high initial velocity will be conducted,” the ministry said in a budget document released in late December.

ATLA has been conducting research on the basic technologies behind railguns since FY2016 and has built a small-calibre developmental prototype. The aim is to build a weapon that can fire 40mm projectiles at 2,000m/s or more – approx. Mach 6. Speeds of 2,297m/s have been recorded in trials, according to ATLA.

With a railgun, an electroconductive projectile is loaded between two prongs, also made from electroconductive material. ATLA is striving to build those two rails from a strong material that can easily conduct electricity and sustain the firing of more than 120 projectiles. Tokyo is increasingly focused on the development of advanced military technologies such as EM railguns, as well as high-power microwave- and laser-based weapon systems to help counter the growing missile threat posed by neighbouring countries, including China, North Korea, and Russia.

ATLA noted that its overall budget for R&D projects will be ¥291.1 billion for FY2022: a near 40% increase compared to the previous year.

Such technologies will most likely become a ‘game changer’ in the field of missile defence, enabling Tokyo to shoot down multiple missiles simultaneously, while drastically lowering the cost per firing compared with current technologies.

The US, China, and other countries are also working on railguns, but none is known to have yet succeeded in putting the technology into practical use.

Kosuke Takahashi reporting for MON from Tokyo

For a brief video of the ATLA-developed railgun project, click here

Graphic showing potential use of railgun technology. (Image: Japanese MoD)

The prototype railgun. (Photo: ATLA)

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