TOKYO: Japan’s Defense Ministry will begin full-fledged research to develop railguns that fire projectiles at a very high speed using electromagnetic force, chiefly for intercepting hypersonic missiles.
The ministry is also considering using railguns for antiship strikes.
The government’s draft budget for fiscal 2022, which starts in April, includes 6.5 billion yen in costs related to the development of railguns. The ministry plans to conduct its research over the next seven years.
To launch projectiles, railguns use electromagnetic force generated by passing electricity through rails installed in the barrel, instead of using gunpowder.
In a test by the ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, a speed of 2,297 meters per second, or nearly Mach 7, was recorded. Railguns can fire projectiles in quick succession and have a long range.
But the devices require a large amount of electricity. As railguns are expected to be mounted on warships and vehicles, it would be necessary to reduce the size of large-capacity power equipment for the weapons.
Other technical problems include how to ensure the stability of railguns when they fire projectiles and how to select materials for the rails that can withstand the intense heat produced when projectiles are launched.
The U.S. military began research on railgun technology more than 10 years ago but has yet to put it to practical use.
The ministry secured 1 billion yen in a fiscal 2016 supplementary budget, starting its research on railguns.
This time, the ministry decided to increase the outlays drastically, judging that railguns could be a “game changer” that may transform the strategic environment, informed sources said.
North Korea and China are developing hypersonic weapons that take irregular trajectories. According to the ministry, a ballistic missile fired by North Korea on Tuesday reached a speed of Mach 10 and took an irregular trajectory.
It is difficult to intercept such missiles with Japan’s existing missile defense system.
The development of attack missiles and the technology to intercept them has gone into a spiral, a senior ministry official said.
On railguns, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a press conference Tuesday that his ministry will launch full-scale research in the next fiscal year.
“Railguns have the potential to be used for a variety of purposes, including missile defense and antiship attacks,” he added.