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Thread: First ever suspected prototype rail gun on Chinese Navy ship.

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    First ever suspected prototype rail gun on Chinese Navy ship.

    https://www.popularmechanics.com/mil...china-railgun/

    I'm not one who is familiar with how weapons systems go from blueprint to a working weapon, but how has China caught up to the U.S., or could I say surpass the U.S. in certain areas in military technology? It seems they have not only surpassed the U.S. in rail gun technology, but also hypersonic missile technology.
    Last edited by erik; 06 Feb 18, at 08:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    https://www.popularmechanics.com/mil...china-railgun/

    I'm not one who is familiar with how weapons systems go from blueprint to a working weapon, but how has China caught up to the U.S., or could I say surpass the U.S. in certain areas in military technology? It seems they have not only surpassed the U.S. in rail gun technology, but also hypersonic missile technology.
    That's a good question and there is a lot of discussion on this. To sum up some of the arguments, it comes down to hard work, intellectual property theft, and the large number of Chinese students attending our best universities and studying advanced physics with our best and brightest. CdrSal makes many of these arguments, but he also notes that we do not have an official announcement from the PLAN on what the mount actually is. It's probably a railgun, but the possibility exists that it is something else.

    ArsTechnica has some additional pictures and describes why US railgun development was dropped. Development was dropped due to funding issues and a lack of interest at the DOD's Strategic Capabilities Office.

    More pictures, including one of the Type 072III-class landing ship with the rail gun moving through the port.

    In the end, it comes down to will power and resources. Do we have the will power to see development through to the end and the resources to actually make it happen? The decision to stop development could be the result of technical issues that prevent the railgun from becoming a viable weapons system. How do you guide the projectile? If you are shooting at something 100km away, even with a hyper-kinetic projectile the target is going to move. Some sort of terminal guidance is probably necessary, but that'd probably be difficult to provide to a projectile moving at high mach numbers.

    The resource issue is complicated by the way that we do business. The military-industrial complex are corporations who are beholden to their stock-holders to provide a solid return on their money. That is their number one priority (despite any protests that they may make) and they do not have a vested interest in streamlining the weapons development process to be more efficient and save money. If the program they are working on runs out of money, they turn to the government and get more, particularly if they are working on a weapons system 'to big to fail', ie F35. On smaller projects they do face the risk of having the program cancelled if they exceed budget controls, but there is always another system out there.

    The government has not made things any better. The Federal Acquisition Regulations is enormous (2000+ pages), then toss the Defense FAR on top of it. It costs each company a lot of time and effort to be compliant with both docs. Then throw on the other regulations (OSHA, EPA, etc - not a blanket condemnation of these organizations as many of their regulations are critical). Each company takes a cut of every dollar that they expend, so no complaints from them. The end state of all these regulations and rules is a crippling amount of paperwork to push a system through development.

    Acquisition reform is necessary, but I do not see the will power to fix this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCT View Post
    Some sort of terminal guidance is probably necessary, but that'd probably be difficult to provide to a projectile moving at high mach numbers.
    The problem in that isn't the speed, it's the rather high acceleration provided by a railgun.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    The problem in that isn't the speed, it's the rather high acceleration provided by a railgun.
    Can't argue, but the technical issues are probably significant in getting the technology ready for fielding. The USN was looking at over the horizon targeting which is also difficult. The Chinese may have a less ambitious goal. Perhaps it's just 'knock out everything within sight.' Still difficult. We may never know their systems objectives or potential.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCT View Post
    Can't argue, but the technical issues are probably significant in getting the technology ready for fielding. The USN was looking at over the horizon targeting which is also difficult. The Chinese may have a less ambitious goal. Perhaps it's just 'knock out everything within sight.' Still difficult. We may never know their systems objectives or potential.
    My guess would be to knock down an over the horizon US cruise missile once it gets closer in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCT View Post
    That's a good question and there is a lot of discussion on this. To sum up some of the arguments, it comes down to hard work, intellectual property theft, and the large number of Chinese students attending our best universities and studying advanced physics with our best and brightest. CdrSal makes many of these arguments, but he also notes that we do not have an official announcement from the PLAN on what the mount actually is. It's probably a railgun, but the possibility exists that it is something else.
    As someone who has gone through our "higher education system", I can definitely see that. I attended Michigan State University and the amount of students from China was just amazing. They stay for the education and immediately leave and go back home once finished. And the education they received wasn't some "liberal arts degree", but some kind of science, math, or engineering degree. Plus the amount of wealth they have from their family was mind blowing. Literally some would drive Lambos on campus. There's nothing we can do to stop that though. It's obvious and out in plain sight that the education they have received here has successfully been replicated back in China.


    In the end, it comes down to will power and resources. Do we have the will power to see development through to the end and the resources to actually make it happen? The decision to stop development could be the result of technical issues that prevent the railgun from becoming a viable weapons system. How do you guide the projectile? If you are shooting at something 100km away, even with a hyper-kinetic projectile the target is going to move. Some sort of terminal guidance is probably necessary, but that'd probably be difficult to provide to a projectile moving at high mach numbers.

    The resource issue is complicated by the way that we do business. The military-industrial complex are corporations who are beholden to their stock-holders to provide a solid return on their money. That is their number one priority (despite any protests that they may make) and they do not have a vested interest in streamlining the weapons development process to be more efficient and save money. If the program they are working on runs out of money, they turn to the government and get more, particularly if they are working on a weapons system 'to big to fail', ie F35. On smaller projects they do face the risk of having the program cancelled if they exceed budget controls, but there is always another system out there.

    The government has not made things any better. The Federal Acquisition Regulations is enormous (2000+ pages), then toss the Defense FAR on top of it. It costs each company a lot of time and effort to be compliant with both docs. Then throw on the other regulations (OSHA, EPA, etc - not a blanket condemnation of these organizations as many of their regulations are critical). Each company takes a cut of every dollar that they expend, so no complaints from them. The end state of all these regulations and rules is a crippling amount of paperwork to push a system through development.

    Acquisition reform is necessary, but I do not see the will power to fix this.
    Can't thank you enough for the explanation. Like I said, I have no expertise and very little knowledge in how a new weapons system goes from cradle to implementation. What I have seen too is maybe an ignorance on our end and underestimating them? Going back to Robert Gates. I specifically remember when Obama and Gates shut down the F-22... then no sooner when they did that, the J-20 is publically unveiled. I believe Gates said they took into consideration of the Chinese Stealth program when cancelling the F-22, but did they really? Or was is a massive intelligence failure on our part not realizing how far along they are? Also the J-31 being revealed.

    Seems like we maybe doing the same with railgun and hypersonic tech, and EMALS as well. Hell, unless it's propaganda on their end, they seem to be outpacing us on Quantum technology as well. I guess the main obstacle I see with us is the transition from blueprint, to prototype, to a working weapon system. It does not seem the Chinese weapon systems have to go over such hurdles (I'm sure stealing our tech definitely plays a part), but the acquisition process seems more streamlined than ours. It's frustrating to see $600 billion+ being spent on defense and countries like China and Russia spend less, but seem to have to deal with less hurdles when it comes to acquisition.
    Last edited by erik; 07 Feb 18, at 04:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    Can't thank you enough for the explanation. Like I said, I have no expertise and very little knowledge in how a new weapons system goes from cradle to implementation. What I have seen too is maybe an ignorance on our end and underestimating them? Going back to Robert Gates. I specifically remember when Obama and Gates shut down the F-22... then no sooner when they did that, the J-20 is publically unveiled. I believe Gates said they took into consideration of the Chinese Stealth program when cancelling the F-22, but did they really? Or was is a massive intelligence failure on our part not realizing how far along they are? Also the J-31 being revealed.

    Seems like we maybe doing the same with railgun and hypersonic tech, and EMALS as well. Hell, unless it's propaganda on their end, they seem to be outpacing us on Quantum technology as well. I guess the main obstacle I see with us is the transition from blueprint, to prototype, to a working weapon system. It does not seem the Chinese weapon systems have to go over such hurdles (I'm sure stealing our tech definitely plays a part), but the acquisition process seems more streamlined than ours. It's frustrating to see $600 billion+ being spent on defense and countries like China and Russia spend less, but seem to have to deal with less hurdles when it comes to acquisition.
    Take everything I say with a grain of salt, I've been at this too long and thus tend to lean towards the pessimistic side of the house. Despite its flaws, the system has put out world-class weapons systems that our allies and opponents can only look on with envy. Of course, it took too long and cost too much... There are a few other acquisition professionals on this site and they may have a different opinion.

    The system can be streamlined, made more efficient, and produce better quality end items, but there is always a trade-off and you will step on politically powerful interests, which is one reason why things continue on in this state. The M-I complex has deep pockets and they contribute to a lot of politicians. The government is always trying to increase the competitive atmosphere and keep the big boys from sucking up all the work and dollars. Contract set asides are in place for small, minority, women, and/or veteran-owned companies. Great, fully approve the concept, except sometimes these companies do not have the resources or skill sets to do the work. Of course their contract proposals all say that they do.... So you end up with a company that wins the contract, but has difficulty performing the work. This delays things and the government is forced to spin up the new workforce (not something we're supposed to do) so that they can get the job done. Now, that's a broad-based slander as I've worked with a lot of small companies that have performed wonderfully, but you get the idea. It takes about 18-24 months to get a large contract in place for contract support for engineering and/or logistics KTR support. Then a company you didn't particularly want wins on price alone. Oh yeah, the guys who have to work with the winning company are not the ones making the final decision. We do get to evaluate and grade all the proposals, but cost often trumps everything.

    The regulations are so complex that it takes my organization around 4 months to get a smaller contract awarded (Simplified Acquisitions my butt!) In essence, anytime I want to spend over $3k, I have to write a contract and it'll take me 4 months to get it awarded, plus whatever delay the vendor may have in delivering the item. So think of a forward deployed ship that breaks a part in the system I support, if I do not have the item on the shelf as it may be a low density/high cost item, they are stuck with a degraded system for 4 months. I've been lucky so far in that I've managed to plan far enough ahead to keep the shelves stocked, but the time will come when I don't have the necessary widget. (I don't have the funds to buy everything that I would like, so have to go off past failure rates, etc to try and forecast demand.) The current budget fiasco makes it tougher as I'm basically getting funding for a couple of weeks at a time, with almost no extra to buy parts. If the government shuts down, even though I support DoD and am exempt to a degree, my funds run out next week and I'll go home. The Fleet will have to look to it's own resources until the funds start up again. There has to be a better way!

    There are a lot of good people working in my organization, but they are constrained by the published laws and regulations, which, in my opinion need to be reviewed and reworked (or just tossed whole-sale.)

    Ok sorry, rant off!

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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    I specifically remember when Obama and Gates shut down the F-22... then no sooner when they did that, the J-20 is publically unveiled. I believe Gates said they took into consideration of the Chinese Stealth program when cancelling the F-22, but did they really? Or was is a massive intelligence failure on our part not realizing how far along they are? Also the J-31 being revealed.
    As much as everyone would like more F-22s, I'd argue that Gates made the right call.

    There are no more than a handful of J-20s and the J-31 and SU-57 are still very much prototypes. By the time either China or Russia reach a production level consistent with the number of F-22s the US built, the US inventory of stealth fighters will number in the thousands.

    In all likelihood, not curtailing the F-22 production would have delayed or disrupted procurement of the F-35, KC-46, B-21, SR-72, PCA, as well as numerous UAS platforms due to the immense procurement and sustainment costs a large F-22 fleet would entail. By the time US rivals are actually starting to crank out stealthy 5th gens in meaningful numbers, the US will be starting to roll out 6th gen fighters.

    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    Seems like we maybe doing the same with railgun and hypersonic tech, and EMALS as well.
    The DOD has to look at procurement decisions based on the capabilities they bring compared to the investment required.

    Lets take railguns as an example: What kind of effects can they deliver?

    Long range naval bombardment is the obvious one.

    Of course the USN can already accomplish this with cruise missiles and carrier borne aircraft. Granted, railguns have their advantages when it comes to flight time to target, cost per shot, and ammunition storage but these advantages may only have situational relevance.

    Flight time to target is only relevant if you already have sufficient ISR in place over the horizon to give those railguns something useful to shoot at. If you find that in practice, you need to send a drone or fighter over the horizon to provide targeting data to your railguns anyway, why not just send them in armed in the first place and skip the rails?

    You would have to shoot a whole lot of cruise missiles or drop a ton of bombs to even begin to break even on the cost of retrofitting a Burke class destroyer with a railgun. The electrical generation, storage, and distribution capacity required to feed a railgun would mean opening up the ship like a tin can, ripping the guts out, and replacing a LOT of equipment that's buried in the bowels of the ship. We're talking hundred of millions of dollars and a ship taken out of commission for more than a year for this kind of upgrade. You're probably better off just designing them into the Burke replacement from the get go than trying to shoe horn them into the existing fleet.

    If railguns are sent back to the R&D lab for continued maturation rather than fielded swiftly, what else can those funds be used for instead? Can you get something that provides more value or more unique capabilities rather than an incremental improvement on a capability that's already pretty darn robust?

    Maybe fielding railguns would come at the cost of fielding these: https://www.darpa.mil/program/anti-s...nmanned-vessel

    Opportunity cost is a factor in every procurement decision DOD makes. Getting something that's a little better right now could preclude us from getting something that's a lot better in 10 years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    Can't thank you enough for the explanation. Like I said, I have no expertise and very little knowledge in how a new weapons system goes from cradle to implementation. What I have seen too is maybe an ignorance on our end and underestimating them? Going back to Robert Gates. I specifically remember when Obama and Gates shut down the F-22... then no sooner when they did that, the J-20 is publically unveiled. I believe Gates said they took into consideration of the Chinese Stealth program when cancelling the F-22, but did they really? Or was is a massive intelligence failure on our part not realizing how far along they are? Also the J-31 being revealed.

    Seems like we maybe doing the same with railgun and hypersonic tech, and EMALS as well. Hell, unless it's propaganda on their end, they seem to be outpacing us on Quantum technology as well. I guess the main obstacle I see with us is the transition from blueprint, to prototype, to a working weapon system. It does not seem the Chinese weapon systems have to go over such hurdles (I'm sure stealing our tech definitely plays a part), but the acquisition process seems more streamlined than ours. It's frustrating to see $600 billion+ being spent on defense and countries like China and Russia spend less, but seem to have to deal with less hurdles when it comes to acquisition.
    The Chinese and the Russians are no more immune to waste than we are. There's a whole list of failed projects that just don't get the public light or they've been covered up with propaganda. Recall the DF-21 carrier killer. To this day, not one single test. It's avery accurate airport killer but that is a far cry from the decades of research that has yet to reveal one single test on a moving ship.

    Then there is the YUAN class submarine. One look and everyone knew the Chinese learned squat all about submarine design.

    As for the JF-20 and JF-31, no vector thrust and they're relying on Russian engines, meaning big IR targets.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WABs_OOE View Post
    The Chinese and the Russians are no more immune to waste than we are. There's a whole list of failed projects that just don't get the public light or they've been covered up with propaganda. Recall the DF-21 carrier killer. To this day, not one single test. It's avery accurate airport killer but that is a far cry from the decades of research that has yet to reveal one single test on a moving ship.

    Then there is the YUAN class submarine. One look and everyone knew the Chinese learned squat all about submarine design.

    As for the JF-20 and JF-31, no vector thrust and they're relying on Russian engines, meaning big IR targets.
    Sir, agreed. China does not have a free press that is able to freely expose any waste or abuse, or even failed development projects. China should not be made into a 10' giant, but neither should she be underestimated. They are usually good at the long game and have been steadily improving their position in the South China Sea. A working railgun with a capable and accurate fire control system would make reducing one of their new atolls much more difficult.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCT View Post
    A working railgun with a capable and accurate fire control system would make reducing one of their new atolls much more difficult.
    How do you figure?

    I don't imagine a railgun that can lob a projectile ~100 miles would have any substantial impact on salvos of USN Tomahawks fired from destroyers 500 nmi away. Nor would it impact SSGN operations in any meaningful capacity. A long flight time for the cruise missiles should be of no real consequence since islands can't evade attacks.

    I don't really see the little islands as anything more than geopolitical tripwires. They help establish Chinese claims to the nearby waters and are just enough of a nuisance that the US can't completely ignore them and will want to leave them as smoking craters. Which in turn will help galvanize Chinese nationalism and garner international sympathy denouncing US aggression in the event that hostilities break out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by erik View Post
    https://www.popularmechanics.com/mil...china-railgun/

    I'm not one who is familiar with how weapons systems go from blueprint to a working weapon, but how has China caught up to the U.S., or could I say surpass the U.S. in certain areas in military technology? It seems they have not only surpassed the U.S. in rail gun technology, but also hypersonic missile technology.
    It's not surprising if China has an operational rail gun. There's no mystery behind the weapon, you can make one yourself at home if you've got the bits n pieces. From what I can gather the hard part is packaging the weapon and making it re-usable. The rails themselves are exposed to huge current loads, with arcing between rails and projectiles creating metal melting temps, that make re-usability an issue. The packaging issue is centred around basic operation and reloading of the weapon to allow a useful amount of projectiles to be fired.

    I'd say that if China does have a railgun, and the past is anything to go by, it won't be as capable as the US weapon. Their stuff looks the match of US gear but lack the polish. Unless the Navy and Raytheon have been busy twiddling their thumbs for the last few years they should be able to field a weapon that is more reliable and effective, reflecting the time spent in development.

    This a youtube video of a homemade railgun that gives you a basic idea of how it works

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAs9EHtKfVc

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveDaPirate View Post
    How do you figure?

    I don't imagine a railgun that can lob a projectile ~100 miles would have any substantial impact on salvos of USN Tomahawks fired from destroyers 500 nmi away. Nor would it impact SSGN operations in any meaningful capacity. A long flight time for the cruise missiles should be of no real consequence since islands can't evade attacks.

    I don't really see the little islands as anything more than geopolitical tripwires. They help establish Chinese claims to the nearby waters and are just enough of a nuisance that the US can't completely ignore them and will want to leave them as smoking craters. Which in turn will help galvanize Chinese nationalism and garner international sympathy denouncing US aggression in the event that hostilities break out.
    A railgun with guided projectiles and sufficiently high repetition rate makes emplaced defenses a lot more effective against missile attack because it dramatically increases the magazine depth and the cost for shooting down incoming missiles.

    But, you have to get those hard pieces in place.

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    An article I read accompanied by clearer pictures of 'the gun' noted that the barrel was both shorter and thicker than current US experimental rail gun designs, leading to speculation as to whether in fact it was a rail gun or perhaps something else (coil gun?). Like conventional guns barrel length impacts on MV.

    Either way it doesn't mean the device is more advanced and ready for deployment than US ones are, in fact it could be far less advanced. In any event it's positioning on the extreme bow of a support vessel concerned together with the accompanying deck mounted containers screams 'temporary test platform'- just like the installation of that US rail gun on an LCS a couple of years ago and not a working system that's in the process of being retrofitted to suitable hulls.

    Happy to be contradicted by our resident experts on that last bit BTW.
    Last edited by Monash; 10 Feb 18, at 05:23.

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