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Japan Is Experimenting On Electromagnetic Artillery

May 18, 2020

Via Japan MOD.

A scheduled visit by Japan’s defense minister to the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) in March revealed the extent of its R&D as Tokyo raises its military spending. A particular image featuring Defense Minster Taro Kono standing behind an electromagnetic launch device connected to a large power source was taken inside ATLA’s Ground Systems Research Center. No further details were shared about Kono’s impressions on the object but it’s now apparent Japan isn’t getting itself left behind by its neighbors when it comes to exploring applications for rail guns.

Although rail guns have become a staple in sci-fi universes their use is often exaggerated or incorrect. The underlying concept behind these weapons is using electrical currents to propel ammunition over distances far beyond conventional artillery. The 2010s saw many countries experiment with electromagnetic launchers that shoot super high velocity ammunition but there are significant differences between these varied efforts. The single photo of Kono in a laboratory shows a basic assembly for an electromagnetic weapon, whose shape combines two “rails” forming an elongated launch mechanism, but its present size has no immediate military uses.

China and South Korea have made no secret about their own attempts to field electromagnetic weaponry although neither efforts are conclusive. The US Navy explored the application of rail guns as ship-based artillery in the 2000s as an alternative to direct energy weapons but the drawn out testing remains a work in progress. Other countries that have tried to manufacture rail guns won’t be deploying these in the medium-term. In 2017, for example, Turkey’s Aselsan unveiled its electromagnetic Tufan naval weapon system. More a defensive armament than a extreme-range precision weapon, the naval Tufan was adaptable to mobile and static roles as a ground-based artillery piece.

A recurring problem for electromagnetic weapons that shoot super high velocity projectiles is their independent power source. Current ship design offers no suitable spaces for rail guns and their power plants in the sections where conventional guns and their magazines are installed. Since the ATLA Ground Systems Research Center is running its own experiments on electromagnetic weapons this may indicate how Japan’s defense ministry sees the role of such equipment in the future. Regardless if a suitable power source is developed for a viable rail gun the Japanese military could deploy them as defensive systems on high risk coastal areas.

For several year’s now Japan’s national security priorities are deterring China’s territorial claims and setting up infrastructure to defeat a potential missile attack by North Korea. Both scenarios involve a well-integrated command and control system that anticipates hostilities and counters them with an immediate deployment of forces. If the Japanese military adopts rail guns in the years to come their size and technological limitations might see them end up as hybrid surface-to-surface and surface to-air systems. This makes sense if Japan foresees Chinese cruise missiles and drones as the immediate threats to its distant islands rather than a naval expedition. On paper, a projectile fired by a large caliber rail gun flies at hypersonic speeds, varying from Mach 5 to Mach 7 depending on the power output, or faster than the terminal phase of a supersonic cruise missile.

Although Japan’s military-industrial sector is up to the task of developing new technologies for protecting the homeland competition with China is a serious challenge. In metrics such as military spending and manufacturing output it’s China, not Japan, who outpaces its adversaries. The crucial advantage Japan does enjoy is a network of regional allies to collaborate with.

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