China has put a railgun on a warship. That sentence alone might trigger the heebie-jeebies in some members of the American military. It’s the first time any nation has ever put such a powerful gun on a warship. But there’s more to the story than that.
The physics behind the railgun are particularly impressive. Since the specially designed “bullets” are 22lbs each and are capable of traveling about 100 miles at Mach 7 speeds (approx. 5,300mph), the bullets have to be fired with an extreme amount of energy: about 32 megajoules. That’s about enough energy to propel a 1 ton object at 566mph, so, to give you a rough idea of how powerful this thing is: it’s like giving something the size of a basketball the speed (and ultimately destructive power) of a 747.
While we can’t do much (save for interchanging the lyrics to Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” to “China’s got a gun”), we can rest somewhat assured that the railgun might not actually work. Fancy though it may be, it’s not easy to get a machine this powerful to fire at a target. The American military had up until fairly recently working on railgun technology but since dropped it in favor of more short-range weaponry; it looks like China was watching pretty closely and picked up the ball where America either lost interest or lost focus.
So, should anyone be worried? Maybe. It could be a while until the railgun actually gets used, and if certain Big Thinkers are to be believed this is more-so the kind of show-off weapon that is built mostly as a deterrent and/or status symbol. And besides, it’s not like we have a head of government who likes to tick off the Chinese. Oh, wait! We do. Well, we might be seeing the railgun sooner than later.