With the recent release of leaked photos of a Chinese military ship near the Wuchang Shipyard carrying some form of superweapon, theories are beginning to emerge about a possible secret plan by the Chinese government to bolster its military capabilities.
In light of the heavy speculation, it is not surprising that the Chinese government has not released any statements confirming or denying the information. However, thanks to the powerful tool of social media, people are of course beginning to form their own opinions and taking to Twitter to share images and also possibly provoke a response from the government. The electromagnetic railgun was first spotted aboard the ship last week.
What the hell is this? pic.twitter.com/sQDAsHd7A3— dafeng cao (@xinfengcao) January 31, 2018
A machine of this type fires projectiles by use of electromagnetic force, and at an alarmingly fast speed, connecting with targets at a distance that can exceed 355 kilometers.
... and already on the move !— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) January 31, 2018
I must admit these are more than interesting times. pic.twitter.com/tngn9gZyIL
Is Any Military Operation in China Bound to Provoke Suspicion?
As fears continue over the impact of a possible covert mission, the Chinese government remains tight-lipped about the plans for the weapon, although the pro-government publication The People’s Daily did write an article in response to the discussion generated by the photos.
Military commentator Chen Shuoren shared with Science and Technology Daily, an arm of the newspaper, that rather than raising concerns and sparking conspiracy theories, that this development is in some ways a positive reflection of China’s growing military presence: “Though the US has been openly developing electromagnetic guns for years, it doesn’t mean that China is far behind in this field, as the latter [usually] keeps quiet about its progress due to secrecy concerns,” adding optimistically, “If the pictures are confirmed to be true, this would be a milestone for China’s electromagnetic weapons research program, with epoch-making significance.”
The Office of Naval Research, a science and technology outfit that supports the US Navy and Marines, has been developing a similar type of railgun for the past decade, openly acknowledging their efforts:
“Although it was once an object of imagination, theory, and science fiction, the electromagnetic railgun has finally made the leap from laboratory concept to weapon-grade technology,” the ONR wrote on its site.
It also spoke about the weapon's capabilities, “Using a massive electrical pulse rather than a chemical propellant, the railgun can launch projectiles much farther than the 13-nautical-mile (24km) range of the US Navy’s standard 5-inch (12.7cm) naval gun.”
Lack of adequate funding and fundamental design flaws seem to be behind why the project has not continued at a strong pace: “Previous incarnations of the railgun suffered from limited muzzle energy and could only fire a few shots before the launcher needed to be replaced."
Given the knowledge of the actions of the US in the same area, a fundamental question emerges: is the level of scrutiny that China is being subjected to in this situation a result of the government’s failure to be transparent, or is the rise in military prowess of the country itself provoking a strong reaction?