With the growing threat of conflict in the South China Sea, the Japanese Defence Ministry is working hard on a strategy to protect Japan against next-generation weaponry such as hypersonic missiles and drones.
At present, there’s no defence against hypersonic weapons – the missiles travel at such incredible speeds that by the time a launch has been detected, the projectile has hit its target.
But Japan is developing railguns – defensive weapons that use high-powered magnets to accelerate metal slugs to over 5,000 mph. Railguns could, experts believe, prove to be an effective method of intercepting a hypersonic weapon in flight.
According to the Nikkei news agency, Japan’s new railgun batteries should be ready for use by 2030.
Japan is by no means the only country trying to develop railgun technology. The US and Chinese Navy have both experimented with mounting railguns on warships, and India has a similar system on the drawing-board.
One problem with using railguns as a naval weapon is that they use incredible amounts of power, stretching the limits of what a conventional battleship can generate.
A land-based railgun battery, used as a defensive anti-missile shield, could draw on significantly larger power sources.
With reports of North Korea successfully testing a hypersonic missile earlier this week, and showing no signs of slowing down its weapons development programme, the region is coming an increasingly dangerous place.
Japan’s defensive shield may be ready just in time.
The US has an even more devastating – and power-hungry – system in development.
Russian submarines carrying 'unstoppable' hypersonic missiles in secret manoeuvres
The MARAUDER (Magnetically Accelerated Ring to Achieve Ultra-high Directed Energy and Radiation) weapon uses railgun technology to propel not matter, but superheated plasma to hypersonic velocities.
Tested at the USAF’s Phillips Laboratory in the early 1990s, MARAUDER produced doughnut-shaped rings of plasma and balls of lightning that “exploded with devastating effects” when they struck their target.
The weapon is thought to be so powerful that the US government has decided to keep its development secret. No news about MARAUDER has been officially released since 1993.
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