Electromagnetic weapons are the next generation weapon systems for warfare. China realizes this and has pursued research and development in this field. Electromagnetic weapon systems will form an integral component of Beijing’s assassin’s mace weapons strategy, whereby it aims to develop offensive and denial strategies to prevent powerful adversaries any scope of achieving victory in case of conflict or war.
Chinese forces operate in high altitude regions like Tibet, and to strengthen their deterrence they are reported to have developed electromagnetic surface-to-surface rockets with long firing range capability. The rocket system may have a range of 150 kilometers. China’s Navy also tested sea launched versions in 2018, and this warship mounted weapon is expected to enter service in 2025, with a range of approximately 200kms. If reports are true, China successfully mounted the gun on a warship in 2017.
The use of electromagnetic force enables the rocket to fly more smoothly and hit targets more accurately. It is also ideal for airborne platforms where there may not be enough oxygen. The increased range of these rockets enables aircraft carriers to remain further from enemy targets, thereby increasing their chances of survivability.
These electromagnetic rockets are also reported to be more precise and stable during launch, with increased maneuverability in comparison to conventional rockets, and at a lesser cost. The electromagnetic guns can help perform missile and air defense roles, anti-invasion missions and also attack anti-aircraft missile systems, thus increasing China’s offensive and defensive capabilities.
Naval guns especially would be a perfect conventional deterrent in the South China and East China seas. Beijing also aspires to become a major player in the Persian Gulf and in the Arctic, and these guns surely will be a game changer.
It has been assumed that China’s railway firm ZhouZhou CRRC Times Electric acquiring Dynex Semiconductor in 2008 would lead Beijing to develop electromagnetic weapon systems, as the British company produced insulated-gate bipolar transistors - components critical in railguns and catapult type technologies. Hence, there is little doubt where the Chinese acquired the know-how to develop electromagnetic rockets.
Is China the only country?
China is not the only country venturing into electromagnetic weapon systems - it does have competitors. Japan and the United States have already worked on electromagnetic guns, and Tokyo is planning to equip its Aegis class destroyers with these weapons. Russia too is exploring them. Thus, the electromagnetic arms race has begun and China will surely not want to be left behind.
In the future, it could also provide such weapon systems to countries like Pakistan and also proliferate them in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. India too has ventured into their development through its Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
China’s venture into electromagnetic weapons and other such sophisticated weapon systems is a clear indication it is continuing diligently to modernize its conventional capabilities by venturing into state-of-art technologies that are cost effective and strengthen deterrence.
Debalina Ghoshal is a Non Resident Fellow, Council on International Policy Asia Pacific Fellow, EastWest Institute.