The Sankei Shimbun learned on August 21 that the government has decided to actively conduct its own research and development of an electromagnetic railgun, the new weapon currently being developed by the U.S. Navy. The administration intends to incorporate the development cost into the defense ministry’s budgetary request for the FY2017 draft budget. Since the U.S. government regards the railgun as a key revolutionary technology of the future, the decision was made based on the conclusion that Japan will also need to begin its own research and development on the gun.
The railgun is a new type of weapon that fires a projectile using electromagnetic propulsion. The railgun being developed by the U.S. Navy is reportedly capable of firing ten rounds of shells in one minute with a velocity of about 7,240 kilometers per hour and a range of 200 kilometers. The weapon can be used to destroy warships as well as to repel ground and air attacks. It is expected that the railgun could also play a key role in missile defense.
Despite a lower cost per projectile compared with cannons and missiles, the railgun has the potential to disable China’s or Russia’s ballistic and cruise missiles. The U.S. Office of Naval Research regards the weapon as a “game changer” that could radically alter the way wars are fought.
The Defense Ministry has studied the development of railgun-related technology both inside and outside the country, including in the U.S., with a focus on the basic technology. The railgun will reportedly become operational within the U.S. military in five to ten years. In order for the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to begin using the weapon, technical cooperation from the U.S. is indispensable. “Unless Japan begins building up its own railgun technology by then, the country will not be able to receive sufficient cooperation from the U.S.,” said an official of the Ground Self-Defense Force. There is therefore a pressing need for Japan to start its own research and development of the weapon.