The Chinese military is preparing to test magnetized plasma artillery capable of firing hypervelocity rounds at speeds in excess of Mach 6, six times the speed of sound, Chinese media reports.
The power and range of such a weapon would likely offer tremendous advantages on the battlefield, assuming it actually works, which is apparently what the Chinese military is interested in finding out.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears to have begun soliciting vendors for magnetized plasma artillery test systems, a notice recently posted on the Chinese military’s official procurement website indicated.
The planned testing is presumably to evaluate theories presented in a PLA Academy of Armored Forces Engineering patent submitted to the National Intellectual Property Administration four years ago.
The Chinese military patent explains how the magnetized plasma could theoretically enhance the artillery’s power.
First, a magnetic field is created inside the barrel using a magnetized material coating on the exterior and an internal magnetic field generator.
Then, when the artillery is fired, the tremendous heat and pressure inside the firing tube ionizes some of the gas, turning it into plasma and forming a thin, protective magnetized plasma sheath along the inner wall of the barrel.
The developers believe the plasma will decrease friction while providing heat insulation, thus extending the power and range of the artillery piece without jeopardizing the structural integrity of the cannon or negatively affecting the overall service life of the weapon.
Magnetized plasma sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but apparently this technology is something China feels it can confidently pursue.
Chinese media claims that magnetized plasma artillery systems, provided they work as intended, could easily be installed on tanks and self-propelled guns. This weapon is more manageable than the country’s experimental electromagnetic railgun, which it has reportedly begun testing at sea.
A ZTZ-96A Main Battle Tank (MBT) attached to a brigade under the PLA 76th Group Army fires at mock targets during a live-fire training exercise in northwest China’s Gansu Province on Feb. 20, 2019.
(Chinese military/Li Zhongyuan)
Chinese media reports that this concept has already been tested on certain tanks.
Unlike the naval railgun, which is an entirely new technology, magnetized plasma artillery would be more of an upgrade to the Chinese army’s conventional cannons. Chinese military experts toldChinese media they estimate that this improvement could extend the range of a conventional 155 mm self-propelled howitzer from around 30-50 kilometers to 100 kilometers.
And the round’s initial velocity would be greater than Mach 6, just under the expected speed of an electromagnetic railgun round.
China is “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” a US Defense Intelligence Agency report stated in January 2019.
But China is not running this race unopposed, as the US military is determined not to be outgunned.
An M109 Paladin gun crew with B Battery, 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, Division Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas fires into the mountains of Oro Grande Range Complex, New Mexico Feb. 14, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Gabrielle Weaver)
The US Army is currently pushing to boost the range of its artillery to outgun near-peer threats, namely China and Russia. The new Extended Range Cannon Artillery has already doubled the reach of traditional artillery pieces, firing rounds out to 62 kilometers.
The immediate goal for Long Range Precision Fires, a division of Army Futures Command, is to reach 70 kilometers; however, the Army plans to eventually develop a strategic cannon with the ability to fire rounds over 1,000 miles and shatter enemy defenses in strategic anti-access zones.
The US Army is also looking at using hypervelocity railgun rounds to extend the reach of US artillery.
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