Chinese state-run media reports that the Chinese government has developed a fully portable handheld rail gun, which it characterizes as “a development trend for future weapons.”
Little is known about the futuristic-looking device, although the story appearing in The Global Times, the country’s official news outlet and one well known for its reliance on propaganda and disinformation, boasts a number of features that indicate the device may indeed be ready for deployment.
The Times also noted that the weapon uses a non-lethal round and may be employed in “riot control” or other situations that require a powerful yet non-lethal option.
Rail Guns Have Numerous Advantages over Traditional Guns
For years the U.S. military has looked into the idea of using railguns to either supplement or replace traditional weapons. The main advantages of such weapons are the ability to fire much more rapidly and for long durations than weapons that use traditional munitions.
The U.S. Navy spent a significant amount of money developing rail guns for use on its various warships, but in 2021 the branch announced they were terminating the program, at least for the time being.
More recently, The Debrief reported on an American company that had built a handheld railgun that claims to match the power of a 22 rifle and is strikingly similar to the new Chinese version. That model is back-ordered but can be purchased by private consumers. The new version being promoted by Chinese media, however, is unlikely to be available to everyday citizens.
Chinese Handheld Railgun hints at Tantalizing Performance Statistics
Very little is known about the new railgun, and the report by the Global Times is the only publically available information at this time. But according to that report, the weapon creates much less noise than a traditional gunpowder round, has little to no muzzle flash, and very little recoil.
According to the same report, the low muzzle flash, lack of smoke or ejected shells, and minimal recoil mean the weapon “is characterized by high stealth.” Also, like the weapons being tested in the U.S., the report indicates it can fire much more rapidly and for longer durations than traditional weapons that heat up over time.
Lei Fengqiao, who is an employee at Chongqing Jianshe Industry (Group) Co Ltd under the state-owned China South Industries Group Co Ltd, told China Central Television (CCTV) that the gun uses nine lithium-ion coils that accelerate coin-shaped projectiles which reside in a magazine behind the coils. Fengqiao also told CCTV that the railgun uses these round, flat projectiles because they are designed for impact rather than penetration, making the gun “more suppressive” than lethal.
The report also indicates that the nine-cell design allows the gun to fire “hundreds of rounds consecutively before needing a fast recharge” and that temperature “has no effect.” Temperature issues have often haunted railgun endeavors, so if this is something the Chinese have truly conquered, their new railgun may represent a significant step forward.
According to the Global Times, the grip is set in the middle of the gun for balance. There are also three buttons on the side that allow the operator to choose between different firing modes, select varying power outputs, or turn the weapon on and off.
While no specific figure is offered for firing rate, the report notes that compared to a traditional rifle which can fire 700 to 800 rounds per minute, the new railgun can fire “several thousand rounds” in that same time span. Again, this would be a significant increase, as the handheld railgun previously covered by The Debrief only claimed it could fire 20 rounds per minute in “semi-automatic mode” or 100 rounds per minute in half-power mode.
Finally, the Global Times reports that during a firing test at the Airshow China 2022 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, the railgun smashed beer bottles, shattered car windows, and obliterated wooden boards, all to the delight of onlookers.
Electromagnetic Weapons May Be the Crowd Control Solution of the Future
As previously noted, very little is known about this weapon, particularly if it is actually ready for use by law enforcement personnel. Furthermore, the firing rate figures seem a bit far-fetched, especially if the railgun packs the level of stopping power claimed. Still, the technology is sound, as proven by the commercially available handheld railgun currently available in the U.S.
Time will tell if this exact weapon or the equivalent makes its way into the hands of Chinese military or police forces, but given its potential for non-lethal operations, it is likely that weapons that use electromagnetic energy as opposed to traditional gunpowder to launch projectiles will remain under development in the U.S. and abroad.