Japan to develop Railguns and microwave weapons for future air defense

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Japan aims to create Railguns and microwave weapons for defense against hypersonic missiles and perimeter air defense. China and North Korea have developed hypersonic missiles for which Japan has no counter yet. 

 Railguns for Hypersonic missile defense

The Ministry of Defense of Japan plans to develop electromagnetic guns – railguns capable of shooting down hypersonic missiles from 2023. 

The railgun is an electromagnetic accelerator that accelerates a projectile with the help of Ampere’s force along two metal guides. The accelerator’s name was proposed by Soviet academician Lev Artsimovich in the 1950s. Since the middle of the last century, the development of railguns has been carried out both in the USA and in Russia, but no actual successful tests as air defense or missile defense systems have been carried out so far.

According to the Japanese media, preliminary studies in Japan have already achieved launch speeds of more than 2,000 m/s, which is “greater than modern hypersonic missiles.” As declared by the developers, the speed of the Russian Iskander hypersonic missile can reach Mach 8, approximately 2651.6 m / s. However, “the railgun is potentially not very effective against hypersonic missiles and gliders that can change the flight path,” reported Japanese newspaper Sankei in January.

The U.S. Navy launched the Velocitas Eradico rail gun program in 2005. The U.S. wanted to put railguns on the Zumwalt destroyers. The gun tasks included combating air targets and firing at ground targets from a long distance. The U.S. also presented it as a possibility for air defense and missile defense, but the U.S. Congressional Committee on Defense considered it unpromising and closed it.

Some experts believe that the railgun is effective only in space, but its use is meaningless in the earth’s atmosphere.

Japanese installation for an electromagnetic gun
Japanese installation for an electromagnetic gun. Photo Nikkei Asian Review

Russians say that S-400 and S-500 air defense systems are capable of tackling hypersonic targets. The S-400 can shoot down targets flying at a speed of Mach 12. The capability of S-500 is not known but is estimated to be higher.

Perimeter of air defense with microwave weapons

The Japanese Defense Ministry intends to develop a high power microwave (HPM) weapon. The news comes after reports of creating laser strike assets to defend against the latest Chinese fighter J-20 fighter.

The Department of Defense will launch full-scale studies on HPM, which can disable enemy combat drones, from the fiscal year 2022, which begins in April, writes Yomiuri Shimbun.

$62.5 million has already been allocated to create a new weapon prototype, which will take about five years.

Countries such as the United States, China and Russia are developing directional energy weapons, including systems operating in the laser spectrum and microwave frequency. They are seen as a cheaper alternative to kinetic weapons such as missiles and guns to destroy UAVs or missiles.

According to the newspaper, swarms of hundreds of drones equipped with explosives “can easily overwhelm traditional countermeasures” due to the rapid ammunition depletion by the air defense system. Microwave weapons, having a low cost of use, can “hit targets at the speed of light, have high accuracy, and can easily change the direction of radiation.”

However, a number of limitations are imposed on it, including large energy consumption and weather conditions. For example, rain or fog can limit the power and range of the HPM. The use of jamming devices by the enemy, probably referring to aerosols, will lead to similar consequences.

But this does not bother the Japanese planners. To counter enemies like the DPRK and China, they intend to strengthen the current air defense perimeter with microwave weapons, consisting of two echelons: SM-3 interceptor missiles on destroyers with Aegis CICS and PAC-3 missiles.


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