A Chinese warship that appears to be carrying a next-generation hypersonic rail gun has been spotted on social media, implying that China has become the first country in the world to develop the weapon.
The image, shared by a military analyst known as Dafeng Cao, appears to show the ship sailing in the open ocean. Cao also cited a verified Weibo account that reportedly belongs to a retired China naval officer, according to The Sun.
China is known to tightly control its social media accounts, suggesting that it wants the image of the ship and the rail gun ─ an electromagnetic catapult designed to hurl projectiles at extremely high speeds ─ to be made public.
If true, China would surpass the U.S. and Russia as the first country to possess such a weapon.
In 2007, the U.S. began testing railguns, but a 2017 article in Popular Mechanics suggested that the weapon may never see combat due to problems with the technology as constructed and that it did not lead to a "combat-ready system."
The U.S. Navy system, which was designed by BAE Systems, had a muzzle velocity of 2.5 kilometers per second, or Mach 7.5, which is seven and a half times the speed of sound. That's twice the speed of conventional weapons, which travel at Mach 3 speeds.
According to The Drive, the railgun cannon could hit targets approximately 125 miles away. Additionally, China's People's Liberation Army hopes to have its navy equipped with the next-generation weapon as soon as 2025.
By carrying a rail gun, military forces would not need to transport explosive propellants or warheads, making the warships safer.