The Japanese government has set aside 6.5 billion yen ($56 million) this fiscal year to develop a railgun-based counter-hypersonic weapon system, Nikkei Asia revealed, citing sources.
The Defense Ministry Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency has been researching the technology and intends to deploy it by the second half of this decade, the Tokyo-based outlet added.
The development comes as Russia, North Korea, and China have revealed their hypersonic weapon development plans. Hypersonic weapons travel over five times the speed of sound with an irregular flight path. This renders current countermeasures, developed primarily for ballistic missiles with predictable parabolic flight paths, ineffective.
Moscow is on the verge of deploying its sea-launched hypersonic Zircon missile, while Beijing surprised the world late last year with the reported launch of a hypersonic glide vehicle. Pyongyang also claimed to have launched such a weapon last September, forcing Tokyo to develop a credible deterrent.
According to the outlet, railgun technology relies on electromagnetic force to launch high-velocity projectiles faster than possible with conventional interception systems, increasing the chance of striking incoming missiles. Having greater speed allows the operator to launch more projectiles simultaneously, further enhancing the probability of intercepting incoming missiles.
A projectile generated a speed of 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) per second during the research phase, nearly 600 meters (1,968 feet) per second faster than current intercept systems, the outlet added. Moreover, the system allows speed regulation of the projectiles, letting operators gauge their response according to hypersonic missile barrage intensity.
Developers want to add the railgun to a multi-layered counter-missile system, including long-range missiles, to deter adversaries from launching an attack.