Photos circulating online this week appear to show an impressive upgrade to China's military capabilities. The pictures appear to show a Chinese warship with a newly installed weapon on top.
The ship is an amphibious assault ship, normally used to deploy troops and tanks onto beaches. Photos of the new weapon fitted to the deck has people speculating that it's something militaries all over the world have been attempting to create – an electromagnetic railgun.
If confirmed, it has been described as having "epoch-making significance" by military commentator Chen Shuoren, talking to People's Daily China.
The photos were first shared last week.
Further photos show the ship already going out to sea, reportedly to test the weapon.
People have been speculating about the capabilities of the gun.
"Okay this is a big game changer but it requires an abundant amount of power," one Twitter user wrote. "Moreover, what is the recharge time because if they’ve significantly reduced this then be afraid, be very afraid."
So how powerful are such weapons compared to current conventional weapons? The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been working on creating an electromagnetic railgun for the past 10 years, Arstechnia reports. They don't downplay how powerful they are.
"Although it was once an object of imagination, theory, and science fiction, the electromagnetic railgun has finally made the leap from laboratory concept to weapon-grade technology," the ONR write on their website.
"Using a massive electrical pulse rather than a chemical propellant, the railgun can launch projectiles much farther than the 13-nautical-mile range of the US Navy’s standard 5-inch naval gun."
Despite success in testing, however, the US Military hit funding issues and so have not added a functional railgun to their naval capabilities.
A test of the US railgun, created by BAE systems.
Because railguns use electrical pulses, they have several advantages over conventional explosives. As well as not having to store explosive propellants, making ships less vulnerable to enemy fire, the guns are capable of launching projectiles over large distances at a relatively low cost. NASA has even considered using railguns to launch small payloads into orbit.
However, they do require a lot of power, something which will need addressing if they are to be used practically by the military.
"Previous incarnations of the railgun suffered from limited muzzle energy and could only fire a few shots before the launcher needed to be replaced" the ONR write.
There is speculation China's military already has this covered, with generators attached to the top of the vessel.
How worried should opposing militaries be about the upgrade, if it's confirmed? According to Chen, the weapon would make the ship "invincible".
“Though the test railgun is not the final version of the high-tech weapon, its size does fit the 055 destroyer, which would become an invincible vessel once equipped with electromagnetic weapons."
China have not yet commented on the rumors.