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The Defense Ministry will begin full-fledged research to develop railguns that fire projectiles at a very high speed using electromagnetic force as a means of intercepting hypersonic missiles.

The ministry is also considering using railguns for anti-ship strikes.

The government’s draft budget for fiscal 2022, which starts in April, includes ¥6.5 billion in costs related to the development of railguns. The ministry plans to conduct its research over the next seven years.

To launch projectiles, railguns use electromagnetic force generated by passing electricity through rails installed in the barrel, instead of using gunpowder.

In a test by the ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, a speed of 2,297 meters per second, or nearly Mach 7, was recorded. Railguns can fire projectiles in quick succession and have a long range.

But the devices require a large amount of electricity. As railguns are expected to be mounted on warships and vehicles, it would be necessary to reduce the size of large-capacity power equipment for the weapons.

Other technical problems include how to ensure the stability of railguns when they fire projectiles and how to select materials for the rails that can withstand the intense heat produced when projectiles are launched.

The U.S. military began research on railgun technology more than 10 years ago but has yet to put it to practical use.

The ministry secured ¥1 billion in a fiscal 2016 supplementary budget to begin its research into railguns.

This year, the ministry decided to increase its outlays for the technology. The ministry believes that railguns could be a “game changer” that may transform the strategic environment, informed sources said.

North Korea and China are developing hypersonic weapons that can be launched on irregular trajectories. According to the ministry, a ballistic missile fired by North Korea on Tuesday reached a speed of Mach 10 and flew on an irregular trajectory.

It would be difficult to intercept such missiles with Japan’s existing missile defense capabilities.

The development of attack missiles and the technology to intercept them has gone into a spiral, a senior ministry official said.

“Railguns have the potential to be used for a variety of purposes, including missile defense and antiship attacks,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a news conference Tuesday.

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