back to article Brit semiconductor tech ended up in Chinese naval railgun – report

A Chinese firm's buyout of a British semiconductor company may have directly led to China developing railgun weaponry and electromagnetic aircraft carrier catapults for its navy, according to reports. An anonymous source, identified as a former Dynex exec, told The Sunday Times that the acquisition of Dynex Semiconductor by …

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  1. Ryan 7
    Boffin

    IGBTs are used to power every modern electric train, from any number of different countries.

    They're not a massive British secret innovation, and they have uses all over the world.

    The Times article seems like a lot of hot air.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      How convenient that when we are being told "we must stop China getting her hands on western tech and semiconductor companies" there is an article which purports to provide compelling evidence why we must.

      If there weren't so many people who believed such piss-poor propaganda I guess they wouldn't even bother with it.

      1. vir Silver badge

        Trigatrons have been around for a long time as well. If you don't really care about modulating the output, they could probably handle railgun-type currents just fine.

        1. veti Silver badge

          I'm pretty sure "modulating the output" is pretty darn' important, if you actually want to hit anything much smaller than an ocean at a range of 100 nautical miles.

          It's very interesting what's happening right now. China has pretty much caught up with Western weapons technology, and is actually gaining an edge in some areas. Which has triggered an orgy of blame-calling in Western defence industries, which have been sucking off the public teat for decades on the pretext of assuring that precisely this couldn't happen.

          1. James 51 Silver badge
            Mushroom

            @veti The German navy did something similar and caught up on the British navy within a generation from pratically nothing. I don't remember that ending well for every one. What you'll find is that they stick really big ones on the illegal artifical islands and tell everyone in reach that the sea is China's now and there they'll kill anyone who says otherwise regardless of how many legal cases they lose.

            1. Uffish

              re: "catching up"

              The US military industrial complex has been known to catch up on technology by some pretty dubious means also, and as for buying up companies to get at the good technology, well ....

              You can't expect others not to do what is almost standard practice in the field.

          2. LeeE Silver badge

            "...if you actually want to hit anything much smaller than an ocean at a range of 100 nautical miles..."

            ...you need guided munitions i.e. shells that can identify their targets and can steer themselves towards them. This is already a WIP though.

            One problem with rail gun projectiles flying at the velocities proposed is that they'll be very hot; the high-speed passage of the projectile through the air will cause a lot of heating, so they should be able to be tracked using IR electro-optical systems. Intercepting them will be another issue though; being much smaller, they'll be even more difficult to stop than the the hypersonic cruise missiles now in development.

            Another problem with rail guns is their limited range. Whilst 100s of km is good range for a gun it means that the gun has to be within 100s of km of its target and well inside the 1000s km range of hypersonic missiles.

            In fact, the best use-case for a rail gun is as a point defense against hyper velocity missiles, although it won't be long before those missiles will be able to detect an incoming rail gun round, thanks to its bright heat signature, and attempt to evade it.

            And so the weapons race continues.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      "IGBTs are used to power every modern electric train, from any number of different countries."

      I doubt it's the concept of an IGBT that's of concern here. It would be the various processes and physical dimensions involved in making the wafers and getting a decent yield. That kind of 'secret sauce' means that this particular manufacturer can mass produce the necessary "stuff". It's also theoretically possible that China _COULD_ deny "that stuff" to everyone but themselves, now.

      Keep in mind who the Chinese government people REALLY are...

      a) they employ millions of people in what can only be described as "sweat shops" but with more modern tech.

      b) they pollute the CRAP out of their own cities, because other nations basically pay THEM to do the "polluty" things.

      c) a small number of people have the vast majority of the wealth. Most people earn only a fraction of a typical 'minimum wage' in any 1st world country. It is likely that most of the people making iPhone could not afford to buy one, EVAR.

      d) they are WELL KNOWN to do "internal use only" knock-offs of western tech, because they have the schematics, board layouts, components, and willing 'minions' to make it happen. "4th shift" it's sometimes called, "off the books" manufacturing of copyright and patent violating stuff.

      Given this, and a pile of cash they're _NOT_ sharing with "the people", what do you expect? It's like the royal coffers of the "communist" nation are full to the brim now, and they want to flex their muscles and ensure it *STAYS* that way, indefinitely.

      Understanding them means understanding human nature. That government has too much wealth power in too few hands. _ONLY_ corruption can result from this.

      And we, in the west, have ENABLED them.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "And we, in the west, have ENABLED them."

        And which part of the West has done the most to "enable" them, Bob?

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: "And we, in the west, have ENABLED them."

          I never thought I would agree with Bob but a broken clock etc etc. Western companies and those they outsource too put their factories in China because the labour was dirt cheap and there were little to no enviromental laws for them to abide by or they could pay to have officals look the other way. It probably would have eventually happened anyway but this shift in manufacturing has vastly accellerated the process.

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        So...

        In all not much different to us except that they are investing in manufacturing, using spare cash we give them to buy raw materials and generally have a good future ahead because they are planning for it.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        And we, in the west, have ENABLED them.

        And, if you look at history, exactly the same thing happened 200 years ago with a small, new nation across the Atlantic from the mother country..

        Yes. Pretty much all of the high-tech stuff that built the US was technology stolen directly from the UK. So, what goes around, comes around.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "It's like the royal coffers of the "communist" nation are full to the brim now, and they want to flex their muscles and ensure it *STAYS* that way, indefinitely."

        Not forgetting the Peoples Congress are about to vote on a minor constitutional change to allow the Chairman to be Chairman-for-Life.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, at least after brexit, once we've got one of these amazing trade deals Boris keeps telling us about, the Chinese will be able to buy tech directly rather than having to buy whole companies.

      1. jackalek

        Are you refereing to the deals we may get in years time ?

        There is a nice checkerer here https://havewegotafuckingtradedealyet.com/ which tells me we've got nil so far....

        1. Archtech Silver badge

          Weird

          I find the idea of governments "striking trade deals" completely weird.

          In the first place, we should be quite clear that nothing any government can do will actually HELP trade. All that is required for trade to flourish is for some people to want things and services produced by other people. Left to their own devices, money will change hands and everyone is happy.

          What governments are really good at is obstructing trade. They can do this in many ways, but mainly by levying tariffs and imposing red tape. Economic theory suggests that everyone is best off when there is universal free trade, but there are always people who think they can profit by unilateral tariffs. And sometimes they do - for a while.

          So what does it mean when a government employee tells us that they are "negotiating a trade deal"? It means that they get together with their opposite numbers from other governments, and (over the usual seven-course dinners with vintage wines paid for by us) they decide how much they can soak us - the producers and consumers - for the pribvilege of buying goods and services.

          1. James 51 Silver badge

            Re: Weird

            It will be stuff like, soaking your chicken in bleach allows your industry to offer lower prices because they operate in ways which would be illegal here. Therefore we will add a tarrif to prevent a race to the bottom your industry will win because we aren't will to sink as low as you are. Or if you sell goods to us below the cost it takes to produce them, we'll add a tarrif to prevent you destorying the native industry here and are free to ramp prices up till the pips squeak.

  2. Connor

    Return of the Battleships?

    Radar and AI controlled railguns could surely see the return of more guns on ships and perhaps bigger ships with lots more guns? As noted shells are cheap, quick to fire and easy to store compared to missiles. With improved software controlling the guns and the radar they would surely and perhaps ironically make aircraft and missiles obsolete, after all it is a lot easier to shoot an aircraft or a missile out of the sky compared to a shell. Maybe Britain picked precisely the wrong time to start building those huge and really expensive aircraft carriers and should instead of chosen to build a couple of battleships instead?

    1. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      All it takes is electrical power.

      In quite large amounts.

      Given that a lot of the fleet doesn't even have enough electrical power to drive the propellers this may require a bit more thought.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        Given that a lot of the fleet doesn't even have enough electrical power

        That... depends... whose fleet. I do not think these guys have any power shortage issues.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: "That... depends... whose fleet"

          Yeah, I'm sure the Chinese have hundreds of strategic icebreakers.

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: "That... depends... whose fleet"

            Captain... Kirk... is that... you?

          2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

            Re: "That... depends... whose fleet"

            Yeah, I'm sure the Chinese have hundreds of strategic icebreakers.

            Today - no. You should remember that they have a talent for buying "scrap" to be turned into floating casinos and that scrap somehow ends up getting out to sea in a pristine freshly painted state and launching fighter jets from the main deck.

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        Thats just our fleet - ill conceived and flawed designs... aircraft carriers many times the size of anything we have had before that cant cope with traditional planes? If we have vertical take off planes then we could have used Ark Royal, Illustrious and Invincible and spent all the billions of the queen elizabeth and whatever the other target is called on building another 5 or 6 of the Invincible class to sail with the ones we had.

        We could also have built more Harriers when the yanks were (as usual) late with something that basically fails any test of suitability (such as flying in bad weather or having enough range for a meaningful fight).

      3. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        This obviously calls for heavy government investment into research on massively parallel arrays of electric eels.

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      I await with interest the rerun of the Battle of Jutland/Skaggerack with nuclear powered Dreadnoughts. What future Beatty will turn to his flag captain and say "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" as it turns out the reactors aren't big enough to fire the broadside and work the engines? Because I don't think the MoD has got any better in the last hundred years.

      1. Dave Bell

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        A huge element of that was bad ammunition-handling procedures in the Squadron of battlecruisers that Beatty commanded. He wanted a high rate of fire, and cared less about accuracy. One of those rather dangerous officers who talked a good line. Essentially, there were bagged cordite charges exposed to the flash from explosions, all the way between the turret and magazine. When there was a penetration, and battlecruisers were relatively lightly armoured, there was the inevitable earth-shattering kaboom.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          "A huge element of that was bad ammunition-handling procedures in the Squadron of battlecruisers that Beatty commanded."

          However, the Navy also had unreliable shells, less accurate rangefinders than the Germans, and a failure to realise that accurate rangefinding and good quality shells meant the Germans could open fire at long range with plunging shells that hit the deck, not the topsides armour. The whole thing was a complete foul up. High rate of fire was a hangover from the wooden Navy true, but given inaccuracy and failure of shells it was at least a rational tactic. The ammunition handling turned a major crisis into a fatal disaster, but it would have been less important had the Germans not kept hitting things.

          1. jmch Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Return of the Battleships?

            " it would have been less important had the Germans not kept hitting things"

            Yeah, how unsporting of the enemy to actually be any good!

            1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

              Re: Return of the Battleships?

              "Yeah, how unsporting of the enemy to actually be any good!"

              You might guess from the way I carefully refer to it as the Battle of Jutland/Skagerrackschlacht that my sympathies are pretty equally spread on both sides.

              My grandfather was a railway worker in France in WW1 and was wounded and invalided out. But, as a good Communist, he didn't blame the Germans. He blamed Capitalism. If you read Christopher Clark's book The Sleepwalkers, he ends up doing pretty much the same thing. If any war was a bankers' and arms manufacturers' war, it was WW1. Serbia were extremely useful idiots.

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Return of the Battleships?

            High rate of fire was a hangover from the wooden Navy true

            Who was it said that the one thing wrong with the military is that they are always preparing to fight the previous war?

          3. Archtech Silver badge

            Re: Return of the Battleships?

            "...the Germans could open fire at long range with plunging shells that hit the deck, not the topsides armour".

            That kite won't fly. As I pointed out, at the very moment when the Germans blew up several of Beatty's ships, the British shells were landing up to a mile OVER the German battlecruisers.

            The British battlecruisers were just a very bad idea, pushed to its extremely awful limits. They might as well have had no armour at all. The Germans, in imitating the British battlecruisers, showed some common sense and made them more like fast battleships. The German battlecruisers soaked up punishment and proved almost impossible to sink.

            At the Battle of the Falkland Islands, in which two of the first battlecruisers covered themselves with glory by destroying two big German armoured cruisers, they fired hundreds of rounds before getting a single hit. Eventually they pounded the Germans to pieces and sank them.

            It is not widely known that, after the battle, a German 8-inch shell was discovered about five feet away from HMS "Invincible"'s forward magazine. Had it gone a metre or two further, Invincible would have gone up in smoke and flames as she did two years later at Jutland, and the battlecruiser concept would have died. Saving thousands of lives.

        2. Archtech Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          Also, Beatty was very casual about target practice. His battlecruisers often missed the enemy by more than a mile (usually "over"). In contrast, the 5th battleship squadron - the new "Queen Elizabeth" class - were extremely accurate at similar or even greater ranges.

          Practice makes perfect, and counts for a lot more than elan or fighting spirit. The same syndrome repeated itself with the destruction of HMS "Hood"; the German gunners got the range immediately and scored several hits, one of which was fatal. The death blow may even have been dealt by the heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen", as even its 8-inch shells could have penetrated Hood's inadequate armour. It would be the supreme irony if "Hood", the biggest example ever built of Jackie Fisher's battlecruiser concept, was sunk by a heavy cruiser - precisely the type of ship the battlecruiser was designed to hunt down and destroy.

          An 8-inch shell that hits is a lot more effective than a whole salvo of 15-inch shells that all miss.

        3. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          High rate of fire vs accuracy

          In the days of Nelson it worked well, ships at point blank range the more metal you could chuck at the opposing ship the more likely you were to wreck it.

          In theory the same applies totally to two battleships... however when the range is 10 or 20 miles you need the accuracy.. it is no good splashing water all around you actually have to hit the opposing ship

      2. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        Funny you should mention the Battle of Jutland. After pulling off a strategic and tactical masterpiece, Admiral Jellicoe had to hold back and allow the High Seas Fleet to escape almost unharmed. Why? Jellicoe was a member of the "young school" of naval officers and was trained in the use of mines and torpedoes. He rightly feared that, if he signalled a general chase, the Grand Fleet would steam right into minefields and torpedo salvoes - invisible weapons against which battleships had absolutely no defence.

        Today, mines and torpedoes are still paper to the battleship's stone. And, of course, aircraft and missiles have improved beyond all measure. A modern battleship would be a floating tomb.

    3. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      Possible but the range of a missile and or plane will always be greater than that of a lump of iron/shell however you fire it. This is why you will not replace missiles with these guns. However you might modify the system to do a rapid fire gun and replace the 'goalkeeper' guns with electronically firing ones - the amount of storage required for each 'bullet'/'shell' is smaller because you dont store the explosive and its container.

      The laser probably works better than throwing metal around for most purposes anyway.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        "Possible but the range of a missile and or plane will always be greater than that of a lump of iron/shell however you fire it"

        Missiles and planes are horrendouly expensive. Even if the railgun itself would also be expensive, projectiles would be relatively cheap. So it's a great weapon to have for developing nations or ones not expecting to intimidate any of the major powers.

        The other advantage is that I expect the lump of iron is tiny compared to missile/plane and have correspondingly tiny radar signature. It would be much more difficult to detect incoming attack before being hit, and perhaps even the origin of the attack. That makes it very dangerous in the hands of anyone willing to take a calculatd gamble.

        "The laser probably works better than throwing metal around for most purposes anyway"

        The laser intercept of incoming missiles has repeatedly shown itself ineffective. If you could get the accuracy, projactile would work better, and being able to throw multiple projectiles very quickly would surely work better as an intercept method.

        1. Archtech Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          "Missiles and planes are horrendouly expensive".

          That turns out not to be the case. The ships that are so easily sunk by missiles and planes cost far, far more.

          A typical modern aircraft carrier costs at least several billion dollars.

          A typical modern Russian or Chinese jet fighter costs a bit less than $100 million. (Western types more, especially with engine).

          Missiles are even cheaper.

          "Hewson estimated the cost of the Club-K system, which packs four ground or sea-launched cruise missiles into a standard 40-foot shipping container, at $10-20 million".

          https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-weapon/deadly-new-russian-weapon-hides-in-shipping-container-idUSTRE63P2XB20100426

          1. Dave 15 Silver badge

            Re: Return of the Battleships?

            Even though I heard reports that the bean counters in the MoD are happy to send our warships out around the world without even the most basic missile cover... a million pound missile too expensive to protect a billion pound ship and its crew.

            Accountants the bain of everyones lives.

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      Maybe Britain picked precisely the wrong time to start building those huge and really expensive aircraft carriers and should instead of chosen to build a couple of battleships instead

      Well - in a shooting war against an opponent of a similar technology level they might last a bit longer.

      But only because there would be more of them..

      Small, cheap, well-armed and plentiful ships should be the way to go - historically the British Navy has excelled because of it's technical, tactical and orgainsational edge, not because it had bigger guns. The one time it did have all the bigger guns (Battle of Jutland) it was a pretty embarassing failure since the things that had enabled the Navy to beat Napoleon (tactics, training and organisation) had all, largely, been ignored.

      But that would mean that the arms manufacturers didn't get vast wedges of cash and the admirals wouldn't get their big toys. So it's not going to happen. Instead, they waste money on a nuclear deterrant that we can't use if the US doesn't want us to and a massive missile-magnet that we don't even have planes to fly from (unless the US wants us to).

    5. Archtech Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      While a battleship is slightly smaller than an aircraft carrier, it would sink much more swiftly thanks to its large weight of armour. (Although a reasonable design decision would be to have no armour, as any hit would be fatal regardless).

      I haven't yet seen any coherent explanation of how a railgun would actually hit anything at ranges of over about 10-15 nautical miles. It may pack a lot more power than a conventional 16-inch battleship gun, but what about accuracy? In WW2 state-of-the-art battleships fired thousands of rounds at targets that were well in sight above the horizon, and missed almost all the time. When firing over the horizon you need to fire a number of ranging shots before bracketing the target and firing for effect.

      Another question is why a battleship with railguns would be able to survive directs hits by hypersonic missiles. The missiles would come from sources well out of range of a railgun - or even within range, as a railgun could never hit an aircraft or a missile - but would still arrive before the railgun could even reload after its first shot.

      The bottom line is that guns of any type are hopelessly outmatched by modern missiles. Unless, of course, the gun fires a guided projectile which is itself a missile.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        Modern sensors allow you to work out the pitch and roll of the ship and therefore adjust your aim for this. We have improved ability to find range, position, speed and direction than ww1 and even ww2 with modern radar

        We also dont need to crank handles to aim turrets any more. So in theory we can hit things better than in previous wars.

        However with a gun once the shell is on its way it will go where it was aimed. A missile can adjust for many different things - a ship sinking, a ship turning and so on. Mind you ... missiles can also end up confused by bits of tin foil...

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          "Modern sensors allow you to work out the pitch and roll of the ship and therefore adjust your aim for this."

          Nelson's navy relied on highly trained gunners to do this. The enemy tended to aim at the rigging because it was a bigger target. Unfortunately when you have the windward of the enemy, even if he severely damages your rigging you are still going to travel in more or less the right direction while making holes in his woodwork.

        2. Archtech Silver badge

          Re: Return of the Battleships?

          "Modern sensors allow you to work out the pitch and roll of the ship and therefore adjust your aim for this".

          You will find, if you look, that this had been accomplished by 1914.

    6. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      Radar and AI controlled railguns could surely see the return of more guns on ships and perhaps bigger ships with lots more guns?

      Not really. The range and killing power of a realistic naval railgun is the same as the cost and killing power of a modern multiple rocket launcher which costs a fraction of the cost per projectile and can fire cassette warheads with guided projectiles and observation drones (to see how well your bombardment is doing).

      A converted trawler with a 9A52-4 (or its NATO counterpart) mounted on it costs less than 3 million per unit and in the several thousands to tens of thousands per shot, does not need an expensive power source and can be built "in quantity".

      So if you actually CAN get within long range artillery range, long range artillery stops making sense. It is totally outgunned by battlefield rocket systems which cost peanuts and can be easily converted for marine use. The only reason they are not is because that would remove the justification for ridiculous pork projects like the gun on the Zumvalt class destroyers (which costs 1M per shell fired).

    7. LeeE Silver badge

      Re: Return of the Battleships?

      Not a chance. Too big a target, too easy to hit, too much of a concentration of forces in one vessel, in one place, making it too valuable to lose.

      Ultimately, even when you ignore the financial costs, they're too fragile for a weapon system.

      Funny to think of battleships as fragile, but along with costs, that's the reason why no one uses them anymore.

      1. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: Return of the Battleships?

        It may seem funny, but below the waterline a battleship is extremely fragile.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdrISbwy_zI

        (By the way, the fruity-voiced announcer gets the ship's name wrong: conventionally it is pronounced "Barram". As for "the first time...", a U-boat torpedoed and sank HMS "Royal Oak" in the opening days of WW2 - in Scapa Flow).

  3. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Trollface

    Ironic?

    Technology sold to a railway company used in a rail gun?

    Somehow I have this picture of the 18:15 being ejected from Euston like a massive projectile.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ironic?

      They would have to train in using the technology first.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Ironic?

      Somehow I have this picture of the 18:15 being ejected from Euston like a massive projectile.

      Wishful thinking goes both ways. Unfortunately most railguns will eject it exactly as it goes in real life after ~ 50 shots.

      That is not as bad as it seems by the way. Most WW1 battleships needed an overhaul of the main caliber after ~200 shots if using a full charge as needed for the maximum engagement distance. After that their precision went to hell.

      So if a railgun manages to reach several 100s shots without deteriorating it is actually fit for use as main caliber. We are not that far off from that.

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