China claims to have made a breakthrough in missile technology.

China’s growing missile arsenal could be further expanded as Chinese defense industry engineers have made a key breakthrough in the development of a fiber optic gyroscope

Several Chinese defense scientists and engineers have stated that their country has developed a cheap fiber-optic gyroscope that can be manufactured in large quantities in a factory that also produces computer chips. The Chinese military will be able to receive their guided weaponry and tactical missiles much quicker as a result.

Researchers from the Xian Automatic Flight Control Research Institute of the Chinese Aviation Industry Corporation, led by senior engineer Mao Yuzheng, found that only China and the United States possessed the technology.

In a report published on February 28 in the China Inertial Technology Magazine, Mao and his co-authors from the Equipment Department of the People’s Liberation Army stated that although China was advancing rapidly, it was still about two years behind the United States in this area. “disruptive” chip race.

This advance occurred at a time of maximum tension between China and the United States after the shooting down by the country of an alleged Chinese spy balloon.

The gyroscope is an essential component of the missiles, as it adjusts its pitch and roll motion autonomously during flight, even in the event of GPS failure. Since World War Two, automatic steering and pitch and roll motion correction in cruise and ballistic missiles have relied on this technology.

Mao’s team states in the article: “Today, the main components of traditional fiber optic gyroscopes come in large discrete packages. Manufacturing and assembling these components requires time-consuming and labor-intensive procedures.”

“The cost of manufacturing is high, while the scale and capacity of production remain small.” They added that the Chinese defense industry must “further cut cost, reduce the size and vastly increase shipping volume to meet urgent [military] demand.”

It is also worth noting that its rivals and adversaries have singled out the PLA’s growing missile arsenal in recent years. According to some reports, China reportedly possesses one of the world’s largest and most diversified missile arsenals.

Although it maintains secrecy about its weaponry, last year, live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait exposed Beijing’s deadly military arsenal.

China claims to have made a breakthrough in missile technology.
PLA DF-16 missile

Chinese gyroscope-on-a-chip technology

The team further explained that a standard fiber-optic gyroscope is about the size of a bowl of rice, and creating the device is difficult for missile manufacturers. However, reducing the size of the device is likely to be a game changer at a time of increasing military demand for missiles.

Starting with the standard size of a bowl of rice, the team led by Mao produced optical fibers and other necessary components on a silicon chip the size of a grain of rice. According to his article, the chip technology reduces the size of the gyroscope to 1/12 of its original level.

Laboratory tests revealed that chip-based gyros had an accuracy advantage of approximately 30% over conventional devices currently used in Chinese short-range missiles.

Mao’s group claims that the breakthrough is the ability to mass-produce hundreds of thousands of photonic chips utilizing photolithographic technology on a single wafer. Ultimately, this will make it possible to expand the production of missiles equipped with these chips.

In addition, the consistency of product quality and the influence of production at scale were also “greatly improved,” according to the document. The team argued in the paper that the way fiber optic gyroscopes are typically made would be forever altered.

The article also notes that deep ultraviolet photolithography (DUV), a well-established method for manufacturing semiconductors that have been used for more than 20 years, was used to create the device at a size of 248 nanometers (nm).

This breakthrough comes as the media has reported that the US government wants to include more outdated technologies like DUV on the list of Chinese semiconductor companies subject to sanctions. Last month, Japan and the Netherlands agreed to join the United States in banning the sale of DUV photolithographic devices to China.

The paper notes that while the 248nm manufacturing process was more reliable than other newer manufacturing technologies, such as those using 7nm, it hurt the performance of the chip’s gyroscope. They also found that the tiny chip used more electricity than ideal and had lower positioning accuracy than comparable products used by the US military in 2020.

Despite this, however, the price and size of missile gyros “are likely to drop significantly in mass production” as chip-making technology in China advances in the future.