1st February 2015
U.S. Navy announces progress with railgun technology
The Electromagnetic Railgun – a weapon that will play a major role in the future of the U.S. Navy – will be shown to the public for the first time on 4th-5th February at a technology expo in Washington DC, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has announced.
The EM Railgun is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph – nearly six times the speed of sound. Unlike traditional artillery that destroy targets using explosive materials, the railgun inflicts damage by the extreme speed of impact. The kinetic energy of the warhead also eliminates the hazards of storing high explosives in the ship and leaving unexploded ordnance on the battlefield. Its pinpoint accuracy and phenomenal range (over 100 miles) will be a "game-changing and disruptive technology" according to the U.S. Navy. Each 18-inch projectile will cost about $25,000, compared to $500,000 to $1.5 million for conventional missiles.
A prototype program was started in 2005 and demonstrated proof-of-concept at 32 megajoules of energy. Phase II, which began in 2012, has been focussed on rep-rate fire capability and thermal management techniques required for sustained use. This program continues to make progress and is now scheduled for at-sea testing aboard a Joint High Speed Vessel – USNS Millinocket – in 2016. When perfected, it is hoped that the final version of the railgun will achieve 64 megajoules of energy, with an even longer range.
Experts from the ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command and BAE Systems will showcase the railgun to the public, for the first time, on 4th-5th February at the Naval Future Force S&T EXPO, the Navy's premier event to share information, discuss research opportunities and build science and technology partnerships between the Navy and Marine Corps, industry and academia.
"This year's Expo will showcase the naval portfolio of innovative breakthrough technologies that are shaping our warfighting tactics today and changing the way our Sailors and Marines will operate in the future," says Rear Admiral, Mat Winter. "The Electromagnetic Railgun is among several disruptive capabilities that the Naval Research Enterprise is championing to ensure a dominant, capable and relevant naval force for the future."
"The Electromagnetic Railgun brings significant technological advances to our Sailors and Marines," says Roger Ellis, program manager at ONR. "As the system moves forward along its planned schedule from the laboratory launcher, we've achieved breakthroughs in compact power and gun design, and will test the next phase of prototype at both sea- and land-based sites in 2016 and 2017."
The video below is of some earlier testing conducted in 2012. Further advances in reducing the mass, size and cost of the required power supplies could lead to railguns becoming practical and used routinely on U.S. Navy ships by 2025.