Watching old war movies, we expect firing a navy gun to be accompanied by a deafening bang and a dramatic cloud of burnt powder. This being the 21st century, the US Navy has other ideas as it prepares to install and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun
on a Spearhead-class joint high speed vessel in 2016 as part of a program to develop the naval artillery of the future.
Back in February, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) test-fired
a prototype electromagnetic railgun that had been built by BAE Systems for the U.S. Navy. BAE isn’t the only game in town, however – this Tuesday, ONR announced that it is now evaluating a second
railgun prototype, made by San Diego-based General Atomics.
The electromagnetic (EM) railgun prototype launcher
that was recently installed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, Virginia, has commenced firing, kicking off a two-month-long series of full-energy tests. Predictably, the first full energy shots make for some pretty impressive video.
Think of the electromagnetic railgun as an electric cannon which uses electrical energy instead of chemical propellant to launch projectiles at hypervelocities. First conceived nearly a century ago, the concept was investigated by Germany during WWII, but has really only stepped out of science fiction and into reality in the last 12 months. With shells travelling at Mach 5 on impact, and accurate to within five metres at a 200 mile range, such weapons maximize the damage they do through kinetic energy, and hence don't need explosive payloads. Accordingly, they are ideal for naval warfare as they minimise the risk to warships which do not need to carry explosive warheads or propellants. Earlier this week, the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) awarded a USD 21 million 30-month contract to BAE Systems for the detailed design and delivery of an Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) Railgun. As previously warned, if the Daleks don't get here soon, they'll have a serious fight on their hands.