U.S. Navy evaluating a second railgun prototype


October 11, 2012

General Atomics' electromagnetic railgun prototype

General Atomics' electromagnetic railgun prototype

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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.

As with the BAE device, the latest prototype has been installed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virgina.

Unlike conventional guns, railguns don’t use explosives such as gunpowder to propel their projectiles. Instead, they incorporate a sliding metal armature that sits between two conductive metal rails. Once the railgun is activated, an electrical current flows up one rail, through the armature, and back down the other rail. This accelerates the armature forward at great speed.

Depending on the design, the armature might actually be part of the projectile, or it may simply be used to push on the back of a separate projectile. In any case, that projectile exits the barrel at a speed of 4,500 to 5,600 mph (7,242 to 9,012 km/h), making railguns well-suited for use as long-range weapons. Ultimately, the Navy would like to see a ship-based device capable of shooting a distance of 50 to 100 nautical miles (57 to 115 miles/93 to 185 km).

There are currently no details available on the differences between the two prototypes, although program manager Roger Ellis has stated that the teams “are both delivering very relevant but unique launcher solutions.” Both BAE and General Atomics are said to be working on increased firing rates, which entails automatic projectile-loading systems and thermal management systems for the barrel.

ONR plans on evaluating the merits of both prototypes at the end of the year.

Source: Office of Naval Research

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

The supporting technology in power handling is worth the effort, even if the Navy contractors cannot weaponize the device: Package it in a turret and get the rate of fire up to that of an equivalent naval gun, which would be what - 2/min. ?

The real advance would be if the Navy gets its Polywell fusion powerplant; With that much power to expend, the surface combatants should be irresistible and invincible.

M. Report

@M. Report: Irresistible, maybe as the kinetic energy should be tremendous. The payload itself may be little changed, although a 1 metric ton shell should be more than sufficient in most applications. Invincible? Unless incorporating a naval laser defence system, I can only assume that invincibility is enhanced slightly to none just as carrying a 7.62mm rather than a 5.56 mm doesn't make you more bullet proof. It could however enhance standoff capabilities.

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