February 18, 2009 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.

Under the contract, BAE Systems will develop advanced Railgun technologies including a composite launcher (barrel) that will be demonstrated in 2011. BAE Systems has partnered with IAP Research, and SAIC to develop the Railgun.

One of the greatest potential advantages for the Railgun program is the safety and logistics aspect.Safety on board ship is increased because no explosives are required to fire the projectile and no explosive rounds are stored in the ship’s magazine.

The technology uses high-power electromagnetic energy instead of explosive chemical propellants (energetics) to propel a projectile farther and faster than any preceding gun. At full capability, the rail gun will be able to fire a projectile more than 200 nautical miles at a muzzle velocity of mach seven and impacting its target at mach five. In contrast, the current Navy gun, MK 45 five-inch gun, has a range of about 13 miles.