The U.S. Navy recently revealed a deadly new supergun that is described as being a “potent offensive weapon to blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps.” As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is a new electromagnetic weapon that uses magnetic fields to propel projectiles at high speed, rather than using propellants and explosives traditional chemicals to destroy targets.
— Pete T (@PeterTerlato) May 22, 2015
“This is going to change the way we fight,” U.S. Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the Office of Naval Research, was quoted as saying.
The railgun is capable of firing long distance projectiles more than 100 kilometers away, and its mission is to provide artillery support to forces much farther from the coast than was previously possible.
“I can’t conceive of a future where we would replicate Cold War forces in Europe,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, one of the weapon’s chief boosters. “But I could conceive of a set of railguns that would be inexpensive but would have enormous deterrent value. They would have value against airplanes, missiles, tanks, almost anything.”
A railgun is a variant of a homopolar motor, in which electricity is applied to two parallel rails. The projectile is placed between the rails and closes, transforming it into an electromagnet which drives the projectile circuit. With sufficient electric charge, accelerations of more than 50,000 Gs and output speeds of more than a mile per second can be achieved. At such a speed, naval artillery could hit a target located 75 kilometers away in about 30 seconds. In such a short time it would be very difficult to detect and intercept the projectile, or even perform an evasive maneuver.
“The Electromagnetic Railgun brings significant technological advances to our Sailors and Marines,” Roger Ellis, program manager at ONR, said last year in a press release. “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.”
Given that the Navy’s guns of today are far more efficient than their predecessors of World War II — which could fire a distance of 24 miles and penetrate 30 feet of concrete — military officials are hoping that this futuristic railgun could launch a new generation of the vessels. The railgun has a range of 125 miles and five times the impact of the 16-inch guns of World War II-era battleships.
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) May 26, 2016
Another advantage offered by the new weapons system is its potential to knock enemy missiles out of the sky more inexpensively and in greater numbers than current missile-defense systems. Also, because the railgun does not require an explosive charge, storage and handling is safer, which means it occupies less space and therefore increases the amount of ammunition that can be stored.
However, it has a serious drawback: the U.S. military must adapt existing guns to fire the railgun’s high-tech projectiles. In this sense, it seems that only the Zumwalt class destroyers and the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford class are able to install these weapons. As explained in a Wikipedia article, the forces involved in the launch of these devices require a heat resistant material. Otherwise, the rails, barrel and all connected equipment will melt or be damaged irreparably.
Maxim wrote that the Navy has already funneled half a billion dollars into developing this new weapons technology, and the Pentagon is reportedly dropping another $800 million to beef up its defensive abilities. Officials stress that it is worth the cost, as it could give the U.S. an edge over China’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and Russia’s cruise missiles.
— RealClearDefense (@RCDefense) May 27, 2016
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]