The US Navy has taken another step closer to swapping powder for electrons with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announcing that its electromagnetic railgun has moved out of the laboratory. At the 2017 Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington DC, an ONR spokesman revealed that the weapon is ready for field demonstrations at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division's new railgun Rep-Rate Test Site at Terminal Range.
The ElectroMagnetic RailGun (EMRG) is one of a new generation of hypersonic weapons being developed by the major powers. With muzzle velocities of over Mach 6 (3,970 kts, 4,570 mph, 7,350 km/h) and a range of over 100 nm (115 mi, 185 km), the projectiles fired out of the gun barrel by a massive electromagnetic pulse carry so much kinetic energy that they can destroy their targets without the need for high explosives.
Because the EMRG doesn't require either propellants or as many explosive charges, Navy ships will be able to carry many more, less expensive shells with no need for a large, bulky armored magazine to protect against enemy actions or accidental detonations.
According to ONR, the High-Velocity Projectile (HVP) used by the EMRG is a next-generation, low-drag, guided projectile that is compatible with other gun systems and can be used for surface fire support, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship warfare. Also, the power system needed to run the gun is small enough to be installed in present and future US warships.
So far, the EMRG has performed test firings of multi-shot salvos, though these have been at a relatively low muzzle energy. Salvo size, firing rates and launch energy will be increased in stages, reaching 20 megajoules by September and 32 megajoules by 2018 – to give an idea of just how much punch the projectiles pack, a megajoule is equivalent to the energy of a one-ton vehicle traveling at 160 mph (257 km/h). Since the gun will need to fire many rounds per minute, the developers are also working on a barrel with a suitably long service life.
"The railgun will be an effective deterrent against growing and increasingly complex threats," says Dr. Thomas Beutner, head of ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. "Its power level surpasses traditional gun technology, and it reduces explosive shipboard risks to Sailors and Marines at sea."
The video below shows the railgun firing multi-shot salvos.