Military

U.S. Navy set to test first industry railgun prototype

U.S. Navy set to test first in...
A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren (Photo: ONR)
A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren (Photo: ONR)
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Test firing from the EM Railgun laboratory demonstrator also based at NSWC-Dahlgren where the first industry-built prototype demonstrator is set to undergo testing (Photo: NSCW-Dahlgren)
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Test firing from the EM Railgun laboratory demonstrator also based at NSWC-Dahlgren where the first industry-built prototype demonstrator is set to undergo testing (Photo: NSCW-Dahlgren)
A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren (Photo: ONR)
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A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren (Photo: ONR)
A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype is maneuvered into place for government evaluation (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
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A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype is maneuvered into place for government evaluation (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
Tony Deschenes, an engineer with BAE Systems, makes final checks prior to maneuvering the 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype into place (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
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Tony Deschenes, an engineer with BAE Systems, makes final checks prior to maneuvering the 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype into place (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
Gary Bass, from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., uses a crane to maneuver a 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype into place (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
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Gary Bass, from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., uses a crane to maneuver a 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype into place (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype is maneuvered into place for government evaluation (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
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A 32-MJ version of the Office of Naval Research-funded Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) prototype is maneuvered into place for government evaluation (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
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Two years after BAE Systems was awarded a US$21 million contract from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop an advanced Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun for the U.S. Navy, the company has delivered the first industry-built prototype demonstrator to the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren. The prototype launcher is now being prepared for testing which is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

Unlike weapons that rely on explosive chemical propellants such as gunpowder to launch a projectile, electromagnetic railguns accelerate a conductive projectile along metal rails using a magnetic field powered by electricity. While the muzzle velocity of gunpowder-propelled projectiles is generally limited to around 4,000 ft per second (2,727 mph/4,389 km/h), the U.S. Navy says its railgun will be capable of launching projectiles at velocities of 4,500 to 5,600 mph (7,242 - 9,012 km/h).

This kind of speed translates to greatly extended range. Navy planners are initially targeting a 50 to 100-nautical mile (57 to 115 mile/92 to 185 km) range, with a planned expansion up to 220 nautical miles (253 mile/407 km). The Navy says this will give Sailors extended capabilities, such as providing precise naval surface fire support, land strikes, and cruise missile and ballistic missile defense. The ONR is also touting the improved safety of the weapon for use on ships because it uses no explosives in firing or storage.

As you might expect, the high velocity of the armature causes a lot of friction. Add to this the resistance in the rails as the electric current passes through it, and massive amounts of heat are generated. This has made developing a weapon that can fire off just one shot without destroying itself a major hurdle - let alone one that can stand up to the stresses of multiple firings over a short period.

To address this problem, the next phase of the EM Railgun program is focused on developing automatic projectile loading systems and thermal management systems to facilitate increased firing rates of the weapon. The ONR recently awarded BAE Systems, General Atomics and Raytheon Corp., $US10 million contracts to develop a pulsed power system for launching projectiles in rapid succession. The contracts mark the start of a five-year effort to achieve a firing rate of six to 10 rounds per minute.

More immediately, however, all eyes will be on the 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, which will begin test firing this month ahead of the delivery of a second prototype launcher built by General Atomics.

Source: ONR

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29 comments
subodhkumar
To avoid friction and heat on rails, Could magnetic levitation not be considered an option?
Jacob Shepley
magnetic levitation would remove the physical contact, sure. but then they\'d need another contact anyway to propel the object.
rail guns work on electric currents and the force they apply. remove the contact and you remove the circuit for that electricity.
Artisteroi
I dream of a day that we will invent machines of peace instead of machines of destruction.
Shradhapati Singh
There is immense impact of the missile due to momentum generated and counter offensive measures will take time to find out means to save a ship lest enemy get hold of this new technology
bas
The thermal problem has to do with release of energy in a very short space of time in a small volume (the rails), solutions for this problem will be found in better conduction. The projectile is moved by the magnetic field generated in the rails, magnetic levitation in the direction of where the projectile must go. I wholly agree with Artisteroi, we´d be a lot better off when this sort of reseach would rise from the need to better life instead of destroying it.
Nasuti
I agree with Artisteroi\'s comments, however remember that something that may start as research for military/weapons use can often expand to other uses. Some of our biggest technology innovations have originated from military projects. Look at this technology and think about what possibilities it has beyond weapons.

Pete Kratsch
Guys, Rail guns already utilize magnetic levitation. Once the projectile is moving it\'s not touching anything, it\'s friction from the air it\'s moving through that generates the heat.
VirtualGathis
@Nasuti This is true as is the inverse. There is an article on gizmag about neurologically controlled weapons being developed from the research being done to enable better prosthesis for the handicapped. That is a prime example of research done for peaceful purposes being used to facilitate weapons.
johnweythek
i\'m with pete kratsch, why is friction a problem here? I thought it was like a maglev train, but in gun form (so magnets all around the projectile). I understand high current and resistance and heat could be an issue. What about the magnetic disturbances to everythng else on a ship, from small munitions to highly technical electronics. Also the munitions must be ferro-magnetic, which limits their technology somewhat, some of the densest (and more powerful munitions) are not magnetic. I\'ve never held any depleted uranium nor can speak on its magnetism; my tungsten ring was allowed inside a cat scan b/c it was not a risk. All military technology seems to involve hurling rocks at each other better than the other guy. Guns to me have always been high efficiency rock throwers. or H.E.R.T.s. Which, if anyone agrees, is an awesome way of thinking about it that comes with an appropriate anagram.
Nacho Lotitto
This tech can be used to, for example, send cargo to the ISS at much lower costs than we can do now.