Latest steel-punching, hypersonic railgun projectiles test-fired

A high speed image of the hypersonic projectile shedding its sabot
A high speed image of the hypersonic projectile shedding its sabot
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A high speed image of the hypersonic projectile shedding its sabot
A high speed image of the hypersonic projectile shedding its sabot

Artillery is getting a speed boost at the US Army Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) test fired a hypersonic projectile multiple times using the company's three megajoule (3 MJ) Blitzer railgun system. Subjected to over 30,000 Gs and reaching a velocity in excess of Mach 5 (3,800 mph, 6,125 km/h), the supershell was equipped with a new Guidance Electronics Unit (GEU) consisting of integrated navigation sensors as well as guidance, navigation, and control processors.

In defense circles, hypersonics is seen as one of the key areas of future weaponry. Projectiles capable of flying over five times the speed of sound would be much more difficult to detect, track, or destroy, and their high velocity would give them massive destructive power even without explosive warheads.

One example of such hypersonic weapon is General Atomics' Blitzer electric railgun system, which uses electromagnets to accelerate a projectile clad in a sabot at up to 60,000 Gs until it can not only reach hypersonic velocity, but carry enough energy to travel four mi (6.4 km) after penetrating a 3.2 mm steel plate. The Blitzer is made of a launcher, a high density pulsed power unit, and a weapon fire control system.

In addition to the improved electronics package, the projectile also tested a new continuous two-way data link between the in-flight projectiles and a ground station, a new lightweight composite sabot, and the ability to maintain bore structural integrity at high acceleration.

The company is currently working on a new High Energy Pulsed Power Container (HEPPC) to supply the Blitzer with twice the energy density of existing pulsed power systems, allowing for more compact version of both the land- and sea-based versions of the railgun.

"We're continuing to test at an impressive pace, building on the successes over the past year to advance both our Blitzer railgun systems and hypersonic projectile capabilities," says Nick Bucci, vice president Missile Defense and Space Systems at GA-EMS. "We are on track to conduct another series of tests using the Blitzer 10 MJ railgun system later this year. With each new firing, we continue maturing the technologies and performing risk reduction toward a multi-mission railgun weapon system that supports future operation on land and at sea."

Source: General Atomics

"but carry enough energy to travel four mi (6.4 km) after penetrating a 3.2 mm steel plate" 3.2 mm? Was that supposed to be cm? I would not describe 3.2mm as a steel plate, more like a thick foil...
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This is a good way of launching things into space. The rail needs to be in an evacuated tube going up a high mountain.
I love it when American Military propaganda hits hard... 1. It is a British BAE railgun. 2. "Mach 5" (6.125 km/h or 1.701 m/s) sounds much, but every "normal" projectile, fired by a conventional Rheinmetall 120 mm L 55 Tank gun, used in Leopard and M1 Abrams, speed up to 1.850 m/s = 6.660 km/h. Rheinmetall says they have "advanced propellant" and reached 2.450 m/s = 8.820 km/h for future advantages... In late 80's I worked on a "Rail Gun Project" (but exactly it was a Gauss gun) for German Military. It was a small tungsteen projectile as arrow of 12 cm length, 5 mm diameter, 450 grams, but reached 8.850 m/s = 31.900 km/h muzzle velocity. When projectile hit the air, friction was so high, you could see pink-orange Plasma glowing around the tip of the arrow. This BEA Railgun is far far away from this speed. But I know they argue "they don't need explosives, it's saver!" That's a myth, because we tested a "shrapnel handgrenade" in a fully loaded capacitor energy storage bank... it was devastating. 3. A Rheinmetall 120 mm tank gun has 10 MJ too! As I found this "Rail Gun" solution in 1989 for them, they fired me, because they were soooo clever... so I improved this technology without Military support.
The deerhunter
Surely there is a mistake here. There is 3600 seconds in an hour so is that not just over One foot a second??? Have I got that wrong?
Yes, 'Deerhunter', you got it wrong. 3800 mph comes out to a bit over a mile per second. If you divide 3,800 mph by 3,600 seconds per hour, the result is in MILES per second. 1 mile = 5,280 feet. In this case, the result is about 5,500 fps -- which makes me wonder what all the fuss is about? Kpar, 3.2 mm is 1/8th of an inch. Hardly "thick foil" -- try wrapping your sandwich in 0.125 steel -- but, it's not much in the way of armor plate, either. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if a .30-'06 armor piercing rifle round would shoot four miles after blowing a hole in 1/8th inch steel. D.B. Rogers, this is only about 20% the velocity needed to put something into orbit. Future3000, you nailed it! Why all the fuss? A century ago in WWI the German army shelled Paris with an 8 inch gun with a muzzle velocity of 5,100 fps. A CENTURY AGO! What would today's propellant chemistry do for that old gun?
You can see from the shock wave and sabot that this photo is less than mach 2 at the muzzle.
Expanded Viewpoint
They do not mention the weight nor mass of the projectile or even what it is made of, and flying at that great velocity, just how long is its flight time going to be before hitting something? So with that flight time being so short due to the high speed, how much data is going to be sent back and forth and to what end? And what good would it be, if there's no way to alter the flight path? The tiniest amount of change in a control surface will cause great amounts of change in the flight path. All of it appears to me to be another huge military money pit, a black hole of time, effort and energy which we would be much better off not having to deal with. And... if someone fires off an EMP device, that whole system will be nothing more than a worthless pile of junk, unless you need a really large and expensive boat anchor. Randy
One aspect not directly addressed is the absence of large quantities of flammable and highly explosive propellants used to deliver the warhead on target.
Well, a mile per second...moving right along, but I'm more interested in the new projectile. The previous one was a 20+# solid tungsten, I'm wanting to see how the internal guidance system will work... and .092" thick 'Plate'....??
@Douglas Bennett Rogers, The only problem of using it for a launching system is the 60,000 Gs would mash any payload into a thin, greasy stain.