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."