Military

US Navy's electromagnetic railgun leaves the lab for field demos

US Navy's electromagnetic rail...
The EMRG launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using massive electrical pulses instead of chemical propellants
The EMRG launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using massive electrical pulses instead of chemical propellants
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The EMRG at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division
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The EMRG at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division
The EMRG launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using massive electrical pulses instead of chemical propellants
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The EMRG launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using massive electrical pulses instead of chemical propellants

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.

The EMRG at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division
The EMRG at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division

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.

Source: ONR

Navy Railgun Successfully Fires Multi-Shot Salvos

13 comments
kid-jensen
If this is purely electriomagnetic, why is there so much smoke?
Brian M
The downside is that you have to actual hit the target such that all the kinetic energy can be transferred, glancing blows or a hit on a nearby unconnected object might not have the same damage as a conventional shell. On the up side more 'environmentally' friendly, safer to own side, and potentially less collateral damage. Guess if deployed the enemy will redesign potential targets to reduce the effect of high kinetic weapons. i.e. reduce the kinetic energy transfer to a rate which can be dissipated safely- crumple zones, or high tech Jell-O! Best application would be space weapons - no air resistance.
VincentBrennan
As to why the smoke it is likely lubricant ignited by the tremendous energy, air friction and possibly the projectile and the barrel eroding. If you have even used a bore scope on a rifle barrel you see the erosion near the chamber is from the powder burning but the wear near the nearer to the muzzle is just plain old friction wear. The article mentions barrel wear. As to what it will hit and how hard the projectile will be precision guided much like a missile. We are not looking at an old fashion artillery round that is aimed and goes where it will. These will adjust targeting in flight. While there may be some defense while in flight (something like the USN Phalanx system) it will be very hard to come up with portable armor systems (on a ship for instance) that will stand up to the energy the rail gun delivers.
Kpar
This is the weapon the Zumwalt class destroyer was designed around. The railgun can fire either HE or guided munitions, and the propellant (electrons) will only cost a buck or two, per firing. Quite a savings, if it works as advertised. And the smoke? Yes, a lot of it is air friction!
FabianLamaestra
Haven't they been working on this for like 20 years?
David R Aldridge
Conventional guns have some ability to be aimed manually. What happens with these things if exposed to an EMP attack?
myale
With an EMP if not adequately shielded as with all electronics it would be a dead duck - but then likely so would the whole ship
MKO
Why the heck are we even Youtubing our Military's capabilities? Shouldn't we be keeping this stuff secret?
matie
Speaking about EMP, will the discharge of such a weapon system, not create a massive electronic signature? This would surely compromise operational requirements... I guess this was something that was considered and adressed. I think this is where some "magic" lurks...
JustinTWoods
Under current capabilities, EMPs in large enough form to take out electronics on a ship only come from airburst nukes...which only a handful of our enemies have. And if the enemy is using nukes, the EMP is only one of our worries. For the vast majority of these ships' missions, the railgun, assuming they fix the barrel issues, is a solid alternative to the 155mm main gun they replace (Zumwalts currently have 2, one will be replaced by the railgun).