U.S. Navy Railgun Shoots a 4,500-mph ‘Bullet’; Range: 110 Miles, Give or Take

The U.S. Navy publicly unveiled its latest futuristic weapon at the Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, D.C. this week — the electromagnetic railgun, which can fire projectiles at 4,500 mph — or 6600 fps.

By using electromagnetic pulses to generate a magnetic force between two rails, the latest prototype of the railgun developed by defense contractor BAE, in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research, can accelerate a projectile up to Mach 7 within 10 milliseconds. The gun uses no gunpowder to generate propelling force for its projectiles. Compared to an item on a smaller scale, the railgun projectiles resemble crossbow darts, except they hit with such destructive force they don’t need to carry explosive ordnance. The railgun can strike targets 110 miles away.

To prepare a charge, the ship stores electricity in the pulsed power system. Next, an electric pulse is sent to the railgun, creating an electromagnetic force accelerating the projectile. Because of its extreme speed, the projectile eliminates the hazards of storing high explosives in the ship and the downstream problem of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield.

“It’s like a flux capacitor,” chief of Naval research Rear Admiral Mathias Winter said in a video posted by Reuters Friday. “You’re sitting here thinking about these next generation and futuristic ideas, and we’ve got scientists who have designed these, and it’s coming to life.” The Electromagnetic Railgun Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) was initiated in 2005. The goal during Phase I was to produce a proof-of-concept demonstration at 32 mega-joule muzzle energy, develop launcher technology with adequate service life, develop reliable pulsed power technology, and assess component risk reduction for the projectile.

Phase II, which started in 2012, advanced the technology to demonstrate a repeatable-rate fire capability. Thermal-management techniques required for sustained firing rates will be developed for both the launcher system and the pulsed power system.

The railgun will begin testing at sea in 2016.

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Comments (14)

  1. I just heard that a team of several NCSU mechanical and electrical engineers and some ex-USMC ordnance machinists (MOS 2161) out of Wilmington, NC have started working on a prototype rifle based on this concept. They are working towards a single shot initial prototype that shoots a heated copper .177 pellet to 4200 fps/1275 m/s. Then they’ll go after crowd funding for a bigger round.The start-up may go after crowd funding in a year or so.

    1. @ DarthVeaderMentor.

      Rail Gun Rifles are nothing new, the first working KNOWN prototype has be in circulation at least 10-years, probably longer and fires “Nails”. The problem is Size, Power Consumption, Caliber, Range, and Cost. Probably for the foreseeable future, and probably more. The standard cartridge rifle is going to be cheaper…

  2. The Tomahawk is being replaced in 2016, but not by the Rail Gun. But by another Cruise Missile, the A/BGM-158B JASSM-ER or LRASM-A. There’s also a Smart Projectile in the works for the Rail Gun, but basically all it is. Is a Rail Gun Projectile with a Brain. The standard BGM-109 Tomahawk/TLAM, is been given a new role as a Long-Range Missile for Moving Targets…

    1. @ Pete in Alaska.

      Hey Pete, better be a Model of One that 6-inches or less in size, or It’ll never fit down the aperture of the Rail Gun…

  3. Sooooo, after all the years of rumors and suggested programs the reality is that the have an operational system, or three, and that their confident enough about it to unveil it in public.
    Wanna bet that there are a bunch of Navel System Command people that can’t wait to get this on an operational ship in a back water war zone and give it a try? That’s if they haven’t already. Wonder if it has a surface to air intercept capability yet? Mated with the correct radar system, a very fast computer and a three dimensional high speed mount something like this should be able to intercept inbound missels and/or warheads. Might make a pretty good inner and mid range defense platform. Seems like it’s small enough to fit in something like the cargo bay of say a space shuttle, even though there retired and all. Be interesting to hear what else the might declassify . . . Like power system, weight, types of projectiles, aming systems and soforth.
    Starts to also look like the tech exists for ground to orbit launch capability although on an expanded scale. Re supply mods for the Space station, Satilite launchs, etc. ….
    I’d like to know what the amount of Kinetic Energy is released at the 110 mile mark? Guess one would have to know the weight of the projectile to get near the answer there.
    Can’t wait for the Man Portable version of this to appear, you know they are working on one! Or a small crewed field piece, sayyyyy like along the lines of a 75mm Mountain Howitzer style with a range of like say 15 to 18 miles maybe. …… Oh my, the possibilities are endless.
    Yet another SiFi system that falls off the pages of a good story and into the realm of reality!
    What inventive time we live in!

    1. This is really meant to be a cruise missile replacement for close targets and with the low arch of fire, a radar-resistant, hard to react to, anti-ship gun.

      You could shell a city with little risk and cheap munitions.

      You could also target a ship sighted by satellite or drone well over the horizon with the damage report being their first indication they are being shot. .

    2. @ Oakspar.

      Not exactly Radar Resistant, just means that Nothing on Earth is going to be able to track something that small (less than 40mm in diameter)…

  4. The Delorean lets you travel Back to the Future far enough to say ouch. At least if your Flux Capacitor is working properly.

    1. @ lou.

      I assuming the Rail Gun or “Gauss Cannon” is going to be at sea-level or near about sea-level when fired. If so the Speed of Sound at Sea-level is ~340.29m/s or ~1,116.437-ft/sec. So a projective fired from a Rail Gun traveling at Mach 7 is traveling at ~2,382.03m/s or ~7,815.06-ft/sec. Almost 18.4% faster than what the author is quoting. The author is probably quoting the velocity of the projectile at the highest point of it’s trajectory, before going for its terminal velocity before impact…

  5. It’s like getting hit by a ~12,125-pound School Bus traveling at 316mph or a 562-pound shell fired from a 11.1-inch (283mm/54.5-caliber) SK C/34 Krupp Naval Gun at Point-Blank Range…

    1. Actually, it’s like getting hit with a Delorean at 88mph when all your wearing is shorts and a t-shirt.


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