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.