An older 8-megajoule U.S. Navy railgun.  (Source: Office of Naval Research)

BAE's new 32-megajoule functional railgun ups the firepower and includes a nice looking barrel.  (Source: Office of Naval Research)

The 32-megajoule gun will require massive capacitors to store enough power to fire a slug.  (Source: Office of Naval Research)
BAE's new BFG 32-megajoule railgun annihilates its competitors

Like some super weapon from a video game, BAE's 32-megajoule Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun (32-MJ LRG) design juts prominently into the air, its massive barrel letting everyone know that it means business.

While rail guns still are far from being used in practical warfare, BAE has been continuously laboring to slowly transform this fantastic premise into reality.  BAE, known for its fighting vehicles such as the Bradley, is one of the foremost pioneers in high-tech weaponry.  Recently the company debuted a semi-autonomous version of its Bradley fighting vehicle, known as the Black Knight.

The company has also been hard at work researching how to create a railgun that packs a serious punch.

Earlier this year General Atomics, a rival research company, demonstrated a 8-megajoule railgun, which fired shells at Mach 7.  Until now 9-megajoule railguns were the most powerful models in existence.

BAE is looking to blow these "peashooters" away after it announced a railgun four times more powerful.  A functional prototype of its railgun has been delivered to the
U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. and is currently being installed at the Center.
The Navy plans to install special capacitors to fuel the beast's appetite for destruction.

The device operates similarly to previous railguns, using electric force to propel a nonexplosive solid projectile along a series of magnetic rails.  The device requires a staggering 3 million amps of power to fire.

Incredibly, the device is only the initial offering from BAE.  It hopes to soon meet the Navy's goal of a 64-megajoule weapon capable of being mounted on a warship.  Such a weapon would draw a current of approximately 6 million amps.

With such high power requirements, such a design is technically feasible when placed on a nuclear-powered vessel. 
Dr. Amir Chaboki, program manager for Electro-Magnetic Rail Guns at BAE Systems, states, "The power is available. The challenge is how you use it." 

Chaboki believes the ideal ship platform would be the Navy's electrically propelled
DDG 100 Destroyer, which has an operating power of 72 MW, approximately. 

One challenge is that the destructive force and mechanics of the device can easily damage the gun in its current state.  A few shots can dislodge the rails or even damage the gun barrel.

BAE is constantly improving upon its designs, though and sees the 32-megajoule cannon as a key milestone in its goal of deploying a 64-megajoule cannon, on ship, within 13 years or less.  Such a cannon would be able to fire at speeds in excess of Mach 7 at targets as far as 220 miles away using cheap metal slugs.  Such a cannon could unleash a silent deadly barrage that would hit the enemy harder and would give less warning than a traditional missile strike.

For now there are great technical obstacles that need to be overcome in making the gun hardy enough to withstand multiple firings in a deployment system and be able to efficiently manage the tremendous power it needs.  However, that takes nothing away from BAE's moment of glory as the creator of the first 32-megajoule railgun, undisputedly the most powerful projectile weapon in existence.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad
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