The weapon system fires a non-explosive projectile

Flash Xray composite image of in-flight projectile
Eat your heart out Quake fans

The Naval Surface Warfare Center played the stage for a demonstration of a new naval weapon.  The 8-megajoule railgun was the center of attention on Wednesday, as the navy demonstrated its power and low cost use.  The railgun was designed by General Atomics, a fission and fusion research company based out of San Diego.

Instead of using gunpowder, the railgun uses electricity by sending a current along parallel rails which creates an electromagnetic pulse.  The pulse is so powerful it can file projectiles roughly 200 to 250 nautical miles in about 6 minutes, using the nonexplosive slug weighing about 3.2 kilograms.  After leaving the barrel of the railgun the slug has an estimated launch altitude of about 500,000 feet or roughly 95 miles at possible Mach 7 speeds.  Current conventional guns on Navy vessels have a maximum range of about 15 miles.

Compared to a Tomahawk missile, which costs upwards of $1 million per missile, the railgun only has an estimated sub-$1,000-per-shot cost.  With the absence of gunpowder, the railgun is said to be safer to use, eliminating the possibility of explosions.

According to the Free Lance Star, General Atomic has obtained the $10 million contract for the production of the railgun.

The field deployment of the weapon is not expected for another 13 years.  In the meantime, General Atomic can start work on higher joule railguns for farther and quicker targeting and firing.  The company claims it will develop 16 and 32 megajoule variants of the weapon next.  Fully deployed railguns will be rated at approximately 64 megajoules.

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