Navy Prepares for Historic First Live Test of a Rail Gun at Sea in 2016
April 9, 2014 2:06 PM
comment(s) - last by
Railgun test shot
(Source: U.S. Navy on YouTube)
Goal is to create a 64 MJ cannon capable of firing ten high impact metal slugs per minute
The U.S. Navy is anticipating the railgun will play a key role in battlefields of the future. To that end it's investing deeply in the technology, gunning to make the U.S. the first to deploy the wild weapons technology. The U.S. Navy and its research wing -- the
Office of Naval Research
(ONR) -- announced this week that in 2016 the railgun efforts will see a crucial test: the first live fire demonstration at sea.
I. A Brief History of Railguns
France’s Louis Octave Fauchon-Villeplee first proposed the concept of an “electric gun” in 1918,
later getting a patent on the technology in the U.S. in 1922
. Railguns have long been speculated to potentially have critical advantages over traditional guns. Like missiles and other propellant based high-speed projectiles, they can achieve much higher velocities that traditional projectiles which lack internal propulsion. However, railguns are expected to be much cheaper than rockets, given that their ammo can be crude metal slugs.
Railguns operate by utilizing the Lorentz force or "Lorenz (sic) force" as the U.S. Navy refers to it as in
a press release
. This phenomenon involves the application of force from electromagnetism on point charge.
A railgun operates via a homopolar motor armature, typically a conducting metal rod.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
The simplest form of the railgun -- the one the U.S. Navy will likely look to first deploy -- involves a sliding metallic conductor that acts as a homopolar motor in the cannon, accelerating down a pair of magnetized rails of opposite charges. The armature can be integrated into the projectile itself, but typically it is attached to the rails so that nonmagnetized projectiles can be fired from the cannon.
More exotic variants use electrical arcs across ionizing gas to create a propellant effect similar to a traditional chemical (e.g. firepowder) based cannon.
Given the benefits, military designers worldwide have long been chasing after railguns. In World War II, the Nazis hatched designs to build anti-aircraft railguns. Recent analyses suggest these plans
may have been technically feasible
, however, they would have used as much power as half the city of Chicago, making them somewhat farfetched. They were never built.
II. Railguns Approach the Battlefield
With the advent of high-energy solid-state switches and high-energy-density capacitors, at last the power necessary to rapidly magnetize the rails and eject the projectile has been at least made a practical reality.
The U.S. Navy has been
kicking around prototypes
for some time. Its plan is to deploy a 64 Megajoule cannon to warships
sometime around 2020-2025
. That device will use tungsten slugs and will fire at speeds of around 5,800 m/s (19,000 ft/s or roughly 13,000 miles per hour). At that rate the cannon will be able to accurately to hit a 5-meter (16 ft) target from roughly 200 nmi (370 km) away. The goal is to be able to fire 10 shots per minute.
The tungsten slugs are expected to have enough kinetic force to punch through even the best tank armor of today. Line of site is a problem with railguns, but the
advent of drone sighting technology
-- a key area of research at the U.S. Navy -- will likely nullify this disadvantage by the time the tech hits the high seas.
Currently the Navy's prototypes are
being tested on land
Naval Surface Warfare Center
(NAVSEA), a team based in Dahlgren, Virginia. The Surface Warfare Center -- which targets nearer term warfare solutions -- collaborates with the
Naval Research Lab
(NRL), which handles more speculative and pure research projects.
After much land-based testing, the cannon will soon be ready to test at its desired destination -- on the high seas. In 2016 the U.S. Navy plans to deploy a prototype cannon with a range of 110 nmi (204 km) aboard
one of the Navy's Spearhead-class joint high speed vessel (JHSV) for live fire testing
The second JHSV vessel, the U.S.S. Swift [Image Source: Florida Times-Union]
The JHSV is the Navy's next generation troop ship. Currently, 10 are either built or under construction and
another 13 will be added
by the year 2041.
The JHSV is technically a non-combatant, however, it was selected for this test due to its flexibility and roomy deck.
BAE's prototype railgun [Image Source: U.S. Navy]
One of the biggest challenges facing railgun designers is to shrink the cannons down to the size of traditional naval artillery. Currently a team at UK-based BAE Systems plc (
) and the Electromagnetic Systems (EMS) Division at privately-owned U.S. defense contractor General Atomics,
have both delivered the Navy competing prototype designs
It's possible that both companies' railguns will be deployed in 2016.
A railgun prototype from General Atomics [Image Source: U.S. Navy]
Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, the Navy's chief engineer, comments on the upcoming tests:
The electromagnetic railgun represents an incredible new offensive capability for the U.S. Navy. This capability will allow us to effectively counter a wide-range of threats at a relatively low cost, while keeping our ships and sailors safer by removing the need to carry as many high-explosive weapons.
Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, the chief of naval research, adds:
Energetic weapons, such as EM railguns, are the future of naval combat. The U.S. Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology.
The Navy has been actively developing the railgun technology since at least 2005, according to a press release. The Navy says it does not plan to deploy railguns permanently aboard the JHSVs, due to their noncombatant status. It has not decided on the final destination for the cannons; one possibility is
the Littoral combat ship (LCS)
a newer class of naval vessels
are expected to comprise a key portion of the U.S. Navy's future combat fleet
The U.S. Navy [press release]
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
RE: Sweet technology
4/10/2014 10:03:58 PM
At 19,000mph, these rounds will fly nearly 17,000mph faster than our fastest rockets (not including ICBM's on re-entry) and due to the sheer speed and energy delivered can singlehandedly destroy larger vessels with a single shot. Additionally, you can load ones that explode and fragment before hitting the target, allowing for massive anti-personel or anti-air rounds to be highly effective against soft targets or inbound missiles. Lastly, you can carry significantly more rounds on a smaller vessel than you can on a larger ship and unlike missiles, these warheads won't expire or become more unreliable (dangerous?) with time.
"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
DARPA Plans Hydra Mothership for Underwater Attacks
July 24, 2013, 3:10 PM
Why the U.S. is Racing to Shoot Down Iranian UAVs With Lasers by Next Summer
April 9, 2013, 5:37 PM
U.S. Navy Test Fires 32-Megajoule Railgun, Could See Service by 2020
February 29, 2012, 9:38 AM
Navy Railgun Fires 33-megajoule Shot
December 13, 2010, 10:02 AM
Lockheed Martin Says LCS 3 Reaches Halfway Point in Construction
June 17, 2010, 6:47 AM
Nail Polish May Soon be Able to Detect Date Rape Drugs
August 26, 2014, 7:57 AM
SpaceX Falcon 9-R Rocket Suffers Malfunction, Self-Destructs During Test Flight
August 23, 2014, 9:36 AM
Texas Chosen as Site for SpaceX's First Commercial Launchpad
August 5, 2014, 1:44 PM
South Carolina Prison Finds Crashed Drone Carrying Drugs, Phones
August 1, 2014, 2:49 PM
NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Gains Seven New Instruments for Exploration
August 1, 2014, 1:30 PM
NASA Opportunity Rover Breaks Record for Most Miles Traveled on Another Planet
July 29, 2014, 1:38 PM
Most Popular Articles
Numerous Leaks Detail 4.7" iPhone 6 Processor, RAM, Cellular and NFC Capabilities
August 29, 2014, 10:37 PM
Windows 9: "Upgrade Now" Button Coming for Enterprise Updates, ARM Preview in H1 2015
August 26, 2014, 8:00 PM
L.A. Unified School District’s Apple iPad Contract Canceled Following Heavy Criticism
August 26, 2014, 12:37 PM
Apple Builds Not-So-Secret Secret 3-Story Tower for iPhone 6/iWatch Unveil
August 28, 2014, 3:41 PM
Netflix Accuses Comcast of Ripping Off Customers, Files to Block Merger
August 26, 2014, 5:49 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Space Terrorism is a Looming Threat For the United States
Apr 23, 2014, 7:47 PM
Facebook Aims to Provide Internet to "Every Person in the World" with Drones, Satellites
Apr 1, 2014, 10:20 AM
Retail Mobile Sites Experience Outages in Light of Simplexity's Bankruptcy
Mar 14, 2014, 8:48 AM
Tesla vs. BMW: Who Has the Safer EV?
Feb 1, 2014, 2:56 PM
Justice Leaks Details of Next HTC One Two Flagship Phone
Dec 5, 2013, 4:04 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information