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Video: Navy Fires Off Its New, Weaponized Railgun


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Bring on the aliens.  >:D


The Navy has spent seven years testing out the components of a way futuristic weapon: a shipboard cannon that blasts bullets over vast distances at hypersonic speeds using bursts of electricity. But so far, that weapon, known as the Electromagnetic Railgun, has been more of a lab experiment than an honest-to-God weapon. It didn’t even have basic gun-like features, like a barrel. Now, however, the Navy is unveiling the first actual railgun guns, which it’ll test for another five years, in the hope of winning over legislators who consider it a waste of time, money and electricity.

Previous versions of the railgun have been laboratory test models, stored in a hangar at Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Virginia. They look like shipping containers or schoolbuses put up on blocks, hooked up like Frankenstein’s monster to giant generators that pump dozens of megajoules of energy necessary to fire the bullet. You couldn’t fit any of that onto a ship, and it wouldn’t actually be a real weapon if you did.

At least not until January 30, when BAE Systems sent its first actual gun-shaped railgun to Dahlgren. Competitor General Atomics will send its own design there in April. Both designs have 12 meter barrels. “Now that looks like a real gun,” said Roger Ellis, the railgun chief for the Office of Naval Research, which has inaugurated the next phase of tests to determine the gun’s practicality — something many in Congress doubt.

The Navy released video of the first tests, viewable above, on Tuesday. The dramatic mini-inferno in the wake of the slug fired from the railgun is the result of “1 million amps flowing through” the gun, said test chief Tom Boucher, the hypersonic speed of the shot, and the actual aluminum of the bullet — “reactive in the atmosphere” — burning off.

It’s the next step in a process the Navy hopes will lead to a whole new era of self defense for ships, and way, way long-range strikes from on deck by the early 2020s. The Navy’s current 5-inch deck guns top out at 13 kilometer ranges. By 2017, the Navy wants the railgun prototypes to fire several shots per minute without soaking up a ship’s juice.


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While the US Navy continues work on the electromagnetic railgun, some dissenting voices are appearing. While it is true there are issues with the railgun, there are issues with any weapons system, and the railgun is part of a toolkit the ship, task force and even fleet commander can choose from. (By the time this gets into service, the USN will also be fielding laser weapons in addition to traditional missiles and munitions delivered by aircraft) I am not entirely clear if the "light gas gun" being touted as an alternative really is much of an improvement (after all, development stopped on this), and in many ways the gas gun seems to be a bit like the liquid propellant gun, which was the "gun of the future" all through the 1980's and 90's, but which could never solve some fundamental problems. Interesting critique, though:


Railguns: The Next Big Pentagon Boondoggle? 
The Navy’s replacement for traditional artillery may be an expensive fantasy. 

By Mike Fredenburg

The durability needed to fire thousands of rounds and protect guidance packages will require making fundamental advances in materials science and guidance-package protection that cannot be scheduled with any certainty. In a recent interview, one of the most experienced gun designers in the world, who has designs currently in use by the Navy, had this to say about the current state of ship-mounted railguns: “It’s a nice science experiment.”

Even if, billions of dollars later and a decade down the road, such fundamental advances are achieved, our new go-to gun would still have some glaring weaknesses. First and foremost: The railgun will have serious trouble engaging mid-range targets. To hit over-the-horizon targets, a railgun round would typically be fired in a high, arcing trajectory to preserve the kinetic energy that gives it all its destructive force. But this would take much too long — more than six minutes to reach a target just 24 miles away — for a mid-range engagement. Firing the shell with a flatter trajectory would get it there quicker, but traveling straight through the dense lower atmosphere would sap about 80 percent of the railgun round’s impact energy. By contrast, a 16-inch battleship round can reach a target 24 miles away in less than 100 seconds with dozens of times more destructive energy. Those guns are now retired, but it’s clear railguns aren’t about to restore the firepower they offered.  Ballistics dictates that for most missions, larger, marginally slower rounds will outperform faster, smaller ones. Unsurprisingly, the Navy’s PR campaign for the railgun doesn’t mention the railgun’s mid-range weakness.

Another crucial railgun problem: As mentioned above, one of the key role for naval gun is area-suppression fire and destruction of land targets. For this mission, large-explosive rounds are better than the railgun’s small, inert ones.

The Navy is selling railguns as a cost-saving technology, too, that’s cheap compared with the million-dollar missiles they will allegedly replace. What Navy press releases don’t mention is that they’re planning to replace $1,000 conventional gun rounds with railgun rounds the Navy estimates will cost $25,000. That’s just the projection: $50,000 per round is more in line with the kind of cost growth seen in similar projectile-development programs. At such high costs per shot, typical area-suppression gunfire missions that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in ammunition will cost tens of millions of dollars. A U.S. Navy warship captain facing an enemy with missiles is going to respond with his missiles, which can pack tens or hundreds of times more power than a railgun round. In terms of energy delivered to the target per dollar, railgun rounds will cost as much as many missiles. Moreover, given that the Advanced Gun System installed on the Zumwalt-class destroyer costs well more than $100 million per gun, a single railgun system could easily end up costing $100 million or more, about seven times as much as the standard 5-inch Mk 45 gun installed on our cruisers and destroyers.

Finally, the Navy touts railguns as a safer option than traditional artillery. While it is true that railgun rounds don’t require potentially dangerous explosive propellants, it is also true that the best defense is a good offense. Guns that have higher damage, faster times to most targets, cost less to acquire and maintain, are more reliable, and handle a wider variety of less expensive ammunition would seem to be worth the slightly greater dangers of traditional guns.

Fortunately, the railgun isn’t the only game in town. Tests conducted in 2006 incorporating many key advances in gun and propellant technology demonstrated that conventional guns could range to over 200 miles using a very long barrel. The Combustion Light Gas Gun, using hydrogen and oxygen as its propellant, can fire existing 155-mm artillery rounds out to 70 miles and Navy barrage rounds out to 200 miles — shells with much more destructive energy than a railgun projectile. Traditional guns are more compact, too, allowing more of them to be installed on a ship, and hardening these inherently more durable guns will cost much less than hardening a railgun, with its myriad of expensive, bulky, and relatively fragile components. High velocity propellant-powered guns with larger, anti-missile warheads packed with thousands of pellets are also a more effective missile-defense option than the much smaller railgun projectiles.

When the Navy retired the last battleship in 1992, they promised the Marines and Congress they would quickly replace the devastatingly effective gunfire support provided by the battleships.

More than 20 years later, the Navy has failed to meet its promise but instead has spent tens of billions on hugely complex, risky programs that have failed to even come close to replacing the battleship’s firepower. The railgun has all the signs of being another such program. Consequently, the Navy and Congress need to pursue alternatives that can put extremely-long-range guns on our ships in a matter of few years, rather than remaining in thrall to the high-tech chic of the railgun.

— Mike Fredenburg is a past contributor to National Review, the California Political Review, the San Diego Union Tribune and was the founding president of the Adam Smith Institute of San Diego, a conservative think tank and PAC.


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US Navy’s new ‘Star Wars’-style railgun hits Mach 6

Allison Barrie - Published February 05, 2015 - FoxNews.com

The Navy and Marine Corps’ new ‘Star Wars’-style weapon made its debut in the nation’s capital this week.

The Electromagnetic Railgun, developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) with BAE Systems, has the potential to revolutionize naval warfare.

The weapon was on display to the public for the first time at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology EXPO at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Wednesday and Thursday. The biennial event showcases the latest advances in power projection and force protection, including this year’s star - the EM Railgun.

To defend ships, conduct surface warfare against enemy vessels and support U.S. Marines and ground forces, EM Railgun-armed ships will be able to fire hypervelocity projectiles giving US forces even greater reach and lethality.

The EM Railgun is one immensely powerful weapon.

How does it work?

The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that uses electromagnetic energy, instead of conventional chemical propellants, to fire projectiles.

The ship generates electricity and this electricity is stored over several seconds in the pulsed power system and an electric pulse is sent to the railgun.

It gets its name from its use of rails. High electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor between two rails and this creates magnetic fields to launch projectiles.

The electromagnetic force is so powerful that it launches the projectile up to Mach 6, firing projectiles farther and faster than current options. These projectiles reach an amazing 4,500 mph and precisely hit targets more than 100 miles away.

Mach 6 is more than six times the speed of sound.

To put how fast that is in context, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has built the fastest manned airplane, the Blackbird, and that flies around Mach 3.

Once launched, the projectile uses its extreme speed, the kinetic energy, rather than conventional explosives to destroy targets on land, at sea or in the air.

And to put the improved distance in perspective, the current Mk 45 naval gun mount has a range of about 13 nautical miles with conventional ammunition.

What does it fire?

With ONR, BAE Systems is developing the next-generation HVP, Hyper Velocity Projectile, that can be fired by the EM Railgun and future models of railguns.

The HVP will also be compatible with current weapons systems like the Navy 5-Inch Mk 45, and Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm Tube Artillery systems.

It’s designed to be a guided projectile with low drag for high-velocity, maneuverability and decreased time-to-target. It has advanced guidance electronics and in flight, the HVP will be 24 inches long and weigh 28 pounds. The ammunition will be easy to handle and transport.

The Navy’s EM Railgun will fire 10 of these rounds per minute. When fired with an Mk 45 the HVP will be 20 rounds per minute and extend range to 50 nautical miles.

What are the advantages?

Railguns are a smart alternative to current large artillery and this weapon represents significant advances in U.S. Navy and Marine Corps capabilities.

It also provides additional benefits like enhancing safety aboard surface ships while greatly reducing cost.

Since this system that does not use gunpowder or propellant to fire the projectile, it reduces the need for high explosives to be carried on ships and the related hazards in doing so.

Off the ship, the EM Railgun will improve safety as well. Since it uses its extreme speed on impact, the danger of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield will be reduced.

Another key advantage is cost. Railgun projectiles are a mere fraction of the cost of those currently used in missile engagements – possibly even one percent of the cost of today’s missile systems.

Achieving this “Star Wars” - style weapon has not been easy. For years, many programs have sought to build such a powerful weapon, but a design that works, and works on a practical level, has been incredibly difficult to crack. Generating the power necessary to accelerate rail gun projectiles and creating materials capable of resisting the extreme temperatures generated are just two of the enormous obstacles a successful railgun needs to overcome.

Development of ONR’s Electromagnetic Railgun began about ten years ago. Phase I focused on developing the launcher, pulsed power, and risk reduction for the projectile. In 2012, Phase II began further advancing the technology, such as a firing rate of 10 rounds per minute.

What’s next?

The railgun program continues to perform impressively and is on track for its scheduled at-sea testing next year.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.



That, is mind boggling.  I wouldn't want to be on the business end of it.

Colin Parkinson

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I notice they are silent on EM interference and all the cascading issues with that. Not to mention the large EM bloom these will put out while firing. and how that may assist the enemy in tracking you.