The US Navy's Office of Naval Research has just announced the successful testing of the first prototype electromagnetic railgun. Here's an excerpt from ONR's press release.
The firing at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) kicks off a two-month-long test series by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to evaluate the first of two industry-built launchers. The tests will bring the Navy closer to a new naval gun system capable of extended ranges against surface, air and ground targets.
“We are starting our full-energy tests to evaluate the barrel life and structural integrity of the prototype system,” said Roger Ellis, program manager of the EM Railgun, part of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “It’s the next step toward a future tactical system.”
The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph.
The 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, arrived at NSWCDD on Jan. 30.
One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph. The prototype — which now looks more like a naval weapon compared to previous lab-style launchers — is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the Navy. General Atomics is building the second launcher, scheduled for delivery in April. ONR previously relied upon laboratory-built systems to advance the technology.
. . .
When fully developed, the EM Railgun will give Sailors a dramatically increased multimission capability. Its increased velocity and extended range over traditional shipboard weapons will allow them to conduct precise, long-range naval surface fire support for land strikes; ship self-defense against cruise and ballistic missiles; and surface warfare to deter enemy vessels. The Navy’s near-term goal is a 20- to 32-megajoule weapon that shoots a distance of 50 to 100 nautical miles.
To achieve this, the Navy is moving ahead with the EM Railgun program’s next phase: to develop thermal management systems for both the launcher and pulsed power to facilitate increased firing rates of up to 10 rounds per minute. Toward this end, BAE and General Atomics have been contracted to begin concept design of a next-generation thermally managed launcher.
There's more at the link. Pictures are courtesy of ONR, as is the video clip below.
I'd call that pretty impressive! It's the first time I've seen a railgun prototype that's reasonably close to something one might see aboard a ship. The next question, of course, is the electrical generation capacity ships will require to power the darn thing! I suspect that only a nuclear-powered ship will be able to provide enough electricity to sustain prolonged rapid fire. I guess all that's on the drawing board, too.