Navy Trains Sights on Fast-Firing Superweapon
High-speed camera image of the Office of Naval Research Electromagnetic Railgun firing a world-record setting 33 mega-joule shot, breaking the previous record established Jan. 31, 2008.
CREDIT: U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy superweapon could rapidly fire hundreds of projectiles to shoot down missile swarms, deliver devastating broadsides to far-off enemy warships, or bombard coastal defenses from hundreds of miles offshore. But first, the Navy must create a system capable of delivering pulsed power to its futuristic railgun weapon.
The Navy wants to transform its single-shot experimental railgun into a full-fledged military weapon capable of firing six to 10 rounds per minute in "bursts of 100s of shots," according to a new request for information to the defense industry. Such a weapon uses the power of electromagnetism rather than chemical propellants to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph across hundreds of miles.
"The next phase of the development effort is to demonstrate the ability to operate at a firing rate of significant military utility," said Roger Ellis, program manager of Electromagnetic Railgun at the Office of Naval Research.
Several $10 million contracts were recently awarded to Raytheon Corp., BAE Systems and General Atomics to create a pulsed power system capable of such rapid firing. But the request for information suggests that the Office of Naval Research still has its eyes open for other possible solutions.
A government-built railgun already set a world record by firing a 33-megajoule shot in December 2010 at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren. One megajoule of energy is roughly equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 miles per hour.
Navy planners hope the weapon can eventually fire at ranges of 50-to-100 nautical miles, and perhaps even up to 220 nautical miles. A new railgun built by BAE Systems — a 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator — could get its first test by the U.S. Navy in the coming weeks.
"This is the next step toward a future tactical system that will be placed on board a ship some day," Ellis said.