U.S. Navy Tests Prototype Railgun

BAE Electromagnetic Railgun

Successful test firing of BAE's electromagnetic railgun. Image courtesy US Navy.

I’m pretty sure the first time I ever heard the word ‘railgun’ was as a teenager playing BattleTech with one of my buddies. The idea of a weapon that used magnetism to fire solid shells faster than the speed of sound was super cool. I still think the idea is pretty cool, and apparently the U.S. Navy agrees.

The Navy has been experimenting with railguns for years, hoping to use them to replace the standard 5-in. deck guns. Until recently, prototype railguns were too large to even fit on a ship. That all changed when the Navy successfully test-fired a prototype developed by BAE on Jan. 30, 2012.

The new design is 12 meters long and fired a 40 lb solid aluminum shell around 50 nautical miles at a speed of nearly Mach 7. The 5-in. guns currently used top out at around 26 miles and that’s using rocket-boosted shells. Another bonus of a solid shell is it has no propellant to explode if the ship takes a hit.

This is the first-ever shot from the world’s first tactical Railgun. Unlike the laboratory launcher, this Railgun has the look and design of a gun that could potentially fit onboard a surface ship. –Dr. Amir Chaboki, BAE Systems’ program manager for Advanced Systems

At this point in development, the most serious flaw with the system is the enormous amount of energy required to power the weapon. The railgun currently requires 33 megajoules of electricity to fire a single shot. That amount of power would require current generation ships to divert energy from maneuvering or other critical systems just to be able to fire once.

The Navy is aiming for a weapon system by 2017 that can fire with accuracy up to 100 nautical miles without the current power drain. That date is also a deadline to create barrels that can survive multiple shots before having to be replaced. By 2025, the Navy hopes to have a weapon that can fire up to 10 shots per minute with enough accuracy to destroy incoming missiles.

Below you’ll find a video of the test fire.

Sources: Wired, AOL Defense, BAE

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