Navy’s Electric Gun Could Hit Targets More Than 100 Miles Away (UPDATED)

By Eric Beidel
The Navy has begun firing a weapon that uses electricity instead of gunpowder to launch projectiles faster and farther than ever before.

The electromagnetic railgun now being tested comes from BAE Systems. Another prototype from General Atomics will be delivered later this month, officials said.

BAE’s demonstrator is a 32-megajoule gun. Each megajoule is equal to the kinetic energy of a 1-ton car moving at 100 mph.

Testers have fired BAE’s gun six times using a brick-like projectile. Future projectiles will be long, slender and aerodynamic. They will contain electronics that will allow them to withstand the temperature and force that goes along with being blasted out of a railgun, officials said.

Magnetic fields created by high electric currents drive a sliding metal conductor between two rails to send projectiles soaring through the air at up to 5,600 mph. A 40-pound projectile fired from the weapon would be able to travel 100 nautical miles in five minutes. [Correction: an earlier version of this story said five seconds]

A fully developed electromagnetic railgun will allow sailors to support Marines landing on shore with precise, long-range fire support; defend ships against cruise and ballistic missiles; and target enemy boats and warships, said Roger Ellis, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research. The Navy’s goal is to develop a 20- to 32-megajoule weapon that can shoot up to 100 nautical miles. The standard five-inch gun currently being used on ships has a range of 13 nautical miles.

Ellis said that the Navy is evaluating a variety of new and existing platforms, such as destroyers, that may be able to handle the electric gun. Researchers are looking at using a battery system similar to that of a hybrid car that would enable the use of a railgun on ships that don’t have a large power supply.

The Navy began the first $240 million phase of its research into an electromagnetic railgun back in 2005. The current phase will focus on advancing active cooling and thermal management technology to the point that the gun can fire 10 rounds per minute. It is scheduled to last until 2017. If all proves successful, the effort then would become an acquisition program, officials said.

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology

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