What the hell is that? It’s a “heater” the size of a horse stable, capable of shattering world records and whizzing a 20-pound projectiles seven times the speed of sound as was reported by both the New York Daily News and The Washington Post. They’re calling it “an electromagnetic railgun” and its development has been the pet project of Navy brass for a couple of years now. Last week at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., the device rocketed a missile that generated 33 megajoules of force out the barrel tip, smashing the record for muzzle energy on the gun’s first shot.
Which is good because they only shot the thing twice. As a reference, megajoules measure energy and one megajoule is equal to the energy produced by a 1-ton vehicle travelling at 100 miles per hour. The first manifestation of this project two years ago only fired at 10 megajoules.
Roger Ellis, the railgun program manager, told reporters that people “see these things in the video games, but this is real. This is what is very historical.”
Scientific accolades and big booms aside – the real story lies in the feat of engineering that harnesses this innovation’s unconventional propellant.
The electromagnetic railgun does not use any explosive propellants like gunpowder to fire. Instead, as the name may suggest, the gun’s source of power comes via surges of electricity (not unlike the build up of energy in a modern camera’s flash) capable of hurling a bullet at speeds round Mach 8. And with speeds like that, you could connect with a target more than 100 miles away.
So how do they plan on using it? Curiously enough, the Navy does not plan on fitting these high-flying projectiles with explosive warheads. Why you may ask? Because at the speed the slug travels it will literally obliterate anything unlucky enough to be in it’s pathway. No explosion needed. The Navy team responsible even classed up an old chestnut when they named the project, Velocitas Eradico or, in English, “Speed Kills”.
What this really translates into though is a safer way for our Navy boys to engage the enemy. The railgun allows ships to effectively engage the targets from over 100 miles away and a missile capable of such sheer force of impact alleviates the need for Navy ships to transport massive amounts of explosive material on board and significantly reduces the likelihood of an accidental blow-up.
The video pretty much speaks for itself. The Greyhound-bus size unit takes about 5 minutes to power up before some toxic mix of electromagnetic juju sends 20-pounds of metal searing through the air like a comet, fire tail and all.
Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr Jr., chief of Naval Research, told the Washington Post he gives the railgun eight years until it will be demonstrated at sea and 10 before it is deployed on ships. And in about 15 years, the Navy wants to double up: a gun that fires at 64 megajoules, capable of sending a missile 200 miles in six minutes. Unreal.