The Navy's Railgun Lives On (VIDEO)

Last year, due to belt-tightening, the Navy’s exceptional and truly awesome railgun project fell under the ax.  But it apparently didn’t stay there long enough, and several companies are working on their mach 8 guns for naval review.

Yes, that’s right, or in small arms terms, these prototype railguns are shooting a 23-pound, or 161,000-grain projectile at over 8900 FPS, generating 28,509,720 foot-pounds of energy per shot.  That’s 85 times more powerful than a Howitzer.

That’ll mess up your day.

Earlier this month, BAE Systems tested their railgun at the Navy’s Surface Warfare center in Dahlgren, VA, and up next is General Atomic’s, sometime in April.  Ratheon is the company behind the powerplant, the battery of supercapacitors needed to charge and discharge the 33 megajoules of electricity needed to propel the projectile.

Ratheon is also working on a railgun but has not said when they would be ready to test it.  They were awarded $10 million to further develop their offering.

Naturally, there are some hurdles to jump, technologically-speaking.  Destroyers intended for railgun-dom may very well need new electricity-generating hardware, possibly even nuclear reactors such as in submarines and aircraft carriers.  At the very least, these ships will have to have their generators refitted, to put things lightly.

Navy Railgun

Then there are barrel questions.  Like, how long can they last?  According to Wired, the Navy has fired “over 100 rounds” through their test barrel, but the final designs will have to at least approach what current guns can handle, which is 500 to 600 shots.  That combined with a current firing rate of about one round a minute means existing guns can put down a whole lot more metal.

But there’s time to figure that stuff out, as the plans for outfitting U.S. ships with railguns has a target date of around 2019.  The flip side of that is in seven years, there’s time for other technologies to catch up, and possibly even eclipse the railgun in ways other than raw power.

The Navy is interested in making the projectiles smart, guided, but right now, the stresses are too much for any electronics, and that’s where other tech shines.  The railgun isn’t the only platform for delivering a payload several hundred miles away, and if it’s not the most accurate, then it could be for naught.  Still, slugs are way cheaper than smartbombs and do this at the muzzle:

We are, and a railgun like this is the stuff of our dreams, so we’re all grins knowing that the Navy has managed to shuffle around some of their priorities to keep this weapons project going.  From Admiral Jonathan Greenert, “We stayed the course on science and technology.”

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