WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Railguns have taken decades to develop but the technology, that fires high impact projectiles at hypersonic speeds to vaporize its targets, is now here.
The US Navy (USN) recently revealed a video of the first commissioning tests of a railgun, a futuristic weapon that many people hope could shift the balance of power in naval warfare away from aircraft carriers, that now seem to be being touted to become next generation factory ships, and back to surface warships.
The USN has been pursuing the development of railgun technology for decades, but up until now all the projects have been hamstrung by the systems insatiable need for power, which is measured in Megajoules of electricity.
Now though UK based BAE Systems appears to have finally managed to pull all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and create what’s thought to be the world’s first fully operational, combat ready railgun, and it was test fired at the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia last month. A short video of that test was made public by the Office of Naval Research on Tuesday.
The railgun is designed around the principle of accelerating and launching a metal projectile at hypersonic speeds, which is generally 4,800kmh and above, using a series of magnetic coils, rather than chemical propellant, like today’s modern rockets. This is also one of the reasons why they’re sometimes also referred to as Coil Gun’s or Gauss rifles, after the German mathematician credited with discovering the concept in the 19th century.
BAE Systems first tested a 32-joule half power prototype at Dahlgren in 2013, and originally the full power version was scheduled for testing in mid 2016 aboard the USNS Trenton, a Spearhead Class expeditionary transport, but the schedule was pushed back to mid 2017 without any explanation.
However, there’s now speculation that the new weapon might end up being installed on the three new multi-billion dollar semi-autonomous Zumwalt Class destroyers that the US has commissioned, one of which was launched in October last year, because at the moment they’re the only ships in the USN with a big enough power plant to operate the weapon. Furthermore, and to give the thought even more credence, the Zumwalt has been having problems with its 155mm guns, and as the cost of each of those projectiles tops over $800,000 the new low cost Railgun with its new low cost ammunition, at around just $50,000 a pop, and unstoppable power, could be just the ticket.