Besides speed, the railgun also has a capacity advantage. A typical U.S. Navy destroyer can carry as many as 96 missiles—either offensive cruise missiles or defensive interceptors. A ship armed with a railgun could potentially carry a thousand rounds, allowing the vessel to shoot incoming missiles or attack enemy forces for longer periods and at a faster rate of fire.
The U.S. has kept its military dominance over the past quarter-century largely through such precision weaponry as guided missiles and munitions. It also has spent billions of dollars on interceptor-missile based defense systems to shoot down ballistic missiles fired at the U.S. or its allies.
That monopoly is about over. China is perfecting a ship-killing ballistic missile. Russia mostly impressed U.S. military planners with the power and precision of its cruise missiles deployed in Syria, and its improved artillery precision revealed in Ukraine.
“I am very worried about the U.S. conventional advantage. The loss of that advantage is terribly destabilizing,” said Elbridge Colby, a military analyst with the Center of a New American Security.
Defense planners believe the U.S. needs new military advances. Russia, for example, is believed to be developing longer-range surface-to-air missiles and new electronic warfare technology to blunt any forces near its borders.
Hitting a missile with a bullet is still a technical challenge. Railgun research leans heavily on commercial advances in supercomputing to aim and on smartphone technology to steer the railgun’s projectile using the Global Positioning System.
Missile defense by the railgun is at least a decade away, but Pentagon officials believe the weapon’s projectiles can be used much sooner. They are filled with tungsten pellets harder than many kinds of steel, officials said, and will likely cost between $25,000 and $50,000, a bargain compared with a $10-million interceptor missile.
SOURCES- Wall Street Journal, Office of Naval Research