A full-scale, fully cantilevered electromagnetic railgun developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has successfully launched a full-sized projectile, with size and weight similar to a 120mm mortar, at speeds of 430 meters-per-second. 430 meters/second would be a little faster than the 101-318 meter/second speed of regular mortar firings.
The railgun is the largest caliber supersonic railgun in the world and the first-ever successful fullscale cantilevered railgun to shoot a mortar-size projectiles.
The railgun is 2.4 meters long and weighs 950 kilograms. It is fully cantilevered from the breech end without visible droop. A cantilevered design is important because fieldable gun designs will need the ability to change aiming on a shot-to-shot basis. Built-in muzzle shunts quickly extinguish muzzle arc and reduce muzzle flash by providing an alternate current path.
The system has been demonstrated with reduced-mass projectiles to velocities around 550 meters-per-second and full-mass projectiles weighing 16.6 kilograms to 430 meters-per second. More than 30 projectile launches have been conducted during this program, which began in 2005. Testing of the full-scale railgun began in mid-2007.
This DARPA-sponsored project has been conducted by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Technology at the University of Texas at Austin. The ultimate goal is to be able to launch a slightly modified M934 mortar projectile jointly developed with the U.S. Army’s Armament, Research and Development and Engineering Center. Test launches of the M934 mortar projectile are scheduled for April to June 2008.
Using railguns for space launch.
Previous coverage of other railgun tests
Magnetic catapult better for space launches.
Part of the militaries vision of railguns and other future military systems [15 page pdf]
ElectroMagnetic (EM) Gun Technology Maturation & Demonstration
The ElectroMagnetic (EM) Gun Technology Maturation & Demonstration ATO focuses on developing and demonstrating key EM gun subsystems at or near full-scale to support future armament system developments. Future armored combat systems require more lethal yet compact main armament systems capable of defeating threat armor providing protection levels greatly in excess of current systems. The goal is to reduce technical risk associated with EM Gun technology by demonstrating meaningful technical progress at subsystem level; gain an understanding of EM technology issues; identify technology trends; conduct return on investment analyses; and craft a technology development strategy. By FY08, this effort will build a lightweight cantilevered high-fidelity railgun with integrated breech and muzzle shunt and demonstrate performance at hypervelocity and multi-round launch capability. It will integrate compact, twin counter-rotating pulsed alternator power supplies, conduct subsystem functional tests, and accomplish high fidelity PPS demonstrations that will establish requisite performance criteria to transition into the follow-on ATD. EM armaments offer the potential to field a leap-ahead capability by providing adjustable velocities, including hypervelocity, greatly above the ability of the conventional cannon. EM armaments could greatly reduce the sustainment requirements and vulnerabilities of conventional cannon systems and potentially can be fully integrated with electric propulsion and electromagnetic armor systems to provide an efficient, highly mobile, and deployable armored force. If successful, the payoff of EM gun technology will be increased lethality and lethality growth potential and enhanced platform survivability by reducing launch signature, and carrying less explosive energy on board.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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