Engineers have fired the Navy’s first industry-built electromagnetic railgun (EM Railgun) prototype launcher at a test facility, commencing an evaluation that is an important intermediate step toward a future tactical weapon for ships.
The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph.
The 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator, built by BAE Systems, arrived at NSWCDD on Jan. 30. One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph. The prototype—which now looks more like a naval weapon compared to previous lab-style launchers—is the first of two industry-built launchers to be delivered to the Navy. General Atomics is building the second launcher, scheduled for delivery in April. ONR previously relied upon laboratory-built systems to advance the technology.
When fully developed, the EM Railgun will give Sailors a dramatically increased multimission capability. Its increased velocity and extended range over traditional shipboard weapons will allow them to conduct precise, long-range naval surface fire support for land strikes; ship self-defense against cruise and ballistic missiles; and surface warfare to deter enemy vessels. The Navy’s near-term goal is a 20- to 32-megajoule weapon that shoots a distance of 50 to 100 nautical miles.
To achieve this, the Navy is moving ahead with the EM Railgun program’s next phase: to develop thermal management systems for both the launcher and pulsed power to facilitate increased firing rates of up to 10 rounds per minute. Toward this end, BAE and General Atomics have been contracted to begin concept design of a next-generation thermally managed launcher.
“The next phase of the development effort is to demonstrate the ability to operate at a firing rate of significant military utility,” Ellis said.
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