Smartplanet – the first Navy railgun prototype was developed by military contractor BAE systems and a second railgun was developed by General Atomics. General Atomics recently announced a successful test firing shortly after the delivery of their “Advanced Containment Launcher” to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virgina. Both railguns have proved capable of sending projectiles a distance of 100+ nautical miles at speeds of up to 5,600 mph. That’s almost eight times farther and two times faster than conventional guns.
You can basically think of an electric rail gun as a really big electrical circuit. It consists of a power source, two conducting rails running parallel to each other and, in between them, a piece of conductive metal known an armature that houses the round. To fire a round, a powerful electrical current at a magnitude of about a million amps is sent flowing through the positive conducting rail, through the armature and back towards the power source in a semi-circular motion to generate an electromagnetic field. The force generated by the electromagnetic field is what causes the round to launch at such high velocity. Both General Atomics and BAE Systems have already started working on concept designs for a next-generation prototype EM Railgun with improved firing rates. Further advancements include upgrades to the automatic projectile loading systems and thermal management systems for the barrel.