General Atomics unveiled a land-based artillery version of its Blitzer electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) at the Association of the US Army (AUSA) conference in Washington, DC, with a company official telling IHS Jane’s that with adequate funding the concept could be ready for production in “two to three years”.
Railguns are being researched as weapons with projectiles that do not contain explosives, but are given extremely high velocities: 3,500 m/s (11,500 ft/s) (approximately Mach 10 at sea level) or more (for comparison, the M16 rifle has a muzzle speed of 930 m/s (3,050 ft/s), and the 16″/50 caliber Mark 7 gun that armed World War II American battleships has a muzzle speed of 760 m/s (2,490 ft/s)), which would make their kinetic energy equal or far superior to the energy yield of an explosive-filled shell of greater mass. This would decrease ammunition size and weight, allowing more ammunition to be carried and eliminating the hazards of carrying explosives in a tank or naval weapons platform. Also, by firing at greater velocities, railguns have greater range, less bullet drop, faster time on target and less wind drift, bypassing the physical limitations of conventional firearms: “the limits of gas expansion prohibit launching an unassisted projectile to velocities greater than about 1.5 km/s and ranges of more than 50 miles [80 km] from a practical conventional gun system.
The first weaponized railgun planned for production, the General Atomics Blitzer system, began full system testing in September 2010. The weapon launches a streamlined discarding sabot round designed by Boeing’s Phantom Works at 1,600 m/s (5,200 ft/s) (approximately Mach 5) with accelerations exceeding 60,000 g. During one of the tests, the projectile was able to travel an additional 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) downrange after penetrating a 1⁄8 inches (3.2 mm) thick steel plate. The company hopes to have an integrated demo of the system by 2016 followed by production by 2019, pending funding. Thus far, the project is self-funded.
The main problem the U.S. Navy has had with implementing a railgun cannon system is that the guns wear out due to the immense heat produced by firing. Such weapons are expected to be powerful enough to do a little more damage than a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile at a fraction of the projectile cost