Navy Plans to Test Fire Railgun at Sea in 2016

The Navy will fire its electromagnetic railgun from a joint high speed vessel in 2016 as part of a broader effort to develop the long-range, high-energy weapon. The weapon will be placed on display this summer aboard the USNS Millinocket, a Navy JHSV which entered service in March. Following the display, the railgun will then be demonstrated on the same ship in 2016.

We’re talking about a projectile we’re going to send well over 100 miles. We’re talking about a projectile that can go over Mach 7. We’re talking about a projectile that can go well into the atmosphere. We’re talking about a gun that is going to shoot a projectile that is about one-one hundredth of the cost of an existing missile system today,” said Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.

The railgun uses electrical energy to create a magnetic field and propel a 23-pound kinetic energy projectile at Mach 7.5 toward a wide range of targets, such as enemy vehicles, or cruise and ballistic missiles.

Due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary, said Fuller and Klunder.

“You have 23 pounds going Mach 7, you don’t necessarily need an explosive detonation to create damage,” Fuller said.

The second of two Office of Naval Research (ONR) Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun industry prototype launchers is being evaluated at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division. Both General Atomics and BAE Systems have designed next generation prototype EM Railguns capable of increased firing rates. The EM Railgun is a long-range weapon that launches projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants and is under development by the Department of the Navy for use aboard ships. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

High-energy EM railguns are expected to be lethal and effective against multiple threats, including enemy warships, small boats, aircraft, missiles and land-based targets.

“The electromagnetic railgun represents an incredible new offensive capability for the U.S. Navy,” said Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, the Navy’s chief engineer. “This capability will allow us to effectively counter a wide-range of threats at a relatively low cost, while keeping our ships and sailors safer by removing the need to carry as many high-explosive weapons.”

EM railgun technology will complement current kinetic weapons currently onboard surface combatants and offer a few specific advantages. Against specific threats, the cost per engagement is orders of magnitude less expensive than comparable missile engagements. The projectile itself is being designed to be common with some current powder guns, enabling the conservation of expensive missiles for use against more complex threats.

“Energetic weapons, such as EM railguns, are the future of naval combat,” said Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, the chief of naval research. “The U.S. Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology.”

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun industry prototype launchers is being evaluated at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division. Both General Atomics and BAE Systems have designed next generation prototype EM Railguns capable of increased firing rates. The EM Railgun is a long-range weapon that launches projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants and is under development by the Department of the Navy for use aboard ships.

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