Turkey shows off a prototype for a railgun as the US gets closer to fully operational railgun systems

The Turkish munitions developer TÜBİTAK-SAGE showcased its progress in developing a prototype electromagnetic railgun to the Turkish government at the end of October.

Designated ‘Sapan’, TÜBİTAK-SAGE’s research and development program aims to provide the Turkish arms industry with the groundwork to develop one day develop applications using this technology.

Electromagnetic (EM) rail guns are long-range weapons capable of propelling projectiles using electricity instead of explosive propellants. The objective behind this developing this technology is to enable armed forces users to propel projectiles significantly further and at much higher speeds (up to 7,242 km/h).

Currently, only the U.S. and U.K. have made substantive strides in EM railgun technology, though several other major powers, such as China, are at work to develop analogous counterparts.

The SAPAN is an electromagnetic projectile launcher based on similar principles to the homopolar motor. A railgun uses a pair of parallel conductors, or rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail.

The US has installed a railgun on an expeditionary fast transport ship. Single shot tests are being performed this year and an autoloader is being developed for 2018.

Most current destroyers can spare only nine megawatts of additional electricity, while it would require 25 megawatts to propel a projectile to the desired maximum range (i.e., to launch 32MJ projectiles at a rate of 10 shots per minute). Even if current ships, such as the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, can be upgraded with enough electrical power to operate a railgun, the space taken up on the ships by the integration of an additional weapon system may force the removal of existing weapon systems to make room available. The first shipboard tests will be from a railgun installed on an Expeditionary Fast Transport. Though ships of that class are non-combatants, they were chosen for their available cargo and topside space and schedule flexibility. They will not be permanently installed on the EFT, and the Navy has yet to decide which ship classes will receive a fully operational railgun.

The railgun will be part of a Navy fleet that envisions future offensive and defensive capabilities being provided in layers: lasers to provide close range defense, railguns to provide medium range attack and defense, and cruise missiles to provide long-range attack; though railguns will cover targets up to 100 miles away that previously needed a missile.

The Navy may eventually enhance railgun technology to enable it to fire at a range of 200 nmi (230 mi; 370 km) and impact with 64 megajoules of energy. One shot would require 6 million amps of current, so it will take a long time to develop capacitors that can generate enough energy and strong enough gun materials