US Navy Canceling Railgun Project

The Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP) [aka hypervelocity projectile (HVP)] for about a decade. The US Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests research and development funding for continued work on lasers but wants to suspend further work on the EMRG and GLGP programs and requests no research and development funding for them. The Navy had been developing EMRG since 2005 and has spent nearly half a billion dollars.

The Navy has had a combat laser installed on a ship since 2014. The railgun had lab tests and then some outdoor tests. The railgun was never installed on a ship.

It is believed that China has installed a railgun onto a ship back in 2019.

The high-velocity projectile was supposed to be a simple upgrade to enable existing large guns to fire further and faster. This supposedly relatively low-tech and low project is also being canceled.

This cancelation suggests that the US Navy believes that practical problems cannot be fixed for railguns to make them actually useful for combat.

This is another project where the regular US weapon companies have failed to develop and deliver what appeared to be doable technology.

Written by Brian Wang,

14 thoughts on “US Navy Canceling Railgun Project”

  1. That is a very astute analysis…

    Makes me wish there were 20 more Elon Musks, pulling all the best talent from Lockheed and MM and Honeywell and Raytheon and Textron, and giving them the room to innovate and fail. Might be rough at the start, but worth it in the long-haul.

    Musk is crippling Boeing, General Motors, and Ford, and has his sights set on terrestrial internet. If I were AT&T and Verizon, I would dump all the extra baggage and start innovating again. (Elon, whatever you do, don't enter into any agreements with Apple or Google. Pure evil that sucks away men's souls and where dreams go to die…)

    Unless R. Kimhi can supply a list of all the CEOs who are eating Elon Musk's lunch…

  2. Looking at the bigger picture… I think the US is losing it's engineering capacity, a trend started many years ago, with the decline in STEM workers (it's a bit more complex than that). The few left, cannot sustain the economic and military ambitions of the country. The constant inflow of brains, mainly from India, but from Asia and Europe as well, cannot fully fix the issue. And many young, talented engineers prefer to work for civilians companies (Tesla, Google, etc, above all), that better resonates with their millennia's values and view of the world. In this contest, the US military contractors are suffering the most, and the struggle is pretty evident (name basically ANY ambitious military project, and they will be plagues by costs overruns, delays, cancellations, colossal mistakes, etc…).

  3. Too much government dependency is very bad for the long term capabilities of a company. They became almost government officials.

  4. The HVP suffered from the same financial problems as the Excalibur round and the LRLAP, in that it simply wasn't going to be manufactured enough to reduce the costs of the round. Well, if they were actually serious about deploying HVP across the railgun and current 5 inch and 155m gun inventory, the cost might have come down, but that effectively is a rather large buy commitment that lacked political willpower to see through. I suspect that if that had happened (effectively offloading railgun projectile dev cost burden across existing systems and using them as guinea pigs), railgun would still be funded.

  5. Is this a sign that the railgun program isn't working out? Or is it a sign that other weapons systems, like the lasers and missile programs, are going very well and not worth competing with?

  6. They are pitching the lasers for surface to surface use against small craft such as suicide bomber speed boats.

    But lasers (currently) don't have the power to be useful against other warships.

  7. A mass driver would probably not be useful for weapon purposes on any reasonable sized ship, though, as the acceleration doesn't reach the incredible levels necessary to get a decent muzzle velocity in a modest length driver.

    I don't think these sorts of power supplies are useful for mass driver purposes. Generally the segments need to 'ring' at the appropriate frequency for the payload at that point in the driver. It's more of a series of inductive/capacitive resonators, where you trickle charge the capacitors between shots, and most of the power follows the projectile along, being passed from segment to segment.

    Designing a mass driver segment was a fun project for me in college, back in the 70's. I sure hope I get to see one in actual use in the next decade.

  8. This is disappointing and does not bode well for the space based versions. I was really looking forward to railgun battles against the Martian separatists and releasing tungsten rain over their domed cities.

  9. I did some printing for the developers of the "compulsator" in the 70s, which seems to be sort of a *Tesla coil* version of the electric motor, putting all the power onto a short burst from a rotating disk. Something about how the coils cross and suddenly reverse field directions.

    The rail gun runs current thru the projectile, so there is wear on the rails each shot. I heard that it did not have the range of some other stuff, so became redundant, at least for the cost.

    Mass drivers are much gentler, more efficient I suppose, but can be run with basically no moving parts. The projectile does not touch the coils as it goes by. The power sources for the rail gun still work, and may be quite useful.

  10. Apparently it was the projected cost per shot that decided the matter; $1 per shot for the laser, and several tens of thousands of dollars per shot for the rail gun and high speed projectiles; The laser might me less effective under some circumstances, but firing it twenty thousand times as often had the potential to make up for that.

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