Navy unveils prototype railguns
SAN DIEGO – Navy officials unveiled two prototype weapons Tuesday that have been cloaked in secrecy for years, and are capable of firing seven times the speed of sound.
They are electromagnetic railguns, developed by the Office of Naval Research.
A railgun can fire a projectile up to 5,600 miles per hour – about six times faster than a bullet from a handgun – at a range of up to 110 miles, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said.
It delivers up to 32 megajoules of energy.
“Literally it is like taking a huge freight train and going through the wall that's a few feet to my left at over 100 miles an hour. Right through that wall,” said Klunder, the Chief of Naval Research.
The Navy showed off two working prototypes aboard the USS Millinocket at Naval Base San Diego. They fire by sending an electrical pulse across metal rails to create electromagnetic force. There's nothing explosive inside or out.
“That means sailors no longer have to handle propelling charges and the safety and liability issues related to that,” said John Perry of BAE Systems, which developed the prototype the Navy has chosen to pursue.
Each projectile costs about $25,000, Klunder said. That’s about 100 times less than a conventional missile. And there's another advantage.
“We only have so many [missiles] on our ships. I can put hundreds and hundreds of these projectiles on our naval vessels with that gun system,” he said.
The Navy will mount a railgun on a Joint High Speed Vessel in 2016 for testing. The weapons could be rolled out for use as soon as the following year, Klunder said.
The railgun will complement but not replace conventional missiles, Klunder said. Missiles can travel about twice as far.
But Klunder predicts railguns will be an important deterrent.
“We think that it is part of our future,” he said. “And we think that it truly is going to make our adversaries very, very nervous in the future.”