Navy to fire electro-magnetic rail gun at sea


US Navy photo

The Navy plans to test-fire a deadly high-tech, long-range electromagnetic weapon against a floating target at sea later this year – as part of the fast-paced development of its new Electromagnetic Rail Gun.

The rail gun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.

In the upcoming test, the kinetic energy projectile will seek to hit, destroy or explode an at sea target from on-board the USNS Trenton, a Joint High Speed Vessel, service officials said.

The test shots, which will be the first of its kind for the developmental, next-generation weapon, will take place at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

During the test, the rail gun will fire a series of GPS-guided hypervelocity projectiles at a barge floating on the ocean about 25 to 50 nautical miles away,

The weapon will be fired against a floating target, in an effort to test the rail gun’s ability to destroy targets that are beyond-the-horizon, Navy officials said.

The Navy is developing the rail gun weapon for a wide range of at-sea and possible land-based applications, service officials added.

High-speed, long-distance electromagnetic weapons technology

The weapon’s range, which can fire guided, high-speed projectiles more than 100 miles, makes it suitable for cruise missile defense, ballistic missile defense and various kinds of surface warfare applications.

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

The weapon works when electrical power charges up a pulse-forming network. That pulse-forming network is made up of capacitors able to release very large amounts of energy in a very short period of time.

The weapon releases a current on the order of 3 to 5 million amps — that’s 1,200 volts released in a ten millisecond timeframe, experts have said. That is enough to accelerate a mass of approximately 45 pounds from zero to five thousand miles per hour in one one-hundredth of a second, Navy officials added at a briefing last Spring.

U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy

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. The hyper velocity projectile can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The rate of fire is 10-rounds per minute, developers explained at last years’ briefing.

A kinetic energy hypervelocity warhead also lowers the cost and the logistics burden of the weapon, they explained.

Although it has the ability to intercept cruise missiles, the hypervelocity projectile can be stored in large numbers on ships. Unlike other larger missile systems designed for similar missions, the hypervelocity projectile costs only $25,000 per round.

The railgun can draw its power from an onboard electrical system or large battery, Navy officials said. The system consists of five parts, including a launcher, energy storage system, a pulse-forming network, hypervelocity projectile and gun mount.

While the weapon is currently configured to guide the projectile against fixed or static targets using GPS technology, it is possible that in the future the rail gun could be configured to destroy moving targets as well, Navy officials have explained over the years.

Possible Rail Gun Deployment on Navy Destroyers

Also, the Navy is evaluating whether to mount its new Electromagnetic Rail Gun weapon from the high-tech DDG 1000 destroyer by the mid-2020s, service officials said.

The DDG 1000’s Integrated Power System provides a large amount of on board electricity sufficient to accommodate the weapon, Navy developers have explained.

The first of three planned DDG 1000 destroyers was christened in April of last year.

USS Zumwalt, first of three commissioned DDG-1000 Destroyers | U.S. Navy

USS Zumwalt, first of three commissioned DDG-1000 Destroyers | U.S. Navy

Navy leaders believe the DDG 1000 is the right ship to house the rail gun but that additional study was necessary to examine the risks.

Also, with a displacement of 15,482 tons, the DDG 1000 is 65-percent larger than existing 9,500- ton Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

The DDG 1,000 integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 58 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to the possibility of firing a rail gun.

It is also possible that the weapon could someday be configured to fire from DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.  Something of that size is necessary, given the technological requirements of the weapon.

For example, the Electro-magnetic gun would most likely not work as a weapon for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.

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