The US Navy has reportedly been firing hypervelocity projectiles meant for electromagnetic railguns out of the 40-year-old deck guns that come standard on cruisers and destroyers in hopes of taking out hostile drones and cruise missiles for a lot less money.
During 2018's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, 20 hypervelocity projectiles were fired from a standard Mk 45 5-inch deck gun aboard the USS Dewey, USNI News reported Jan. 8, 2019, citing officials familiar with the test.
USNI's Sam LaGrone described the unusual test as "wildly successful."
BAE Systems, a hypervelocity projectile manufacturer, describes the round as a "next-generation, common, low drag, guided projectile capable of executing multiple missions for a number of gun systems, such as the Navy 5-Inch; Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm systems; and future electromagnetic (EM) railguns."
The MK-45 5-inch/62 caliber lightweight gun of the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) is fired at a shore-based target, Nov.4, 2012.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devon Dow)
The US Navy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade into the development of railgun technology. But while these efforts have stalled, largely because of problems and challenges fundamental to the technology, it seems the round might have real potential.
The hypervelocity projectiles can be fired from existing guns without barrel modification. The rounds fly faster and farther than traditional rounds, and they are relatively inexpensive.
While more expensive than initially promised, a hypervelocity projectile with an improved guidance system — a necessity in a GPS-contested or denied environment — costs only about $100,000 at the most, Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told USNI News. The Navy reportedly estimated that the high-speed rounds ought to cost somewhere around $85,000.
The cost of a single hypervelocity projectile is a fraction of the cost of air-defense missiles like the Evolved Seasparrow Missile, Standard Missile-2, and Rolling Airframe Missile, all of which cost more than $1 million each.
With the standard deck guns, which rely on proven powder propellants, rather than electromagnetic energy, the Navy achieves a high rate of fire for air defense. "You can get 15 rounds a minute for an air defense mission," Clark told USNI News.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) fires a MK 45 5-inch, 62-caliber lightweight deck gun during a live-fire exercise, Jan. 12, 2013.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King)
"That adds significant missile defense capacity when you think that each of those might be replacing an ESSM or a RAM missile. They're a lot less expensive," he added. Furthermore, US warships can carry a lot more of the high-speed rounds than they can missile interceptors.
USNI News explained that the intercept of Houthi cruise missiles by the USS Mason in the Red Sea back in 2016 was a multimillion-dollar engagement. The hypervelocity rounds could cut costs drastically.
The hypervelocity projectile offers the Navy, as well as other service branches, a mobile, cost-effective air-defense capability.
"Any place that you can take a 155 (howitzer), any place that you can take your navy DDG (destroyer), you have got an inexpensive, flexible air and missile defense capability," Vincent Sabio, the Hypervelocity Projectile program manager at the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office, said in January 2018, according to a report by Breaking Defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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