Posted at 01:03 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Railgun being developed for Navy warship — 5 cool things it will be able to do

A super-powerful, futuristic weapon called an “electromagnetic railgun” is being developed at long last for Navy warships, the Associated Press reports.


A snapshot from a video depicting the latest in a series of tests by the U.S. Navy to develop a railgun for its ships. (The AP/YouTube)
Right now the gun is just a prototype, being tested at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Northern Virginia.

But here’s a sneak peak into five incredible things the railgun will be able to do:

Shoot rounds more than 100 miles away.

Compare this with 5-inch guns on destroyers, which have a range of about 14 miles.

Shoot rounds at up to 5,600 miles per hour.

That’s more than seven times the speed of sound.

Use a magnetic field and electric current to generate energy

Most guns use chemicals to generate energy for firing rounds.

Fire 10 rounds a minute

As Wired writes: “You can’t exactly put an electric gun on automatic.”

Carry a “lethal mechanism”

That’s according to Roger Ellis, the Office of Naval Research's electromagnetic railgun program manager, who says the railgun wouldn’t necessarily have to shoot an explosive to inflict damage. Ellis won’t say any more about the mechanism.


The electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher, just before it’s prepared for testing, at a Navy facility in Dahlgren, Va. (John F. Williams - AP/U.S. Navy)
The gun is being developed in large part because, if it is a success, it will be much safer than having to use conventional explosives.

But far more research and development is needed to ensure the gun is safe. A laundry list of assurances needed, via the Associated Press:

“To ensure the weapon can cool down and handle repetitive fire . . . to ensure that the roughly 40-pound metal projectile the gun will ultimately fire can withstand the heat and G-forces from the launch and will not disintegrate. And . . . make sure any electronics in the projectile, such as a GPS system, are safe.”

The Navy has its work cut out. The running cost of developing the gun: about $240 million. The weapon is expected to be ready by 2017, but it could take several more years before the gun is put on ships.

Watch a video of the Navy’s record-breaking blast of an electromagnetic railgun:

By  |  01:03 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Tags:  National, U.S. Navy, electromagnetic railgun, testing

 
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