It has been under development for more than a decade, and cost more than $500m – but the US Nay’s railgun may never fire a shot in combat, it has been revealed.
According to Task & Purpose, the project may not get the funding it needs to become a reality.
They claim the funds for the project are likely to be funneled away to rival systems, including laser weapons.
‘According to interviews with several congressional and military sources, the much-hyped supergun has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and military planners,’ the site says.
It says the Navy’s Strategic Capabilities Office is instead likely to focus on the hypervelocity projectile (HVP), which was originally designed specialized ammo for the railgun, but can be adapted to be fired from other weapons.
‘People at SCO don’t want to fund the railgun because they’re simply not buying it,’ one senior legislative official with direct knowledge of the project told Task & Purpose.
Navy bosses now believe they can adapt the projectiles to be fired through normal guns – albeit at a slower Mach 3 speed.
The new projectiles will be more than double the speed of an unguided regular shell from the service’s Mk 45 five-inch gun found on its guided missile cruisers and destroyers, according to information from NAVSEA.
Navy bosses hope that by using existing guns, they can bring the weapons online far sooner.
‘With SCO’s interest drawn to other weapons systems, ONR may end up without the necessary funding to push the exceedingly complex railgun toward a critical testing milestone,’ Task & Purpose said.
‘SCO shifted the project’s focus to conventional powder guns, facilitating a faster transition of HVP technology to the warfighter,’ SCO spokesman Chris Sherwood said.
‘Our priority continues to be the HVP, which is reflected in the program’s budget.’
Previous projects have shown the US Navy’s radical plan to create a railgun capable of firing bullets at hypersonic speed could also revolutionise power storage technology, researchers have revealed.
The Office of Naval Research is developing its own ‘supercapacitors’ to store the huge amounts of power needed to propel the projectiles onboard ships.
Early trials used commercially available systems.
However, they were ‘not suitable for integration aboard a ship’ and were too big to fit the latest Zumwalt-class destroyers, Thomas Beutner, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, said during a July event in Washington, according to Defense One.
To get around the issue, ONR researchers developed their own capacitors, which are far smaller, but can supply 20 megajoules per shot, with a goal of 32 megajoules by next year.
According to ONR, ‘you can think of a megajoule as about the same, energy-wise, as a one-ton vehicle moving at 160 mph.’
These new capacitors ‘represent a new generation of pulse power, with an energy density of over a megajoule per cubic meter,’ said Beutner.
The capacitors, which store energy, are also able to recharge quickly enough in order to fire ten times in a per minute.
Currently the system uses ‘Pulse Power Containers’ (PPC) – huge banks of capacitors or rechargeable batteries packed inside standard ISO containers.
Developed by Raytheon, each container packs enough energy to discharge 18 kilowatts for each shot.
To enable the railgun to fire ten such shots per minute the PPC must recharge from the host ship in seconds and be able to store and discharge the energy in very short time while managing the thermal load generated by the process.
The railgun’s electromagnets are designed to accelerate a Hyper Velocity Projectile from zero to some 8,600 kmph, about Mach 7.
The breakthrough means the weapon will be able to fit on existing ships, and are hailed as ‘an important scientific advance in terms of energy density in those capacitors.’
Described as ‘Star Wars technology’ by researchers, these powerful missiles don’t rely on chemical propellants and are fuelled by electricity alone.
Strong magnetic fields a ‘pulse power system’ is used to send propellants flying at 4,500mph, and the technology has previously been shown to penetrate concrete at 100 miles away.
Railguns were touted as one of the future technologies of warfare, using kinetic and laser energies instead of classic controlled explosives.
‘The railgun is a true warfighter game changer,’ the Navy said.
‘Wide-area coverage, exceptionally quick response and very deep magazines will extend the reach and lethality of ships armed with this technology.’
The latest tests show the weapon firing multi-shot salvos at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia.
Researchers hope to eventually hit a 10-rounds-per-minute firing rate.
As the video shows, when it fired, the weapon throws off a cloud of smoke, as it is moving so fast it vaporizes the air around it.
Because the missile is fired using kinetic energy this eliminates the risks associated with keeping explosives on a ship.
The Department of the Navy’s science and technology corporate board chartered the Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) to build the EM Railgun, which uses generated by the ship, according to the Office of Naval Research.
An electric pulse is sent to the railgun which creates an electromagnetic force which releases the projectile at Mach 6, or 4,500 mph.
‘A future weapon system at this energy level would be capable of launching a 100+ nautical mile projectile’.
The railgun was tested Dahlgren naval facility’s new Terminal Range in Virginia.
The US Navy has been working on the gun with BAE Systems since 2005.
During phase I developers focused on developing pulsed power technology.
During phase II, which started in 2012, will further develop the pulsed power system and the launcher system.
‘We’ve got to move away from gunpowder,’ said Fox’s defense analyst, Allison Barrie last year.
‘The future is lasers and electromagnetic railguns’, he said.
Last year, a similar device called the Blitzer railgun also released a missile at Mach 6 speeds.
Relying on the same technology, this railgun was designed by San Diego-based General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS).
It also used electromagnets to send its projectiles hurtling off at thousands of miles per hour.
The electromagnetic force generated can be adjusted, depending on the range of the target.
The advanced military technology would mean that, in practice, projectiles could hit speeds equivalent to more than 4,500mph on leaving the chamber, super-heating the air in front of them and generating a sonic boom as it smashes through the sound barrier.
According to Barrie, these ultra-high speeds are ‘critical for maximum effect’ in destroying targets.
GA-EMS has worked steadily to develop the technology, as has its rival British firm BAE Systems, and the advanced military technology has undergone testing with the US Navy since 2012.
In warfare, the weapon’s could be used to strike targets on land, sea or air with great precision.
The main advantages over traditional explosives are stated as improved safety – due to less explosives on board – and could drastically reduce the costs.
‘This is so important in terms of maintaining naval dominance and in ensuring the United States has absolute naval, maritime superiority going forward in the future,’ added Fox’s Barrie.
H/T: Daily Mail