Pentagon tests electromagnetic railguns

The United States military is constantly working to design advanced weapons that provide our soldiers with an edge on the battlefield.

So it comes as little surprise that the Navy is testing a number of prototype weapons for combat which could just have easily been seen in a science fiction movie or fired in a video game.

Take the electromagnetic railgun program, for example, which the Navy is currently testing in the form of a prototype launcher.

Essentially, an electromagnetic railgun is a weapon that uses electricity to fling projectiles at exceptionally high rates of speed. To be sure, the projectiles exit the barrel of the railgun so quickly that they don’t actually require explosives to destroy a target – as the kinetic energy alone does the task.

“This is the next step toward a future tactical system that will be placed on board a ship some day,”  Roger Ellis, the program manager of EM Railgun confirmed.

The EM railgun slated for testing later this year is a long-range weapon that uses magnetic fields created by high electrical currents to accelerate a projectile, which is a sliding metal conductor between two rails. The projectile can be launched at 4500 to 5600 mph. The new industry-built EM railgun boasts an extended range and higher velocity than some of the previous railgun prototypes the Navy has already tested.

The goal? To create a railgun the Navy can eventually deploy for precise tactical assault of surface ships, land structures and vehicles, and to protect from incoming cruise and ballistic missiles. Indeed, the EM railgun is initially targeting a range of 50 to 100 nautical miles, and plans are in place to expand that range up to 220 nautical miles.

“This industry prototype represents a step beyond our previous successful demonstrations of the laboratory launcher,” Ellis explained. “The next phase of the development effort is to demonstrate the ability to operate at a firing rate of significant military utility.”

The first EM railgun launcher – a 32MJ device – was manufactured by BAE Systems and delivered on January 30 (one single megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 mph). A second demonstrator prototype, built by General Atomics, is expected to be delivered later this year.