Feeds

US Navy in new electromagnetic railgun milestone

New model can fire more than once before destroying self

Security for virtualized datacentres

US Navy boffins are chuffed to announce that they have managed to fire their thousandth shot from a test electromagnetic railgun, addressing one of the most serious weaknesses of such weapons: that they tend to damage or wreck themselves after only a few shots.

"A railgun weapons system must be able to launch hundreds of projectiles and withstand extreme pressures, currents and temperatures," said Captain Paul Stewart in tinned quotes issued by the Naval Research Laboratory yesterday. "Today's firing of the one-thousandth shot demonstrates Navy researchers are steadily progressing toward achieving that goal, developing a more effective and efficient future ship combat system."

The NRL railgun in question isn't a high-powered one of the sort which might one day be a combat weapon. Such test guns, aiming for 64 megajoule muzzle energy (and so far up to 33 MJ, as seen in the vid above), still need extensive refurbishment after every shot. The more durable thousand-shot test rig operated by the NRL boasts just 1.5 MJ, up from 0.5 when it first started firing. But its technology "is directly applicable to tests at large-scale power levels," according to NRL boffin Dr Robert Meger.

The USN is interested in high-power railguns as a replacement for conventional cannon and missiles for several reasons. Firstly, a heavy railgun projectile could be shot at extremely high velocity, such that it would travel over a hundred miles and arrive still going at better than Mach 5. This would make it more or less impossible to defend against using any current technology.

Secondly, hypersonic railgun projectiles could be used at shorter, line-of-sight ranges to sweep the sky of hostile aircraft and missiles – the greatest menaces faced by surface warships today.

Taken together, these two capabilities might well restore the surface combatant warship to its old dominant status as capital ship of the fleet, rather than playing second fiddle to the aircraft carrier as it has done now for generations. You can see why large parts of the USN are interested in the idea (though one might note that electromagnetic mass-drivers are actually going into service right now aboard carriers, used for launching jets).

There's a third and by no means insignificant advantage for railguns over normal munitions, too. With a railgun there's no need to carry magazines full of propellant charges and explosive warheads: the propulsion is delivered by the ship's fuel and powerplant and the projectile delivers its energy kinetically rather than explosively. This would potentially free up space aboard ships, and make them safer and more resistant to combat damage.

Even so, and despite yesterday's thousand-shot announcement from the NRL, combat railguns don't look likely to make their debut at sea for some time yet. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.