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US Navy preps railgun for tests

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The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research is preparing to test a prototype railgun delivered by BAE Systems under a $US21 million contract signed in 2010.

The industry prototype – a kind of dream machine for Mythbusters’ fans – is due for tests in coming weeks at a facility in Dahlgren, Virginia.

The ONR’s aim is to develop a weapon launcher with a 50-100 nautical mile range, and up to 220 nautical miles in the longer term.

Railguns use high-current electrical pulses able to accelerate a conductive armature to as much as 5,600 mph (more than 9,000 km/h). The ONA says the railgun will be suitable for naval surface fire support, land strikes, cruise and ballistic missile defense, and surface warfare.

The BAE Systems kit, the first railgun launcher built by industry rather than the ONR’s researchers kicks out 32 megajoules (equivalent, the ONR says, to a one-imperial-ton vehicle travelling at 100 mph, or a London bus going bloody fast).

Another prototype launcher built by General Atomics is due soon; while the launchers undergo their tests, the ONR will work on developing projectile loading systems and heat management, to increase the weapon’s firing rate. Within five years, the office hopes to have firing rates of between six and ten rounds a minute.

Last December, the ONR demonstrated a 33 megajoule test firing with its own kit, achieving an impressive Mach 7.5 muzzle velocity. ®

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