The U.S. Navy announced on Tuesday that it is testing a prototype of an "electromagnetic railgun" that it hopes when fully developed will be capable of firing 40-pound projectiles at speeds of 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph, seven times the speed of sound.
According to AOL Defense, the U.S. Navy fired six test shots with the first of two prototypes of the new gun on February 28.
Instead of gunpowder, rounds are fired from the electromagnetic gun through electromagnets on the inside of the gun's barrel. It is expected that the weapon when fully developed will use surges of electricity to propel 40-pound shells to Mach 7 (seven times the speed of sound), says the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
According to the official website of the U.S. Navy, "The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 miles per hour to 5,600 miles per hour."
AOL Defense reports railgun prototype built by BAE scheduled for delivery in April to the Navy weapons testing facility in Dahlgren, Va, are expected to fire projectiles 100 nautical miles, says Roger Ellis, EM Rail gun program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
The new guns are a dramatic improvement on the standard five-inch naval cannon deployed on most U.S. warships that have a range of only about 15 miles. Huffington Post reports the Navy announced earlier in the month that the first railguns it will field will have a range of up to 115 miles, but the range will be extened to about 250 miles in subsequent versions.
The Office of Naval Research says the railguns mounted on ships would provide support for land missions and also defend against missile strikes. AOL Defense says it will empower U.S. Navy warships to provide unmatched power in support of land forces operating far inland. It will also be used in defense against cruise or ballistic missiles and enemy ships.
According to Ellis, the Navy hopes to deploy the guns by 2025 or even earlier.
Huffington Post reports the gun will be tested for at least five years before it is deployed to the field.The railgun project has cost about $240 million. The goal of developers of the weapon, according to Innovation News Daily, is to meet the standard set by Navy commanders for a weapon capable of firing up to 10 guided projectiles per minute at targets up to 100 miles away.
The 32 megajoule prototype railgun, according to Huffington Post, was built by defense contractor BAE Systems. The official website of the U.S. Navy, says: "One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car being thrust at 100 mph."
Huffington Post quotes Innovation News Daily explaining that according to Tom Boucher, test director for the railgun at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, though the gun does not use gunpowder or rocket fuel, it produces flames when fired (see video) "from a combination of electricity arcing across the launcher, shavings of aluminum reacting with the air, and the bullet's hypersonic flight."