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“We were launching hypersonic bricks at Mach 5, Mach 6″

by John Reed on April 14, 2011

Here’s an exclusive Defense Tech video giving you an update on General Atomics’ high-speed railgun project. Last summer, General Atomics and Boeing tested a high-speed sabot round to replace the “hypersonic bricks” (which tended to tumble out of control) that the company had been firing from the gun, says General Atomics’ Tom Hurn. The sabot round went seven kilometers downrange after punching through a 1/8-inch thick steel plate. General Atomics officials estimate that they could install the weapon on a DDG-51 class destroyer by the end of the decade, according to Hurn.

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{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

marcase April 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Make it smaller and lighter, and put it on an Abrams…

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Bill April 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

or an AC-130

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Brody April 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Or a smaller one on a Bradley-type.

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joe April 15, 2011 at 2:33 am

Problem with both isn't the size or weight – it's principally the power. DDG-51 is favoured because it has the equivalent of a small municipal electricity plant on board.

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moose April 15, 2011 at 3:27 am

But the current DDGs don't have an integrated power system to properly tap that power generation. Railguns and DEWs are going to require IPS.

Bill April 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Then it won't be as versatile and powerful as the Rheinmetall 120mm

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juan234 April 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Can a DDG-51 even power this thing? Wasn't the DDG-1000 gonna replace the DDG-51 because the DDG-1000 would have the spare power for lasers and railguns?

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EJ257 April 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm

The weapon itself fires from energy stored on a bank of capacitors. It not running off a direct tap from the turbine generators. How long to recharge the capacitors between shots…that's the question.

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juan234 April 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

But the DDG-1000 has the whole integrated power systems where electricity can be shunted around at will to whatever systems need it. That's not true of the DDG-51. Most of the DDG-51 power generation is hard-wired for propulsion and can't be used for other systems. That's why the integrated power system of the DDG-1000 was supposed to be such a big deal.

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brian April 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Not really the problem, the energy reserves on a diesel or gas turbine destroyer are very shallow when compared to the needs of rail guns, lasers and new kinds of radars capable of detecting stealth aircraft.

High energy weapons just won't be practical until the DoD goes nuclear at the destroyer level, otherwise a couple of shots and you need to refuel.

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sp8ce April 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Since the DDG-1000 doesnt quite exist yet it makes sense to aim your first test at a platform that you can get your hands on.

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dennisb April 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

They might cheat a bit. Instead of storing energy in capacitors they could store energy in a large rotating motor/generator.
The electromagnetic catapults are going this way. Three motor/generators are spun up to six thousand RPM (they are huge), one at a time they turn the harnessed rotating force into electricity, launching aircraft.
After one fires it is spun back up (ob a carrier they are going to use electricity to do this, on a destroyer they could use a aircraft engine coupled mechanically) while the other two fire.

RunningBear January 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

The DDG-51 has 4 LM-2500 gas turbines with 25MW each/ 100MW. The "new" DDG-51 Flight Three were to have a revised power scheme to allow alternate use of the gas turbines to generate electrical power as required for electrical/ electronics systems.

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Jeff M April 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Alright lets see what this thing can do to an outboard engine, put it side by side with the laser weapon…

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Zach MB April 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Not really that impressive compared to current KE weapons. The M829A2 Penetrator fired from the M1 does 1680m/s, or the General Dynamics KEW-A1 (APFSDS-T), does 1740m/s.

Except for the increased ammo capacity, and safety, rail guns don't make much sense as they stand now. Shrink the system, and double the KE, and maybe it makes it justifiable.

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STemplar April 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Those of course are deployed munitions in existing weapon systems. I'm sure they work considerably better than their pre-cursor experimental prototypes did as well.

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halcyon April 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm

If they could just double the rate of fire of current systems with no other changes that would be quite an improvement. Top that off with some kind of self-guided projectile and it would be a pretty big step even if there was no gain in KE.

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blight April 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm

No sabot today has a range of 7km…?

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citanon April 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

Yes, but this sabot looks like it has more than 2x the mass of a tank sabot round.

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blight April 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm

However these rounds sound sub-optimal compared to sabot, especially if described as "bricks".

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halcyon April 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm

If it has 2x the mass of a tank sabot then we are talking about a heck of a lot more energy delivered to the target.

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citanon April 16, 2011 at 2:15 am

Actually 2x more, since KE scales linearly with mass….

BUT, it's not _just_ 2x heavier. This gun has 30 MJ muzzle energy, which is about 5x the KE of the 120 mm on the Abrams. So, probably the round is actually 5x heavier.

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citanon April 16, 2011 at 2:22 am

Actually, the current Abrams main gun can do >10 MJ, so I guess it IS about 2x the mass.

PSU December 27, 2012 at 2:12 pm

you do know that mach 5 is the slow testing speed for rail guns, if you have enough power this can go up to mach 10 and in the future even mach 20 , the difference between this and a normal weapon is that if you put more power into it the faster it will go , this is the limiting factor of this for now our power generation at the momment we just cant produce the electricity effectively enough to make it practical but give it 10-20 year when fusion generators start going commercial then this will blow conventional weapons away from use.

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Tim April 14, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Beautiful! Would be great if they could make it fire like a machine gun: Multiple rounds at a time on targets that move at high speed at least 70 km downrange.

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Sajuuk April 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

One would need to design a system capable of rapidly reloading the same barrel while cooling it with tiny bursts of liquid nitrogen after every shot. Otherwise, a gatling system would have to be implemented that could rapidly transfer the capacitors over to each barrel long enough to engage the magnetic propulsion. Even then, it takes a LOT of energy to fire one shot; it would be far more cost effective to engage the magnets for a specific period of time, and rapidly shove each round into position as the last one violently departs to unstoppable plasma-propelled victory.

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Hale April 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

By the end of the decade they might have a prototype that they can aim and fire for effect accurately, but I doubt that they'll have anything mount it on at that point, the power consumption is just enormous and they really need to shrink those capacitors down to size.

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Prodozul April 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I have a question about the ammunition. When the projectile hits its inteded target does it explode or just go through it?

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Jsmith April 15, 2011 at 7:08 am

It does not explode. The kinetic energy of the round itself is sufficient.

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ziv April 15, 2011 at 7:51 am

JSmith, I wonder if it works as well against thin-skinned ships as it would against an armored vehicle. It is possible the dart would simply penetrate a corvette or littoral combat ship, there would be an incredible temperature spike in the cabins it passes through, but it might not be disastrous for the ship. Now if the dart tumbles after it hits the hull it might cause hella damage when it hits the second partition. This kind of sounds like a discussion of the m855's shortcomings. Another issue is the angle of hull when the round hits it. If it is a 90 degree angle the chances are even higher that the penetrator won't tumble and will simply pass right through.
Regardless of whether the round tumbles or not, JS is right, the amount of kinetic energy released will make the cabins it penetrates a hell on earth, but the ship might survive relatively unscathed.

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 9:42 am

Target the ship just below the water line or aim for the section where the power plant lies. One advantage of using hyper velocity missile from above v laterally across sea level.

One can imagine how a sub could surface and be a decent platform for such a rail system. Since rails make a loud bang, decoy "bang simulators" would make locating the sub more difficult by enemy sound sensors. Rails firing on ships would give away location…..extreme velocity does produce infra red trails in the sky, -not that you could hit these things with anything but DEW. (provided they are self guided or too close to react with a cloud of counter-fire.)

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blight April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

In any case, explosives detonated under the keel are still more devastating to a ship than direct-fire.

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 8:06 pm

You would also have a pressure wave ripping through the ship, damaging things as it went.

Also, after flying at Mach 5, that baby is going to be HOT. If you hit fuel or ammunition, and then follow with a pressure wave of air, wouldn't you get ignition/detonation?

I would also assume that there would be tumbling, at least for larger ships. After initial penetration, it is going to hit multiple objects at different angles, slowing it down and releasing energy and bits of itself. The video of 5 in plate is nothing compared to all the different bulkheads, cabins, etc.

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blight April 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

One could design the sabot so that when it impacts it would shatter into smaller shards, which would fly into the target separately and cause multiple damage paths.

You're right in that the projectiles would be hot, but it might not be enough to flash ignite anything. Fuel explosions are only really spectacular when the fuel is suspended into droplets and enriched with oxidant (either in solution or if the fuel is present in droplets). Otherwise it'll be a small bang and not a FAE-style explosion.

The pressure-wave might be interesting, in that it would cause damage to "ripple" away from the site of the impact. Stressing the hull might cause all sorts of damage, and if you were lucky and damaged engine machinery you could cripple a ship very quickly.

Tim April 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

It works in the same way a current Abrams sabot round does. The Abrams round penetrates both sides of a vehicle and the ballistic shockwave of the projectile creates a vacuum that literally sucks everything inside a vehicle through the exit point. Doesn't matter if it's armored or light skinned, anything inside turns into the mythical "pink mist."

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Blight April 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

hypersonic artillery might compete with rockets for range in ground combat…

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Blorch Headblownov April 14, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Even if you can ignore the power issues, good luck on keeping it combat ready. The electrical and structural launch components are going to oxidize and lose all ductility after a few cycles.

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STemplar April 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm

How about one of these and a defensive laser with some kind of retractable/shroud, on a nuclear sub? Plenty of electricity and how fun would it be to surface 100 miles off a coast, fire off a few minutes of hypersonic rounds at a target area? Incoming anti-ship missiles? Blast em with the laser or just submerge? Hmmmm, decisions decisions……

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Dan M April 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Rate of Fire?

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zaph April 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Nowadays?

A shot every couple of weeks.

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moose April 15, 2011 at 3:29 am

By the time they're ready to mount this on a ship, several shots a minute.

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Perhaps. Its not only the heat, but the wear from the contact points that lets loose a cloud of fine particles.

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blight April 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm

In principle, what the interim future may bring about is a launch system coupled to a gliding mechanism: which means larger rounds that would be capable of performing glide missions. Fire the round at high trajectory, deploy wings, glide and guide to target, versus simply opting for ballistic trajectories.

However, using 5" guns for these kinds of things wouldn't work out…

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 9:30 am

You would be surprised how small they will be able to make self-guided objects. Such mechanism however, must withstand the G-force. Not impossible in time.

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Guest April 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

Do a Google search on ArcLight Navy, Darpa is looking at a way to boost a hypersonic glider with a 100+ lb payload using the SM-3/VLS system thereby giving anything with VLS tubes a global strike capability with ranges in excess of 2200nm.

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Dfens April 15, 2011 at 7:13 am

“We were launching hypersonic bricks at Mach 5, Mach 6″

Mexican food does that to me too.

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Need some fiber

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blight April 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Or better sterilization.

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Dfens April 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

I think it's just the spices. It never used to bother me. Old age sucks!

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blight April 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Intestines, why have you forsaken me?

Ringo April 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

Scaled up has anyone thought about pointing it straight up and putting things in to space? Maybe the g-force would scrap that idea?

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 9:22 am

Yes, but not straight up and no, but people would survive the trip. better idea is to use lower velocity rail to kick start scram engines. NASA's on it, but Elon Musk has a more economical model for heavy lifting.

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 9:23 am

people wouldn't survive the trip….I meant to say….

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm

There are technical difficulties in making the projectile anything other than a dumb round. The EM pulse running through the gun would play havoc with electronics and maybe a problem with explosives.

Of course, if you have a 5kg round doing Mach 6, the KE is going to obliterate pretty much anything it hits.

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blight April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

EMP's efficacy drops when electronics are offline. They need only be active after the launching stage, after all.

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm

True, but sufficiently strong EMPs can fry even when offline, and the projectile is in the middle of the EMP wave. Also, how do you trigger it to activate after launch?

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blight April 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Either a mechanical timer, or a ignition circuit made from gallium arsenide, or perhaps an RC system for timing.

The other technical hurdle is electronics that can survive stupendous accelerations. I look at Copperhead as an example of how it was achieved at great cost, cost great enough to deter their use.

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coolhand77 April 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Too bad they got rid of the nuclear powered Cruisers. Those would be a perfect test platform for this puppy. Plenty of power.

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SJE April 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Subs already launch tomahawks, which are conceptually similar to a UAV just with a warhead.

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foo April 17, 2011 at 2:49 am

This brightcove crap doesn't work. Grow up and put it on youtube.

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Max April 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

Not trying to belittle the weapon, but 1/8" of steel isn't much. I've no doubt it is powerful, but they might have used 1" or more as a more worthy obstacle.

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mkf April 18, 2011 at 10:56 am

What video? I can't see crap, even after enabling all javascript. Win7 x64, Firefox Nightly x86…

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Bill in Tennessee April 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Looking for a platform to mount it on, eh? How about my RAV-4? I'll drive to your proving grounds this weekend.

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THESTEALTHFIGHTERGUY October 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm

They’ve had this for years. It’s old news. When they say we’ll have it in 10 years that’s saying we’ll tell you “we’ve already had it for years” in ten year. I’ve seen one made in someones back yard that will fire ball bearing fast enough to light a hay bail on fire. He use a labtop to turn magnits on one after another pulling the balls. Not the same way a tipical rail gun works but neat just the same. You just drop a hand full of bearing in and rata tat tat great balls of fire! If he can, DARPA can.

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Billy January 16, 2012 at 8:57 am

Better start installing solar panels then.

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RunningBear January 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

32 MJ (sufficient to support a 110 nmi mission) with muzzle velocities of 2.5 km/sec.

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Guest February 29, 2012 at 10:31 am

Looks like the Stars Wars battle cruiser main guns….

Going further….

If made big enough, could be use against doomsday meteors…

If made small enough, will replace handguns, rifles.. hypersonic bullets can punch through anything… snipers can shoot from 10 miles away with shock fronts clearing away the wind (calculations) and aims straight as laser. If smaller still – laser bullets maybe? Power to push then power to pull also- powerful lasers made to shape – light saber? A handgun that could take out a tank? Where there's offense, there's defense – would use the push away force around an object to protect against incoming threats – force fields…metal and non-metal rounds to counter….

The start of anti-gravity – this tech small and controlled and maybe with maglev tech – no tyres needed – bad news for tyre companies

Star Wars tech for real…

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Fish Fighting Chair For Sale September 12, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Donzi’s sort of thought? So it is deeper, isn’t it? I don’t boat gear
know, yes. In the Kibbutzim in order to offer. You can certainly change your lifestyle and bring change
that needs our help Chief. And all that dust swirling around the water, boat gear and he also was completely insane.

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Maxtrue April 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

It also depends on what counter-measures exist and the relative power a particular player has in the force of its rail and DEW systems.

power supply
power of weapon
ISR assets
targeting assets and technology
ability to work in highly disruptive environment (jamming, weather, hostile fire etc.)
Ability of stealth to position weapon X to target intended without detection
Ability of all of the above to operate under swarming conditions of conflicts in forward positons
Ability to maintain systems under heavy use and in forward locations

Given we reach the grail first, we seem to be the best prepared to meet the above requirements. But to actually deploy these as game changers, I wouldn't underestimate the need for mobile power supplies and ISR, nor durability, simplicity of operation and reduced mass to the weapons coming on line.

Other wise the last condition:

A group of operators required to maintain and use these weapons.

Just an armchair opinion mind you…..

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

Incredible oversight not to have started a mini Thorium reactor project LONG ago. Power will soon become a limiting factor, not the weapon itself.

In fact, this idiocy ranks right up at the top of the list given the world's energy needs. Imagine however what would have happened if Telsa's dream was used.

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Maxtrue April 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm

That's why in terms of hypersonic, a tungsten spear is more easily guided because it is a larger object. Winglets can pop out and the spear maneuverable to target by an antiEMP- and antiGPS-proof targeting system. The smaller the part, the more stress for sure.

Galhran over at Information Dissemination asked readers what might take out a carrier. I would think death from above via mach twenty spears rather than naval rail guns. Depending on the target, kinetics requires different approaches.

I suspect plasma jets could steer a hypervelocity warhead and that would not require any moving parts. Something also tells me micro rotors exposed to wind could produce electricity as the spear travels downward. Even the booster required to obtain high mach from rocket boosted spear could charge up capacitors for plasma jets during firing phase.

Moving parts can be reduced. A gyro on a gallium chip would help. More wild speculation….LOL

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bbb January 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

If you hooked up an Abram's turbine straight to a generator and drove the wheels with electric motors, I would think you'd have enough juice to drive at least a megajoule-class mass accelerator. Seeing as how one megajoule is the power of one car doing 100 MPH, and the Abrams has about 5-10 times the horsepower required to do that.

I think it's safe to say that MBT's inside the next 50 years will have railguns.

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