Home » Wars » Fire for Effect » Navy Moving Ahead With Railgun Devo

Navy Moving Ahead With Railgun Devo

by John Reed on February 9, 2012

Here’s a little story that’s been making the Internet rounds lately; the Navy is about to take one more step toward making high-powered railguns a ship-board reality. Yup, the Office of Naval Research is about to start test firing a BAE Systems-built railgun and another made by General Atomics (watch a badass video of the GA gun in action here.)

Basically, railguns use a ton of electromagnetic energy to push a projectile out of a barrel made of two long rails at hypersonic speeds (up to 5,600 miles per hour) and over distances of up to 50 to 100 nautical miles (maybe even 200 nautical miles someday). Needless to say, their speed and range give these guns enormous potential for use in everything from shooting down enemy planes and missiles to blasting enemy ships and even targets well inland.

For some prespetive on how powerful these thing are, the BAE Systems gun that just arrived at the Navy’s surface warfare in Dahglren Maryland uses 32 megajoules of energy when firing. “One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 miles per hour,” reads a Navy press release on the weapons.

The Navy is also paying Raytheon, BAE and General Atomics $10 million each to design rapid loading and firing systems that will allow new classes of railguns to fire six to 10 rounds a minute.

Click through the jump to read the sea service’s announcment on the weapons.

The Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun program will take an important step forward in the coming weeks when the first industry railgun prototype launcher is tested at a facility in Dahlgren, Va., officials said Feb. 6.

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

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.

With its increased velocity and extended range, the EM Railgun will give Sailors a multi-mission capability, allowing them to conduct precise naval surface fire support, or land strikes; cruise missile and ballistic missile defense; and surface warfare to deter enemy vessels. Navy planners are targeting a 50– to 100-nautical mile initial capability with expansion up to 220 nautical miles.

The EM Railgun program, part of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, previously relied upon government laboratory-based launchers for testing and advancing railgun technology. The first industry-built launcher, a 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator made by BAE Systems, arrived at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Jan. 30. One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 miles per hour.

“This industry prototype represents a step beyond our previous successful demonstrations of the laboratory launcher,” Ellis said.

The prototype demonstrator incorporates advanced composites and improved barrel life performance resulting from development efforts on the laboratory systems located at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and NSWC-Dahlgren. The EM Railgun laboratory demonstrator based at NSWC-Dahlgren fired a world record setting 33-megajoule shot in December 2010.

The industry demonstrator will begin test firing this month as the EM Railgun program prepares for delivery of a second prototype launcher built by General Atomics.

In the meantime, the Navy is pushing ahead with the next phase of the EM Railgun program to develop automatic projectile loading systems and thermal management systems to facilitate increased firing rates of the weapon.

“The next phase of the development effort is to demonstrate the ability to operate at a firing rate of significant military utility,” Ellis said.

ONR recently awarded $10 million contracts through Naval Sea Systems Command to Raytheon Corp., BAE Systems and General Atomics to develop a pulsed power system for launching projectiles in rapid succession. These new contracts kick off a five-year effort to achieve a firing rate of six to 10 rounds per minute.

BAE Systems and General Atomics also are commencing concept development work on the next-generation prototype EM Railgun capable of the desired firing rate.

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{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay February 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm

The gun that saved the world in Transformers 2…

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yaynumbers February 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

For perspective, the Mk 7's (the Iowa's 16 inch guns) fired projectiles of mass ~850-1200 kg at ballpark velocity of 820 m/s. 403 MJ.

For the two thousand pound car (908 kg) at 100 mph (44.7 m/s) a quick KE calculation gives me 9e5 joules, so ~900 kJ. Impressive, but off from a megajoule.

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yo numero February 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm

But they did mention that the new BAE Systems gun, which just arrived NSWC is going to capable of producing 32 megajoule… or 32 times that.

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Blackguilt February 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm

You both realize, that this is the energy required to *fire* the projectile, not the resultant force generated by the projectile. I'm sure the actual effective weapon payload is classified still.

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jrexilius February 10, 2012 at 11:56 am

Hmm.. Are you sure? That's not how I read it. Of course it is a media piece and easy to misinterpret so I could be wrong.

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Nick February 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm

That is kind of an apples to oranges comparison though. The Iowa's destructive power came not from the kinetic energy of the shell but the chemical energy of the projectile, which was considerably greater than the KE (1000kg warhead would be 4.184 gigajoules of energy, 10x greater than the KE). But what was the range, rate of fire, and potential duration of fire before the barrel melted? This system theoretically relies on only the kinetic energy of the shell to do damage at a far greater range and with a much higher rate of fire. One could never fire a 1000kg shell into a city today without unacceptable collateral damage, the smaller output and greater rate of fire of these shells makes them more attractive for close support in urban operations.

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blight February 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

With more range, you will get a CEP like the Iowa. The higher the muzzle velocity, the more heat generated and the lower the firing rate. The Iowas were doing two rounds per minute…not sure if heat limited or barrel wear limited.

I'm not sure what the CEP will be of railguns, but it won't be intrinsically better because we are using railguns.

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EJ257 February 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I thought they Iowas could only do 2 rounds a minute because it took so long to reload the gun. The breech, ramps for the projectile, the “plunger” to push the projectile and powder bags, they all moved kinda slow.

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blight February 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Hmm. That would make sense.

@Earlydawn February 10, 2012 at 2:59 am

I believe the idea with railguns is faster fire missions, not throw weight.

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SJE February 10, 2012 at 11:19 am

The speed makes them almost impossible to intercept, which is an advantage

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adamwiseman February 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Correction:

The facility is Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren, Virginia, not "Navy's surface warfare in Dahlgren Maryland."

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DougieR February 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Pretty cool. With that kind of range and velocity I wonder if they've thought about anti-satellite capabilities and even scaling the technology up for orbital payloads. A destroyer that can launch its own spy satellite…eat your heart out NASA!

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jamFRIDGE February 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Ever seen the “Rods from God?” They’re a different type of KE weapon idea

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blight February 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Or Project Babylon, which was sold as a cheap way to launch microsatellites, but turned into a supergun aimed at Tel Aviv.

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Skyepapa February 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

but relied on chemical not kinetic energy

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blight February 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Technically magnets are used to get it up to speed. Any object in motion will have kinetic energy on impact.

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Zeyn February 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm

we should pull NASA funding and use it for this, this is the best investment for space exploration

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Thomas L. Nielsen February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Except when you try to launch something not rated for a gazillion G's of acceleration. Like people.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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dimeck February 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

This is cool, but the Navy's $$$ is better spent saving ship building programs from being cut.

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blight February 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Why spend money building bigger guns like this all-big-gun Dreadnaught when we should be building more pre-dreadnaughts armed with seventeen calibers of ammunition from small to medium?

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dockem February 10, 2012 at 10:12 am

We have ships that can't deploy because of lack of up keep. We've gone from 700 ships to a fleet of less than 300 ships. The Navy is spending money on junk like the LCS.

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blight February 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

The intent of LCS is to fill an empty capability and to save the navy the cost of using Arleigh Burkes to intimidate Somalia. However, we should go with LCS-I and MMC if that's all we intend LCS to do…

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pedestrian February 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm

The age of battle ship coming back?

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Brad February 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Iowa class refit time again

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 9:51 am

They'd need new turrets and a total gutting of the ship to requip it for railguns. Considering they didn't even bother replacing number two turret on Iowa proper…

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David February 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Certainly possible. The theory would indicate sufficient railguns would sweep the sky out to the horizon of anything larger than an 8" shell.

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blight February 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm

What's the refire rate on a railgun? It suggests that our future opponents must go low RCS to survive in a railgun environment. Stealth missiles will require a shipboard IRST system to detect and engage.

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Jeff February 13, 2012 at 5:47 am

No… the notion of a Battleship is big guns and big armor. A rail gun means armor is even more worthless. More likely it'd be (another) age of battlecruisers.

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Liam April 28, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Imagine that, instead of 9 16in guns, 9 rail guns, hot damn that would be fierce.

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Eric February 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm

So, where's the link to the video?

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moose February 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

DT is in error, the GA railgun has not been tested yet. The old BAE-supplied prototype has passed 1000 firings, though. The new BAE gun and new GA gun will be similarly powerful but much more durable and much closer to a "practical" weapon.

Here's a video of the "old" prototype firing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y54aLcC3G74

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Egad February 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

1 MJ (or 900 kJ, pretty close) is not to be sneezed at. It's about 250 dietary calories, about what you get from a regular hamburger . (To be fair, the hamburger needs more than its own mass in oxygen from the atmosphere to yield the MJ.)

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Lance February 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Waste of money right now. Keep funds for LCS and DDG1000 ships keep this on back burner till funds return.

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Belesari February 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Why?
LCS-Little Coffin Ship which is out gunned by 99% of the warships in the world. And which wont even have half the moduals needed for years more, cost more than any ship in its class, has no survivability (speed is BS, 45kts wont outrun shells, missiles or torpedo's…..so its effectively worthless)…..i could keep going but why.

DDG-1K- The underpowered super cruiser. 80% untested equipment wpon which the entire program rest. Based upon a crewing method already thrown out because its worthless and destroys ships. Costing almost 3 bil dollars per ship which will probably rise.

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Lance February 10, 2012 at 12:05 am

Yes but w/o a modern ship any rail cannon is a waste since w/o ships it be coastal artillery.

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Belesari February 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I think the railgun is a great weapon potentially however more for BMD and such direct fire roles than long range over the horizon fire support.

The real problem is that the round is going to be under g's at launch that will be insanely expensive to deal with. guided rounds are probably going to be so expensive its worthless. However unguided would be a killer for ballistic missiles and such.

Would rather see a say a Modern nuclear powered pocket battleship with 6 16in cannons in triple turrets. These could then fire shells with far more firepower than the AGS system or even this railgun. Modern technology is well able to handle the FPS these rounds would travel at and the ships could have secondary VLS or launchers like the Iowa's had for Tomahawks.

Hell even 6-8 MK-71 8in cannon would do fine. The whole reason they canned the program was because they offered no better acuracy than the 5in the navy currently uses….but sense the AGS only fires guided rounds that no longer holds any air.

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Skyepapa February 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm

But major benefits of the railgun are its reduction in the amount of storage required for armaments, the power needed to push a heavily laden ship, and even more so, a a MAJOR reduction in the amount of combustibles stored in a ship's magazines; thus, a large increase in survivability, economy, and increased space for ops flexibility. Increasing the use of conventional (or antiquated) big guns takes us the opposite direction. Despite how cool they look.

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Jay February 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm

This would not be good for BMD unless guided. With hypersonic re-entry vehicles that are able to manuever in the atmosphere there is little use for this to be used against them. Even if it is guided there are problems with getting the warhead to the target, especially since it's moving that fast you would only get one shot. BMD is very tricky since you have to take it out on its way up into space because once its coming down at Mach 20+ its hard for anything to hit it without increased risk of missing. The government is working on several BMD but I doubt this type of weapon would be good for what they are trying to do.

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anonymous February 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

The Mach 20+ re-entry vehicles are only going Mach 8 – Mach 10 at their Air Zero or Ground Zero.

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4FingerOfBourbourn February 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm

All this money talk. If this works out, with on board nuclear power in some cases. Think of the projectile cost savings, safety and handling compared to live ordinance now…word

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chaos0xomega February 10, 2012 at 12:49 am

I look forward to the day that America's Navy has ships fitted with a 10 million dollar railgun that fires hundreds or even thousands of 1000 dollar projectiles, instead of a Navy that has ships fitted with a few dozen to a bit over 100 10 million dollar missiles… Just saying, this will make naval warfare cheaper… Oh, and maybe give those marines over at ANGLICO some actual Naval Gunfire to coordinate…

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Sanem February 10, 2012 at 4:01 am

this has great potential, restoring ships to their Dreadnought glory days, able to blast sea and land targets with incredible power and range, at a low cost

I see trouble for guided munitions, because the g-forces they would have to survive would be incredible, making them extremely costly. maybe use unguided rounds to target airfields, ships and military bases, and guided rounds for anything else

combined with lasers as defensive weapons, this would make ships impossible to attack with anything but other railguns and maybe torpedoes

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Oudin February 10, 2012 at 4:06 am

I think 1000 projectiles rail gun more fire power than 100 missiles.

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Yo Mate February 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

Once they could master the technology, it will be like bringing a machine gun to a hand gun fight.

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Small Terd February 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

but you have to keep in mind, that this guys hand is REALLY BIG

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itfunk February 10, 2012 at 6:23 am

You have to love the rail-gun, its such a fundamentally bad idea on so many levels its practically a disarmament program.

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Twidget at large February 10, 2012 at 9:05 am

It is a bad idea,… Right up to where they put it in mass-production and then the cost goes down, the tech is more spread out and somebody says "what if", then they find out how to make them better, etc…

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eric February 10, 2012 at 9:38 am

a bad idea, because………

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Twidget at large February 10, 2012 at 11:17 am

Sorry for not being more specific. Not a bad idea persay, but a few years ago it was. Now with all the advances in metelurgy and superconducters thats been going on, and once they actualy start producing them they'll find out how to build them better and cheaper.

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Tad February 10, 2012 at 11:45 am

Is EMP a concern with weapons like this? Could it render them useless? Or is everything so electronic nowadays that a big EMP would wipe out the rest of the electronics anyway?

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David February 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Railgun has to be very EMP resistant because it generates EMP on it's own when firing.

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Jay February 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Good question. Yes an emp would effet this. Not the weapon itself but the electronics needed to use it. Now almost every military platform has EMP "protection" (e.g. a cage around the electronics and rubber coating aournd the circuitry and wires) but most of that protection was developed in the '70's and early '80's. EMP is one of the things the military is most frightened about when talking about a nuclear weapon. Not the blast or the radiation but the EMP effect that it causes. So all of this depends on if the protection of each individual system works. This Railgun (following the trend of weapons now adays) will be able to lock on to specific GPS coordinates and fire. The problem with an EMP is that the effect can get into space if it's detonated in the air (an Airburst). This would possibly be able to take out satelites and data uplinks for this weapon. Either way an EMP would not be good for anybody.

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blackout February 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm

now all we need to do is make a REALLY BIG one, and put it on a walking tank.

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random February 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

dude your not reffering to metal gear solid are you? thats just funny crazy and stupid all at once

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tiger February 10, 2012 at 9:48 pm

"Do you really need rail guns to kill Pirates, Mr Secretary of the Navy?", says the Congresswomen on the Armed services Committe….. "The kids my district have been left behind, & you want me to approve money for your wonder weapons?"

CSPAN dream sequence.

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CoCowboy692000 February 14, 2012 at 7:44 am

I do… I want the wonder weapons. Ultimately, we won't even need boots… We'll just have push button automated wars when they come our way. Silly not to have them. And by the way, this weapon is a fantastic weapon. We can use it to defend against missles, etc. Open your mind to the important uses of the Rail Gun. We have new adversaries. China for starters… Iran is now space capable. We better have something of this capability! DOn't be short sighted or foolish!

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Alex February 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm

I see several negative comments. No matter what is eventually built and possibly used on a naval warship the investment in research and developement is very useful and may yield other technologies that may win us a war.

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tiger February 11, 2012 at 12:15 am

Granted. but I really don't see the US refighting Midway with China as the bad guys this time. Rivals in the same water, nothing more. Hell, My favorite villians the Russians can not even put more than a handful of subs to sea anymore in a year. http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htsub/articles/2

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Beckett Evans February 13, 2012 at 11:16 am

and *THAT* is why military technology rocks… imagine the thousands of possibilities you could have with railgun technology. powder-less rifles, electronic nail guns/riveters, space guns, and other things I can't think of right now. THAT is why we don't complain when we spend billions on a promising technology.

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Mark February 10, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I thought the rail-gun program was dead …

Good news that it isn't …

Nice to see that someone in the Pentagon has a brain …

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JRL February 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

Wonder how effective all those cutting-edge multi-megajouled projectiles will do against sub-launched torpedoes?

My guess is that it's yet another pricey, cover-complicated weapon better suited to bullying folks who can't fight back, than for fighting real adversaries.

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JRL February 13, 2012 at 10:30 am

*over-complicated*

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David February 14, 2012 at 6:57 am

actually somewhat simplier than ordinary gun.

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CoCowboy692000 February 14, 2012 at 7:37 am

My gut tells me that, if we're hearing about this now, we're about 10 years behind where they are. I saw this being built on Science Channel in some dudes garage and tested no less… It fried the speed gun they were using to test the speed of the projectile. That was about 3 years ago… So, It wouldn 't surprise me if they're either already armed on the ships, or ready to arm our ships… It's not like they keep us up to date in real time on stuff like this – think about it…

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Infidel4LIFE February 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

Are we hitting the beaches any time soon?

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GaussRifle October 2, 2012 at 2:26 am

The size of the guns and the scale and frequency of use would really determine if this weapon is a good idea or not. Theoretically, it should be superior to normal artillery. But real life is always different than theory. People keep on forgetting that the ammo can be anything that can survive the launch and high speeds. So properly made, that's anything. In space there are even more applications. There are less applications under water, but still even that is an option. The launcher does not solely have to be used for combat. There are many applications. Just keep that in mind when deciding if it is an effective device.

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Belesari February 9, 2012 at 9:37 pm

(cont.)

Second a nuclear powered ship has less space devoted to highly explosive fuel. As well as being cheaper and faster than a normal one…..theres your savings. Armor always works…it doesnt require power and it requires little maintanence. Those big guns could deliver in a few more firepower than a F-35 and face no liability of interception. And they could keep going and going and going.
Oh yes and the munitions available come in ranges of sizes and types. HE, Sabot, even a anti-air round and cluster round and much more.

Its not about cool. It ain't about power point shows. Its about cold hard mean reality. And in that the old guns remain supreme.

Besides if you do get the railguns working like you wish those guns can be removed and the new ones put inplace.

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blight February 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Uhh, we did finish WW1. We occupied Germany, dismantled their army and navy…did I miss something?

Or did you suggest that we forgot to commit genocide on the way in?

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Gumphery February 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

Have some respect. With this rail-gun we can increase the effective range of any ballistic (guided or unguided as we choose) object some 100 miles. That is no small peanuts. This is the new stuff. With Rail-technology, we could take out any target within 100 miles off the coast with precision (if equipped with guided projectiles). Yes, we can do the same with missiles, but missiles are able to be intercepted and shot down, whereas it is very difficult to stop a shell hurdling towards imminent destruction at 5,600 mph. If we ever fight an enemy with anti-missile-missile-missiles and the likes, rail-guns will be of infinite value towards penetrating a high-value target area without a high cost. We are not returning to 1942, we are advancing beyond anything they could have ever imagined.

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TMB February 10, 2012 at 2:19 am

Between both Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and that week-long bombing of Iraq around 1995 we probably fired about 2000 TLAMs or so.

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Belesari February 10, 2012 at 7:09 am

WAIT! they havn't sunk it yet!

Im suprised it seems to be a habbit of todays navy to sink any spruance they can.

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Yo Mate February 10, 2012 at 10:45 am

Kind of reminds me of playing Golf video game. They let you do angle/projection and force on club against environmental factors such as wind, rain, etc. This is technically possible these days. All they need is a source of power to do what they wish. It is encouraging though, as the 32 megajoules is a big jump from the original trying-to-reach goal of only 1 megajoule.

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SJE February 10, 2012 at 11:18 am

The Iowas are kinda slow compared to what we hope for the railgun. OTOH, the Iowa guns actually work reliable, while the railgun is still in development.

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jrexilius February 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I like ambition. I'm still a fan of trying for leaps ahead sometimes. We have successfully in the past. Not saying that's all we should do but Im glad to see projects like this still on our plate.

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blight February 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Our R&D really needs to go back to iterative, or our navy will go the way of the air force where we use old DDG hulls until 2060.

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jrexilius February 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm

This is an interesting debate, but it seems that each weapon type has different roles? I'm not sure it's best to think of it as an either/or thing. The railgun is a great potential capability to add to the mix, but yes I thinkj the 16in guns still have their place as well. As do missiles and aircraft. Isn't that the point of a carrier group? Not just one ship but a set of capabilities?

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jrexilius February 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I'm not entirely sure that we only fired ~2,000 is an indicator that we only needed to fire ~2,000. Increase the inventory and decrease the cost and I suspect that there would have been a lot more places where they would have had good effect.

I think chaos's original point is a good one.

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tiger February 11, 2012 at 12:07 am

I love the new toys like every kid at Xmas. But I had to bring this thread back to the "Real World" for a bit. We have a force that can barely handle basic naval job number 2 or 3. Protect And patrol the sea lanes from Kat chewing thugs with Ak's. Nobody in Congress is going to fund EM rail guns, Robot dogs or Sharks with lazers on there heads. Sorry, to play party pooper, But I just did my taxes & I'm waiting on the refund check to pay some bills. I doubt I'm not alone. Until the potholes get fixed and Unemployment comes down; these will remain Popluar Science cover ideas.

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PrahaPartizan February 11, 2012 at 3:05 am

Ummm, you missed the part where the Allies didn't occupy Germany in WW1. That's what led to the "stab in the back" doctrine which allowed the ultra-right to gain power between the wars. According to those folks, Germany never lost WW1. Only a part of the population caused Germany to sue for peace. Unfortunately, the Allies were as surprised by the German collapse in the fall 1918 as the Germans were. The 1919 campaign would have put paid to the "stab in the back" theory the German nationalists developed almost immediately because by the fall 1919 the Allies would have controlled the entire Ruhr and Rhineland.

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