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Video: BAE’s New Railgun Firing for First Time

by John Reed on February 28, 2012

Well, the Office of Naval Research has begun test firing BAE’s new 32-megajoule railgun and we’ve got the video to prove it. Remember, the Navy wants a 20 to 32 megajoule railgun that can fire a projectile at speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour over distances of 50 to 100 nautical miles. The Navy’s standard five-inch gun has a range of about 13 miles and can fire 20-rounds per minute, according to ONR officials.

Railguns use a ton of electromagnetic energy to push a projectile out of a barrel made of two long rails at hypersonic speeds. The energy contained in one megajoule is equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at more than 100 miles per hour, the Navy likes to remind us.

The guns will eventually fire sleek projectiles (that may be guided) using pure kinetic energy to destroy targets. For now, the service is firing 40-pound bricks designed to test out the guns’ barrel strength and their ability to stay cool while firing up to ten rounds per minute. These tests are set to run through 2017, ONR’s Roger Ellis told a group of reporters during a phone call today.

As we’ve said before, 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.

The Navy hopes to move this from a science project to an actual acquisition program in time to field the weapons by the early to mid 2020s at the latest.

Click through the jump to watch the Navy’s newest railgun in action.

Afterwards, click here to watch a great DT exclusive on General Atomics’ railgun, a bigger version of which the Navy will also start testing soon.

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{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Musson1 February 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm

How many megajoules would it take to put a small projectile into orbit?

Maybe I should ask H.G. Wells.

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Mark February 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm

For the current salvo ~128 megajoules.

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Thomas L. Nielsen February 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Well, that depends on your definition of "small" :-)

The projectile needs to travel up through the atmosphere (loosing speed all the way due to friction) and arrive 200km above the surface of the Earth with a residual velocity of some 8.000 m/s in order to stay up there.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Splitpi February 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Very rough calculation without air resistance and assumption of equal velocity as it leaves the barrel, then the projectile would take about 25 seconds to reach 200Km @ 8000 m/s. And if I assume 23lbs (10.53 Kg)is the small package, then Joules = (kg * m^2)/s^2 = 673,920,000 J = 673.9 MJ.

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Cthel February 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm

It's not actually possible to "fire" a projectile into orbit; you need a payload with a rocket motor that can be fired to circularise the trajectory into a stable orbit.

With an unpowered projectile, you end up with an orbit whose perigee (point of closest approach to earth) is equivalent to the altitude of the gun that fired it; since this is inside the atmosphere the projectile will lose energy to air resistance, causing the perigee to move to a point inside the earth's crust.

Simply putting a projectile into space (beyond the Kaman line) for a limited period is much simpler matter

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Morty February 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Through 2017. At least it can do more than one thing

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JOhn Moore February 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Seems like a crazy long time for testing.

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STemplar February 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

It's interesting tech to be sure but it seems to me for this system to be worth the cost it has got to deliver some capability other than just shore bombardment. The extended range ammo for the AGS is going to give similar ranges for bombardment. If this could actually deliver an ABM, anti cruise missile air defense capability then it would be worth it for sure, if not l can't imagine its going to be cost effective as an alternative for shore bombardment.

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alex February 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm

it's not just that. with this, you no longer have to carry explosive projectiles and gunpowder on ships…not to mention your magazines can probably fit way more of these than conventional shells + charges. And at the speeds that these projectiles fly, they could be extremely effective anti-air weapons.

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STemplar February 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

No, you just have to carry a bank of capacitors the size of a house. I'll give you three guesses what happens when they are hit with fire and two don't count.

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Thomas L. Nielsen February 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Very true. In order to launch a projectile of mass X at velocity Y, you need an amount of energy Z. Whether this energy comes from a chemical propellant or from a capacitor, you're still in deep doo-doo if it all goes POOF at the wring time.

Having said that, I would imagine (and I admit to guesswork here) that introduction of railgun technology may have more to do with it's development potential than with what it can do right now.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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alex February 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Something tells me that using energy generated from a ships engines is safer than having volatile explosives on board. How many nuclear aircraft carriers or subs have exploded to date? Would you rather be on a nuke boat with rail guns, or a conventional boat loaded to the brim wtih gunpowder and high-explosive shells?

Avet March 1, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I first saw this a simular type gun in the 1990's. The prototype was quite impressive then, Went through two block walls and a huge pile of hay with a plate of steel in front of it. To see the results of years of work is quite impressive. It also has gotton much smaller.

TLAM Strike February 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm

But the capacitors don't need to remain charged. If you have a power system of sufficient capability; say a larger nuclear reactor, the capacitors may only need to be charged for a few seconds before firing of the railgun.

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blight_ February 28, 2012 at 11:36 pm

The more charge you load into the capacitors, the greater the charging time required; and then the power system comes into play. I guess if the Navy wants rapid fire, they'll have to scale up the gas turbine setup for more power or go nuclear. If they want a more modest powerplant, then the rate-of-fire they will be getting of these units will be lower. Hopeful that railguns prove interesting. Even weaker mag propulsion could be used to replace cold/hotlaunch.

blight_ February 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

AGS is a pretty expensive attempt to squeeze every last iota out of standard chemical propulsion systems. And at the end they still depend on an explosive device for effects, and it isn't particularly large. As for the railgun, projectiles will get smaller with the elimination of propellant, and the navy may or may not opt to go with inert warheads or retain payloads. Railguns may offer the opportunity to leapfrog AGS; and AGS is the failsafe in case the railgun project is slow in delivering results.

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DaniOcean May 28, 2012 at 8:13 am

Are you sure? Let's make the calcs again.

In Libya we fired 124 Tomahawks at $600,000 a peace in the first day of the attack. This is approximately $74 million in missiles alone, for a single day. The cost for the development of this gun, till now, is $240 million. The GA version is self-funded(meaning no USN funds up till now), only BAE's version was funded by the Navy. The gun shoots at 200nmi, about 370km with a rate of fire of 10 shots per minute(one every six seconds) and delivers a punch far bigger then a Tomahawk. The slug will probably cost less then few hundred bucks(it's just a bunch of tungsten alloy malted and shaped as a rocket). In the long run this gun will probably save billions from the defense budget just as savings on missiles.

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ShivaOption February 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm

The testing time may have something to do with using untried amounts of energy in a system only conceived of in science fiction. Along with more ammo capacity the speed allows a new range of anti -air anti-missile technologies. I've often wondered about ground based versions for anti missile defense but that may just be my imagination. A shell that could fill an area of space with hyper velocity "buckshot" could be fun…

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tiger February 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Great, more space junk to float in space.

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Will February 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Pretty sure ShivaOption means space in the generic sense, not orbital space. A projectile that would split into multiple projectiles in mid-air. Can't say much for his choice of fiction, though.

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ShivaOption February 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Thanks for clearing that up for me. I'll admit that wasn't one of Weber's best books but I love the name.

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I was more a Dahak guy. And /some/ Honor Harrington, though one of its spinoffs leaves much to be desired in my mind.

I'm not sure how useful it'll be for ground applications, unless we start building giant Maus tanks or Rattes carrying railguns…

Prodozul February 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm

At 0:48 why did it start spin out of control? Or look like it was spinning out of control?

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Skyepapa February 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm

because they're shooting test bricks that are destined to tumble. videos of the previous test bed showed it using aerodynamic projectiles that flew straight at arrows (even farther than they intended at one point, as noted in a previous post on this blog — that might be why they're using tumble-prone bricks now).

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Splitpi February 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

So basically lob a 23lb projectile 13 miles at Mach 5 is 32 MJ

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joe February 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

Scarily, so is about four large cheeseburger meals.

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I'd always assumed that the nutritional information was derived from putting food in a bomb calorimeter and completely combusting it? Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm right, then the "available" carbs thermodynamically differs from what you get by digestion.

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James Duncan March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm

23 pounds is about 10.4 kg. the speed of sound at room temperature is about 340 m/s. Mach 5 = 1,700 m/s. Using 1/2mv^2 for KE yields (0.5)(10.4)(1700)^2 = 15 MJ. Perhaps the 32 MJ refers to the energy of the electricity put into the gun, not the KE of the projectile.

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citanon February 28, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Ha, love it. They have a Navy guy loading the thing for firing. It's even starting to look like an operational gun.

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TLAM Strike February 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I love the sound @ 0:22. What do you bet that sound effect will be in the next Star Trek move when they fire the Enterprise's phasers?

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matheusdiasuk February 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Any chance to see this on Royal Navy's Type 26 frigate?

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moose February 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm

If they opt for an Integrated Power System when designing the frigate, the Type 26 will absolutely be able to handle a rail. Up to the RN to decide they want it.

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Assumes the military shares this with the UK. Maybe at minimum they will get advanced gun system, which might live on as an economy or export/foreign partner option.

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matheusdiasuk March 1, 2012 at 7:38 am

I though it would be able to UK access to it too.

This Railgun isn't BAE Systems technology? The Company could sell it to UK too, couldn't it?

Just a doubt. You guys know much more than me :)

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blight_ March 1, 2012 at 7:44 am

Good point. Though the question is if it is R&D'ed by an American division; how easily can IP be transferred to Europe? For instance, BAE bought out UD, which makes the BFV and other AFVs.The issue was probably worked out some time ago, but I don't recall the outcome..

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passingby March 1, 2012 at 12:14 am

Mark my word: NO, there is absolutely no chance for that … nor on any US frigates or destroyers.

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AlC February 29, 2012 at 1:20 am

It's great to see the technology moving forward, but as a weapon it's a non-starter.

Simply put, how do you assure it gets close to a target at 50NM ?

Would need some kind of guidance system as well as control mechanisms. Not many of these can survive being shot out of this monster.

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DaniOcean May 28, 2012 at 8:24 am

This thing can fire at 200nmi and hit 5meter target. They are scaling it down for the tests. This thing is better and cheaper then missiles.

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Jason February 29, 2012 at 4:05 am

I'm not seeing any shock fronts. I know the Navy wants a hypersonic projectile: is this one even supersonic?

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Guest February 29, 2012 at 10:14 am

Notice the fire? That's from the friction cause by the projectile moving through the air at very high velocity so at least high supersonic, if not hyper…

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Stormcharger February 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

Sure, 32megajules of energy pushing a 23 pound projectile should have a muzzle velocity of about 8300 feet per second, or about 5650mph, which is about Mach 7.4.

However, by comparison the 120mm gun mounted on the M1 and Leopard tanks currently in service fire with 12megajules of muzzle energy. So basically it's an over-sized tank gun that will never be as flexible as a conventional cannon as the projectile weight is so low. Direct fire engagement of hard targets only and no fire support capability, and the entire size of the system is still too large for mounting on a ship smaller than a cruiser as the electricity needed for just one shot is the equivalent to about 21760 car batteries.

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aaron March 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm

The problem of not developing enough wattage for a weapon will soon be a thing of the past.

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Vitor February 29, 2012 at 11:50 am

So this super expensive technology to do what cannons could a 100 hundred years ago? I'm not impressed.

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CoCowboy692000 February 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm

WOW – EPIC FAIL DUDE… You've failed completely to grasp this weapon – all the way around… geeze! I'm not even going to bother trying to es'plain…

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Wow. This landship crosses a field and fails half the time. Big whoop. Everyone knows the gallantry of cavalry always carries through a hail of machinegun fire, barbed wire and land mines.

Waste of money. Let's get more horses.

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Guidz March 1, 2012 at 10:02 am

Vitor, either this was a failed attempt at humor or angry ranting from an ignorant boob. that is like saying that the SR-17 does the same thing as a sopwith camel. (do you think they are the same? if so, please fall down a staircase for the world)
classic cannons which were outmoded by artillery by the 1900's couldn't very far, even in WWII, the 16-inch guns on battleships could only fire 60+ miles, these things can go 150+ miles. you, sir, failed.

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Twixter March 1, 2012 at 8:10 am

At last emerging technology eventually would be capable to shot down starting ICBM, SLBM.

Time aprroaches to pull out old and rusty nuclear teeths from mineral rich territory :)

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QtrsR March 1, 2012 at 9:52 am

As an innocent bystander , could someone please identify for me specific targets that the BAE gun will hit that are outside of the range of our present weapons inventory ?

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Stormcharger March 1, 2012 at 11:16 am

The simple answer is: None.

The only advantage that a rail gun has over a chemically propelled weapon is velocity. An explosive or burning compound cannot push a projectile faster than its own expanding gas which is of limited speed, somewhere about 2000 meters per second. A rail gun does not have this upper limit on speed, and since the basic ballistic formula for energy is E=mc2, the energy of the projectile is its weight times its velocity times its velocity.

On the other side, chemical propellants are much more efficient than electricity right now. As an example, to store the 32 megajules needed to fire the BAE railgun would require more than 21,000 car batteries. The volume of propellant needed to fire a 16 inch projectile 45 miles is about 1200 megajules and is only 0.004% on that volume of car batteries.

It's really a high tech apples and oranges kind of question. Can other systems do the job? Yes. Can it do things other conventional guns cannot? Again, yes.

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Cthel March 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

That's E= 1/2 m v^2

Not E = m c^2

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george March 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

Most people would agree that any country that tells its neighbors to get used to the sound of canons if they disagree with their policy is a threat. China posted exactly this comment warning its maritime neighbors about the South China seas. Source the China government controlled 'Global Times' . Get prepared for the high tech arms race.

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Jack March 5, 2012 at 8:10 am

Usefulness on a naval craft? Moderate. Capabilities from an orbital platform? Immense

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Brad January 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

capable from orbit? – you're joking. it has no capability. the recoil makes it useless. that's why you need directed energy weapons.

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QtrsR March 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Oops , USPS currently receives no taxpayer funds , declining federal subsidies in fact ; pls excuse foot in mouth . Going back to CSS Alabama v USS Kearsarge , however , Alabama's big gun , usually a " game over " cannon, went right over the Kearsarge due to the rolling motion of the ship ……

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Ryan March 11, 2012 at 11:49 am

Has anyone thought of the possibility of a space platform???? no need for oxygen anymore for a fuel propellant. 50-100nm = 57.5-115 regular miles. now what is 50miles up??? nothing that anyone but we can reach.

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Thomas L. Nielsen April 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

"Normal" chemical propellants contain their own oxygen, and will function just fine in a vacuum. Getting all the mechanical bits to do the same will be the problem (e.g. lubricants that will work in a vacuum and at insanely varying temperatures).

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Richard April 20, 2012 at 5:52 am

How do you protect a ship against the EMP produced by it?

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Thomas L. Nielsen April 20, 2012 at 7:00 am

The same way porcupines mate: With difficulty!

Jokes aside, once the extent and power level of an operational weapon's EMP pulse is known, I do not doubt that appropriate mitigation (shielding etc.) can be implemented.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Speedy May 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Is there any reason they could not scale down the weapon for "small" vehicles, or missile defence?

I think a small projectile moving at mach 7 would be pretty effective at taking out a missile. How about being used on something like a tank or even jeep in place of their other weapons.

(Think each round with two parts, "mass" and capacitor, no need for on vehicle power generation.)

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blight_ February 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The Navy is already trying to shoehorn into the guarding of coasts mission with LCS. Coast Guard will probably turn into the Ocean Rescue Service at some point, and may even inherit some old Perrys if they ask oh-so-nicely.

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tiger February 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

But they are built so crappy, They seem like a bad choice for rough weather duty the Coasties play in. The FFG's Are as old As the WHEC's they are trying to replace.

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Bob February 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

How many nuclear aircraft carriers or subs have been in extreme combat situations to the degree that conventional propulsion systems have? Not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying they haven't been tested outside of their design environment as much – I guess we'll have to wait for the next world war to find out…

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blight_ February 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

If you look at the Falklands, ships tended to lose power and sink rather than explode spectacularly a la USS Arizona. The Cole and the Stark and the Samuel Roberts did not cook off even with suicide boats and sea mines hitting on the waterline. Same with the Princeton and Tripoli in GW1. Go damage control.

That said, the Zumwalt was supposed to be a conventionally powered vessel while operating advanced power systems.

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blight_ February 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Luckily the rail gun project proceeds with traditional capacitors. Bundling too many R&D ventures together dooms them all together.

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blight_ February 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm

That's pretty crappy. It's a pity the Coasties are unlikely to get more share of procurement pie. Thought they had their own programs in the pipe…

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm

The only problem with railguns at their maximum performance is that ruggedizing electronics to survive at those velocities is expensive. Look at the hell we endured with Copperhead, and that was just to survive firing out of conventional tube artillery.

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blight_ February 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm

FWIW:

Shetland burned for six days before sinking.
Coventry: Two bombs, one into engine room, second into a bulkhead between fore and aft engine rooms. Flooding.
Ardent: Fire and flooding.
Antelope: EOD attempted to disarm a bomb. Explodes, cooking off ship.
Atlantic Conveyor: Fuel ignition, uncontrollable fire.

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Cthel March 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Actually, the problem can be somewhat simpler than for chemical artillery.

Chemical artillery produces a very high acceleration initially, which then decreases as the projectile moves down the barrel. Any components have to withstand the high initial shock of firing.

Acceleration in a railgun is much more gradual, increasing as the projectile moves down the barrel. As a result, there isn't a massive shock for the electronics to withstand.

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blight_ March 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I'd be interested to see those acceleration/muzzle velocity curves for tube artillery and railguns one day. Though it would require normalization for shell types, sub-types and long/short calibers (like 155mm/39 and 155mm/52 would have different plots, for example)

Though I suppose that suggests we may see lower velocity, less ambitious railgun tech gradually replacing some families of tube artillery first. Copperheads would be cheaper.

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ShivaOption March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

After reading that I'm determined to dig up my copy of Mutineers Moon and reread that series. For ground applications I was thinking more fixed installations by bases or other strategically important places where power generation wouldn't be nearly as large a factor. If we were going to do tanks and on the topic of science fiction I'd love to see a Bolo.

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ShivaOption March 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Now I have to go and dig up my copy of Mutineers Moon to reread that series.

In terms of ground applications I was thinking more along the lines of fixed emplacements by key bases or structures so that lugging around a generator large enough to power that beast wouldn't be an issue. I'm going to assume the range and possibly velocity would be higher to allow a better defensive curtain.

But… If we did put it on a tank a Bolo platform would be a wonderful thing to have around in the future.

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blight_ March 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Railguns + Oerlikon infinite repeaters?

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ShivaOption March 2, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Now that would be a something to see in action.

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