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Railguns remain in Navy’s future plans

by Matt Cox on April 10, 2013

They may not be ready to punch holes in Decepticons, but the Navy is banking on electromagnetic railguns one day arming its newest ships.

Directed energy weapons have created quite a buzz at this year’s Sea Air Space Expo at National Harbor, Md. They have always been a popular prop in science fiction movies; now the Navy is deploying the first directed energy “laser” weapon early next year aboard the amphibious transport dock Ponce.

While not as popular as lasers, high-energy rail guns are also generating plenty of excitement at this year’s show. The Navy has studied arming its new DDG 1000-class destroyer and Littoral Combat Ships with just such a weapon.

“There are feasible sizes of railguns we think we can put on these ships,” Robin White, director of Surface Ship Design and Systems Engineering, said Wednesday.

The Navy has spent the past eight years testing rail guns, most notably rolling out the first weaponized railgun in January 2012. The technology stands to offer additional range for land strikes as well as added capabilities in ballistic and cruise missile defense.

Railguns are capable of launching high-speed projectiles at targets out to 100 miles with out explosive propellants. They also can be guided on target, said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research and director of Innovation, Technology Requirements and Test & Evaluation.

These highly-advanced weapons, however, won’t come without challenges to overcome, White said. There will be power-storage issues to deal with as well as weight impacts for shipboard use. Heat dissipation and cooling will also have to be addressed.

“There will be many things to work through as we go forward, but the good news is these weapons provide tremendous advantage for shipboard use,” White said.

What type of shipboard use is still to be seen. Former Navy Under Secretary Robert Work said in January that he’d recommend delaying the decision on railguns until they Navy can decide how these weapons fit into the fleet design.

“Naval to naval exchanges just aren’t our thing right now. What it is is about projecting power in theaters where these land based anti-access aerial denial networks with guided weapons that can be thrown at range in salvos is a very, very difficult problem and the Navy is very focused on,” Work said in January.

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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob C. April 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I'm glad the Navy sticking with their guns to keeping the Railgun in cards for elements of the fleet. I wonder if they've done tests with gun being fired at ranges yet. They only show shells bursting through walls.

I think the biggest concern is being able have ship able handle them. There only three Zulwalts going be built. LCS wouldn't have right power generation handle these guns.


Nick T. April 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Flight III Burke's perhaps? Maybe mount it on a carrier? I don't think the mass-produced railgun specs are going to be very conservative when it comes to power either, and I don't see a Ticonderoga or Burke retrofit as particularly cost effective. Triumphant return of the nuclear cruiser perhaps?


Bob April 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Maybe a new class of battleship?


blight_ April 10, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Or a Project Babylon Supergun to bombard targets from the safety of the UAE.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

A nice thought. Maybe with a missile defense system using laser tech. Railguns do have the potential of removing the cruise missile from the VLS tubes of ships. A railgun's projectile flies significantly faster; you don't need to fit a warhead to take some targets.


Air Jordan May 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm
Rob C. April 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm

It would have to be new design or completely redesign Burke. From what I've read Flight III doesn't produce enough electrical power enable to Railgun to work.

Nuclear design would be better idea, but i don't know if there enough political will push ahead do it. Sadly be a very long time till they can design, build and complete new Nuclear powered Cruiser or Destroyer.

I'd be happy if they did build a modern Battleship or Battlecruiser. A ship with armor, handle heavy fire. It may not protect it from cruise missiles, but little speed boats with bombs may not dent it.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

I don't think, in the end, a Burke will get rail guns. They may very well be the last design that of destroyer in the US fleet without rail guns, assuming that the DDG-1000s get rail guns as an upgrade or something.


Nick T. April 12, 2013 at 11:59 am

I agree. That said, it may be something like a flight IV or III upgrade, and will be expensive as all hell. But they'll find a way.

Olive May 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm
Air Jordan Femme May 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm
Moondawg April 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

They will be awesome, if they work.


wpnexp April 10, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Think the big problem is barrell wear still. Haven't heard how they will keep a barrel strong while passing all that electro-magnetic energy through it.


blight_ April 10, 2013 at 9:49 pm

It's probably the usual barrel-killer: heat; moreso than EM.

NMR can put out a considerable amount of Teslas, for example.


Tri-ring April 11, 2013 at 1:23 am

The rail gun has an inherent problem of trying to rip itself apart with the two conductive rails pushing away from each other.
Another problem I foresee is recoil since the projectile would be going 3~4 times faster than a normal chemical projectile, the recoil would be 9~16 times stronger.


davidz April 11, 2013 at 6:14 am

If the bullet is 4x faster, the recoil is also (roughly) 4x bigger. I assume You meant kinetic energy. As blight_ said, the biggest concern is heat coming from enormous electrical current and projectile-rail friction.


Tri-ring April 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

To accelerate 4X the speed you need 16 time the amount of energy. With every action you have reaction resulting to 16 times the amount of recoil.

davidz April 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Ok, sorry. I misunderstood, You mean the peak force, not the recoil impulse?

Jordan Femme May 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm
blight_ April 11, 2013 at 9:24 am

Another possibility may be to use electromag to deliver rounds of comparable velocity to today's guns. Dispensing with the propellant will mean smaller rounds, or more payload. And less powerful magnets.

Let's do this in steps. The Wright Brothers delivered a glider, then the engined aircraft, and didn't try to deliver biplanes with rocket launchers in a fiscal year.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Well, I don't see much of a point in replacing modern, proven guns with experimental electromagnetic guns. I mean, program cost overruns, heck, the program cost, along with procurement costs are a bit to high. Until we can "master" the rail-gun, I say stay away from replacing literally everything in our arsenal.


blight_ April 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

An old argument is ammunition safety. In my mind, the second argument is using a railgun to propel a round, and even more of the round can be devoted to payload or rocket-assist to make up the difference.

It will take a mix of modest steps to iron out the early kinks of the technology, plus the investment in the "real" railgun before we get anywhere.

Let's use history as an example. WW1 sucked for infantry and cavalry. The first tanks were terrible. There were a lot of tank designs, and they were generally terrible. But they achieved a limited mission to prove the feasibility of the concept, and this in turn justified subsequent investment (or not! silly peacetime…except in Germany) in the technology.

Besides, it also means getting a product sooner before the DC critters decide "dude, where's my railguns" and cancel everything.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Well, frankly, you don't really need ammo in a rail-gun. Heck, at the speeds a projectile is fired from a gun, you could load a rubber eraser and it will come out like a bullet. And yeah, agree about your other points. It would be interesting, though, to see the M1A3 toting a laser or rail gun.

LonePine April 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Bursts of EMag energy THAT size won't cause dangerous levels of gamma radiation ? Could just make a "drone" ship of course. Just leave a few maint guys aboard in a shielded room.


Air Jordan Femme May 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm
Danny April 11, 2013 at 3:48 am

Can't they just duck tape it?


Warfighter April 11, 2013 at 6:12 am

I bet the engineers behind this one dream of graphene every night.


Dfens April 11, 2013 at 9:05 am

I'll bet they continue to research these right up until the funding for research stops. What a damn waste. If a private company wanted to develop a railgun, they'd be shooting projectiles to the Moon already.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

Pretty accurate. Instead, money goes to the F-35.


Dfens April 15, 2013 at 8:50 am

There's no private money going to the F-35, it's another government rice bowl, just like railgun. Once we started paying companies to do research and development, we screwed ourselves. If a company can make a profit on R&D, why ever produce anything?


USS ENTERPRISE April 15, 2013 at 10:46 am

Ever heard of research? Lockheed Martin may not have given money to the project (which it did), but what about the time and resources that were given to the plane? That is called lost money. A lot of lost money. Billions of lost moneys. And it didn't make profit off of R&D, it needs to make the actual planes.


Warner M. Harvey April 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Poor Submarines they have a FINITE # of torpedoes and then they are USELLESS put a RAILGUN on a SUB and you will make it able to stay in the fight.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Well, everything has a FINITE number of projectiles. An F-22 runs out of missiles after 10 shots, assuming its in stealth mode. A rail-gun in a sub is some time away. I agree rail guns and lasers are the future of weaponry, but we aren't ready to strap some onto subs, boats, tanks, and aircraft. I think that we should probably make smaller, more efficient torpedoes then currently; we currently use torps that are millions in cost, and use wires to steer. These two characteristics alone make our torps rather waste-y. But rail guns are some ways away.


Mr. Horrible April 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Under water?


blight_ April 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm

An Ohio only has 24 SLBM's. A Seawolf only carries 50 torpedoes or TLAM.

Sniff, sniff, not enough ICBMs.


joe April 12, 2013 at 3:31 am

Believe me, if you've got a 'wolf pack' of two or three Virginia's or Astutes on your tail, *you* will run out of ships before *they* run out of torpedoes.


STemplar April 12, 2013 at 6:14 pm

A VA class has 24 torpedos potentially, how many do you think it needs? I'm pretty sure no navy would be happy about losing 24 ships.


USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Well, that is true. But that is assuming that all torps work. Also, its more about staying on station for a while. A sub can theoretically stay underwater for weeks, if not months. But if it uses up all of its torpedoes/missiles, then what is its purpose?


blight_ April 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Fleet in being. How many navies have 10-20 capital ships "worth" a torpedo?

Many target navies are of the patrol boat type…


USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Well yes, that is true. Which is my point. Why waste such an important ship, a submarine, to wage warfare with dinky patrol boats with million dollar missiles and torpedoes.

anon April 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

As the first line of the article points out, the real problem is the potential threat from Decepticons. We really need to invest more in sentient robots.


Drew May 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Are you crazy? Have you ever seen Terminator?


Big-Dean April 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Do any of you engineering types have an idea about how much it costs per shot to fire the rail gun? The costs would be in terms of energy consumed, wear and tear, cost of the projectile, etc.

In the laser article it mentioned that it costs about $1 per shot (per use) which is outstanding. So as long as the laser as power it can keep shooting, which is exactly what we need.

If we can actually make shooting the railgun really cheap, that would be vastly superior to lobbing $1M missiles every time we want to take something out


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Cost, in terms of energy, won't be much. Say we build another battleship, with laser point-defense cannons, and rail-guns. If we put, say, two or four nuclear reactors on board, then I think we can manage with energy to spare. True, reactors are expensive, but refueling every 20-25 years? I think its a good investment. And yes, I agree with your missile analogy. Its funny how we have come to the point where we build weapons that are so expensive, and one shot, no matter how good they are.


blight_ April 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm

It will require a very large conventional power source and advances in metallurgy and capacitor design; especially if they want meaningful rate of fire.

There is one perk to going with conventional rounds; rate-of-fire limited by heat, barrel wear and the time it takes to cycle new rounds. At the moment, the ability to deliver quantity of energy to capacitors, and capacitors to discharge enough of it; plus ability to delivery quantity of energy quickly, and to recharge those capacitors quickly push ready-to-use railguns into the future.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Well, like I said, drop the conventional stuff, and go nuclear. And I can see the uses and perks say, a Tomahawk gives. I respect the cruise missile, and support it, but we are soon going to have to find a way to replace these things, and a rail-gun is the best way. Rapid fire is something a rail-gun can't do yet, but like you stated in another comment, we are starting to expect every new weapon system to be excellent and be at the forefront overnight.


blight_ April 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Don't need nuclear for a railgun until the capacitors catch up.

Restore Palestine April 12, 2013 at 1:14 am

Whew, BS ENTERPRISE is getting hyper in here. HaHa.


Mikey April 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Move over Transformers here comes the future. . .WOW
the present administration will figure out some way to screw this up.


gar guddy April 11, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Mikey, put Bush back in charge and I am sure it won't get screwed up.., Ok?


Restore Palestine April 12, 2013 at 1:22 am

Another sign the US is getting worse as a rogue state run by criminals.

With the economy in the toilet, the largest number of homeless and unemployed people in US history, the crumbling infrastructure in disrepair, the trade deficit and fiscal deficit at nightmarish levels, and the largest military in the world, the thugs in the US government are still pouring money into new weapons to kill people.


crackedlenses April 12, 2013 at 2:21 am

If I was asking to be sucker-punched by the US as much as you are, I'd be worried about their weapons development too…..


Restore Palestine April 12, 2013 at 2:52 am

crackedhead, the US can't even handle Afghanistan without resorting to torture and other terrorist tactics. Sucker-punch your dad for giving you a sucker's brain.


USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Funny. This assessment is coming from a Palestinian refuge/terrorist. Man, look outside your box, and see the crap going on out there. Middle East can't talk about anyone until it finishes all of its wars and terrorist activities.


Restore Palestine April 13, 2013 at 12:14 am

HaHa. What is funnier is a mental like yourself (and STumpler and crackedhead) with a defective brain and a sub-sixth-grade education, fatigue-bombing this site day and night with BS posts while pretending to be "somewhat knowledgeable" about defense technology.

If Japan would have been half as determined and thorough in bombing Pearl Harbor as you and your ilk are bombing here, the US would have been a big loser in the Pacific theater in WWII.


USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

Man, read about the battle of the Philippine Sea, or the Marinas "Turkey Shoot". Japan through their best at US. And they lost.


riceball April 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Stop feeding the troll and he'll eventually go get his jollies elsewhere. As it is, every time you respond to one of his inane comments you simply give him reason to continue to hang around here and post his drivel.

Restore Sanity April 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm

You are right, it would be a lot cheaper to strap a bomb to a citizen and call it self defense. I bet the guy who came up with this idea thought he should be the one to go first. What are we thinking?


Ron C April 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

I've heard that one problem being encountered (among many) is that the rails themselves are subject to tremendous wear because of the high heat generated by the electric impulses that propel the projectile down the rail. Does anyone know what types of materials are being used on the rails? I know there are some recent advances in ultra high strength steels that might potentially mitigate such wear.


Blue1 April 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

Its the friction caused by the projectile in contact with the rails. Though this has been migated somewhat by induction and frictionless material coating (slight increase in power requirements). I still think gauss tech is the way to go.


Rob C. April 13, 2013 at 7:55 am

Very true. I keep forgetting there two verisions of the Rail Gun.
I wonder how often this thing can be handle being fired in shore bombardment. From image you'd think it being pretty violent everytime they fire the thing. Wear and tear going be huge problem.


Flux77 April 13, 2013 at 6:50 am
Flux77 April 13, 2013 at 6:51 am
Brandon April 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I believe that the Railgun will be a great addition to the navy becuase the power and distance that it has. But the wear and tear is a concern to me


Tony C. April 17, 2013 at 7:32 am

The use of ceramics, similar to those in the combustion chamber of high performance jet engines, can mitigate some of the heat and wear issues for a rail gun. There is of course, the vacuum created behind the accelerating projectile that is a larger problem since it has a tendency to collapse the rails behind the projectile.
This can be somewhat mitigated by using a pressurizing medium behind the projectile (such as helium), but all this comes at a cost in weight and space on a ship. The advantage to a rail gun is it can easily defeat any ballistic missile or surface skiming missile fired at the ship from which it is operating. The advantage of the rail gun over the laser is that the impacts will destroy the target in milliseconds as opposed to maintaining target track until the surface of the intended target is melted to destroy it.


blight_ April 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

Or something like base-bleed in artillery projectiles, which releases gas behind the projectile to reduce the pressure gradient behind the round.


SFP May 23, 2013 at 2:31 am

Think the big problem is barrell wear still. Haven’t heard how they will keep a barrel strong while passing all that electro-magnetic energy through it.


whitey September 13, 2014 at 10:38 pm

no barrel, just rails like a choo choo train. I say suspend the projectile above the rails eltromagnetically, just like a choo choo train.


Tilly July 30, 2013 at 4:04 pm
Mr. Horrible April 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm

F=dP/dT. Nobody's mentioned dT.


davidz April 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Recoil is proportional to momentum (mass x velocity), not kinetic energy (0.5 x mass x velocity^2). The third Newton's law operates on momentum.


blight_ April 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

This would be true of any projectile fired at that velocity. The railgun is just a means of delivering a projectile at high velocity.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Yes, but the rail gun possess the capability to fire at that velocity, for now. Take, say, the 120MM on an Abrams or Leopard. Pretty powerful, and would really chuck a "rubber eraser" some distance, but a rail gun, well. Just TOO quick.


USS ENTERPRISE April 11, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Well, yeah, like I said, we need a little bit of time and progress. But I think that with the current layout of rail-guns, a nuclear reactor would take care of everything, in terms of power.


ziv April 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I had to laugh when I read Restore Palestine was calling someone a "prolific BSer". I doubt that he is able to recognize the humor in his post, though.


USS ENTERPRISE April 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm
STemplar April 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Who said anything about shooting patrol boats with torpedo? Given the chance one VA class could sink a CSG.


Rob C. April 13, 2013 at 7:52 am

Thats thing. They THINK its going be cheaper to continue building the same design. It only works if it exactly the same. They were shocked when they discovered the DDG-52 FLIGHT III was so more expensive than FLIGHT IV. There no locked in savings from design they've upgraded.

If isn't really built for it, its not going to work out verywell. DDG-1000 has alot going for it when it comes to powering high-energy demanding weapons. It was intended for it. Congress is cut happy. They think everything too expensive and not seeing inflation being possible in the defense industry.


USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 10:14 am

Can we make you run for congress? That is what is going to happen. Money for projects that are excellent are being cut (F-22, Zumwalt, etc) so we can buy F-35s.


USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

Well, if you follow what blight_ said, you will see he talks about patrol boats in most navies of the world. If you claim that torps won't be used against them, why put them on subs and ships in the first place?


USS ENTERPRISE April 13, 2013 at 11:07 am

Uh, we already are testing lasers on ships right now. LINK :http://defensetech.org/2013/04/08/navy-set-to-deploy-laser-aboard-ponce/


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