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CNO: Railguns and Hellfires Make Ships More Lethal

by Matt Cox on April 9, 2014

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The Pentagon may not escape the crippling budget cuts on the horizon, but that isn’t stopping the Navy’s top admiral from talking up the sea service’s future weapon programs.

“We have got to better match our mission and tailor our platforms to the missions as to what they carry,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said recently at the Navy League 2014 Sea, Air and Space Exposition. “Our platforms have to be adaptable.”

Greenert showed a video of the electromagnetic railgun the Navy is testing. The service plans to fire the hyper-velocity weapon from a joint high speed vessel in 2016 as part of a broader effort to develop the long-range, high-energy weapon.

“We are beyond lab coats; we are into engineering now,” Greenert said. “We’ve got the power level figured out, we know what the projectile looks like and we are testing it.”

The railgun uses electrical energy to create a magnetic field and propel a 23-pound kinetic energy projectile at speeds up to 5,600 miles per hour, Navy officials maintain. The hyper-velocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary.

“It’s not only going at a tremendous high-speed; it will break up and deliver a pretty decent effect,” Greenert said. “It’s a lot of power.”

Navy vessels are “evolving in other ways,” Greenert said.

“We’ve got a missile going on board the Littoral Combat Ship,” he said. “It’s the Longbow Hellfire. It’s an interim fix; we are going to get a long-range missile eventually. We are making the Littoral Combat Ship more lethal.”

The Navy is also in the process of arming the patrol boats it has in the Arabian Gulf with a new missile system, Greenert said, adding that testing is going well.

““It works,” Greenert said. “They need to be more lethal. We need to put a missile on it.”

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy April 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm

This is a great news, we need to add 2 of this this weapon to every single Destroyers

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SFCPappy April 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm

8213 feet per second. Now that’s moving down the road.

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SFCPappy April 9, 2014 at 3:22 pm

.03 second to go through the Gerald Ford. .006 of a second to go through a cruiser. Mean Machine if they get it working reliably and out to the fleet.

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Dfens April 9, 2014 at 3:33 pm

And just 6 months ago we weren't going to see these on actual ships for a couple more decades. Obviously no politics at work here. 6 months ago our ships had more than enough weapons too. It's so hard to keep up with the latest lie.

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blight_ April 9, 2014 at 4:14 pm

The "Aerial Overmatch" module will attach an armed aerostat to every LCS. From a tether several thousand feet up, the Hellfire missiles with have decent range compared to weapons fired from sea level. The aerostat will also facilitate long-range target acquisition and mount a laser to blind prospective terrorists, who are going to Gitmo and have no rights to begin with.

/satire

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citanon April 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Rail guns… FUCK YEAH!!!!

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Marc Winger April 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Don't vote for Democrats if you want a continually weakened Navy.
The new rail gun is nice & fine, but…

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William_C1 April 9, 2014 at 10:29 pm

The Democrats are more concerned about buying votes than ensuring technological supremacy.

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Marc Winger April 10, 2014 at 2:34 am

Agreed. (I don't think my comment made sense. I meant, don't vote for them Unless you want a continually….) Can't edit my original. ;-)

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Greg April 10, 2014 at 7:48 am

Keep your political dribble to your self. Your comment has nothing to do with the article.

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Well, it actually does if you want to see these weapons produced. If you haven't noticed, politicians decide how to spend our money.

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boraxo April 14, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Don't vote for Republicans if you want money wasted on toys like this. Technological superiority? Over whom – the North Koreans? The Iranians? We're facing foes with far less technology, far less firepower, and far smaller forces than us.
Real national security lies in being economically competitive – invest in education, infrastructure, and health. This $4 billion program won't make us any safer.

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

So are you suggesting the North Koreans should have technological supriority over us then? And the Iranians. That is the conclusion you are aluding to. You can't have education, infrastructure, and healthcare unless you have a country strong enough to keep those things. Unless you want China to own most of Asia, and the old Soviet Union reconstituted, you might want to reconsider your technologically inferior statement. And I will end by saying that nothing you said will make us any safer either.

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boraxo April 16, 2014 at 2:58 pm

You think the Iranians have something that can take on an Aegis destroyer? They've got a bunch of little coastal boats, they rely on numbers, and even then they'd get blown out of the water. The North Koreans have even less.
And do you really think that we're going to be in large scale naval engagements with these countries? When was the last time naval power was decisive in a US war – WWII.
We already have 62 destroyers far more advanced than anything the Iranians will field in the next 20 years. They don't have the materials tech, the stealth tech, and a hundred other things.

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Thomas April 10, 2014 at 1:54 am

I hope all of you will consider an unconventional thought enough to pass on the Idea. In the future we will need to keep our edge.. I propose placing on to two of these on the new carriers. No matter what we have as a screen our carriers will face a massive first wave attack. Using a rail gun on a carrier as a last layer of a defensive shield. Carriers have the best unlimited and robust power supplies. Rail guns small footprint and munitions that are basically inert.

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rtsy April 10, 2014 at 3:40 am

Power requirements for Railguns are still through the roof. Current plans mount diesel engines big enough to drive a destroyer to power just one gun at multiple shots per minute.

I bet the Army or Marines might be able to find a use for a fixed position cannon though.

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Thomas April 10, 2014 at 5:18 am

Yes, good use of a nuke plant. MW on demand. It will be a good period of time before superconducting room temp coils can lower some of the power demands. But our "friends" wont wait. implement now. If nothing else is will be a strategic wedge in Asia. Make them think twice about using carrier killer missiles.

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Jeff M April 11, 2014 at 2:44 am

How's this going to affect a carrier killer missile?

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Thomas April 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

The impact on the warhead should be enough to destroy or disable the missile. On the terminal end of the flight of the missile it has less room to maneuver. So the point is if your escort shield doesn't take out the incoming missile you being the target have the best chance to destroy the missile. Example of this is sea wiz.

rtsy April 11, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Implement a system that barely works right now? Worst idea ever. Did we learn nothing from the F-35?!?

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Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Maybe you didn't watch the video. Barely works is far from what I saw. Getting the guns to fire in rapid succession, packaging these on ships and developing guided rounds are the final hurdles to be overcome. Cerainly putting the system in reach for deployment in a decade or so. As a mid range weapon, these wil make a dramatic change in the way we fight.

James Thompson April 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

USS Ford is designed with this in mind 3 times the poser generation of a Nimitz class. … it even has electromagnetic catapults.

see: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/02/20/nav

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Brian B. Mulholland April 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm

The capacitors used by EMALS might be useful in connection with railgun technology, but you'd probably need some time to charge them fully. A reactor on a ship with electric main-propulsion systems is one way, but multiturbine destroyer designs with the space for a couple of those capacitors might be another. Turbines can be fired up pretty quickly; if you detect an incoming cruise missile, the most likely initial use of this kind of system, a bridge crew might be able to hit a few buttons, bring a second turbine on line, and dump the building surge of current straight into a capacitor; depending on projectile weight, you might have a heck of a point defense system.

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Thomas April 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Utilization as a ABM defense against the DF-21 could be a major byproduct of the new weapons system. Look at the Aegis Ballistic Missile defense system in case adaptation two new needs. We have to think in ways that provide not only defense but deterrence in their efforts in area denial. I am convinced that a point defense system that consists of carrier escorts but also as I stated carriers with two rail guns on each of the new carrier class. Practical and sends a strong message. Having defensive weapons that can be basically ready for loading all the time but a essentially inert is a huge safety and time advantage.

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citanon April 12, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Forget for a moment installation on ships. Imagine these rail guns on static land installations.

The strategic calculus for the Pacific, I think, just changed.

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Thomas April 13, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Good, as I first stated to think strategically outside the box.Using Rail guns at key defense pacific locations in conjunction with a patriot installation is not a bad idea. A Guam site as well as the Philippines and if Taiwan would request such a Mutual Defense Treaty . A very effective strategic lever against illegal territorial claims.

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E_Khun April 14, 2014 at 3:18 am

Ok. Railgun. Cool and all. I'm all for it.

But can someone please explain what it's going to be used for? Shore bombardement, point defense? And what trajectory do these rounds use? I'd think shooting things in line of sight is pretty much covered already.

If used as artillery. Since it relies on speed as it's destructive component, won't it bleed speed at longer ranges? I also guess it won't be shooting guided rounds, it'll fry all electronics. And what if I want to shoot something close by? (Like the bastard at the other side of town who's burning tires up wind) I can't shoot it slower because it'll do less damage doesn't it?

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crich April 14, 2014 at 10:36 am

It has superiority over other systems with range and effect of impact due to velocity.

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E_Khun April 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

That answers exactly none of my questions.

Let's start simple. What will be the target?

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Dfens April 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm

They can go as fast as Mach 8, where as a typical canon is limited to projectile speeds in the Mach 3 range, so you can imagine how much extra distance is possible with the rail gun. On the other hand, usually a rail gun relies on speed to do damage, so I think the effective range is probably inside 100 miles. The closer the target, the more damage they do. Again, this is because the speed is what causes the damage. The target can be anything, another ship, a shore battery, power or communications utilities. I suppose it could even be used against aircraft. Some of the projectiles are guided. There was a story here about that a few months back.

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E_Khun April 15, 2014 at 6:07 am

I know how they work. I'm just wondering how the munition can be guided. I see all these articles about railguns and GPS guided rounds but they tell me nothing about the electronics that must survive the acceleration (might be doable) and the massive EMP burst through which they are fired.

I guess you can shield the round and have the shielding drop away with the sabot when it leaves the barrel (do we still call it a barrel?) but I haven't found any confirmation.

I don't see much use in an artillery piece that can shoot 80-100 miles without guided munition. That's a lot of distance in which weather and atmosphere effect your aim.

Charles James Haas April 14, 2014 at 4:13 pm

It can be used to attack troop positions, airfields, ships, cruise missiles in-bound, ballistic missiles in-bound (although getting a round made for that high speed intercept will be challenging), radar sites, command centers. The rail gun would likely require several rounds to take out a large indutrial building though. I expect larger targets might be attacked with an exploding round to spread the destructive force of round over a larger area. It would typically be launched in a ballistic arc (45 degrees angle at least). The round would also likely be used in a near vertical angle on impact ni the end game. GPS/INS guidance is most likely.

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Man in the Middle May 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

I don't think GPS/INS systems could stand the incredible G forces generated from the high speeds of a kinetic system like this.

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citanon April 14, 2014 at 8:28 pm

The number one application of this gun is air defense.

The primary advantage is that this gun replaces a Mach 4 $250,000 $1 million surface to air missile such as the Patriot PAC-3 with a $25,000 Mach 7 artillery shell that can be fired once every second. On a land installation, instead of having a magazine of 16 missiles, you can have something like 500 shells. The shells can be fired once every second.

With that in mind, you now have a situation where:

1. the US can potentially shoot down the warhead of a DF-21 ballistic missile at 1/100 the cost it took to produce that missile
2. the air defense can shoot fast enough to stop even a saturation attack vs. any site at sea or on land
3. the air defense magazine of a single CAG or an airbase like Guam, on its own, can have more than enough defensive firepower to exhaust all of the missiles in the Chinese inventory.

_If_ they get this thing to perform as well as they want, it may change the game in the Pacific completely. If they get this to work vs. ICBMs (very big if), it will change the calculus of MAD.

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Thomas April 14, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Using patriot and Rail I envisioned the use both together. Patriot for at longer range due to it's maneuverability Also to have the incoming missile use more maneuvering propellant. The Railgun more of a point defense. The closer the missile the less time it has to evade the hypersonic speed of the missile. Thank you for the help.

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Thomas April 14, 2014 at 10:56 pm

In the future longer barrel more capacitors and a system to run it you can fire a larger shells or a shell farther. Think of the Iraq war with the old battleship firing 16" shells and solders surrendering to a uav from the ship. This is a game changer for the pacific theater. This is that big stick. Use it wisely and don't let interservice disputes or thinking it can only be placed on specific ships.

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Jerry June 16, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Simple application. Artillery. 5-7 round in different angles for the rounds to hit an area at the same time. The main reason rail gun are being pushed to basically to have a cheaper per round option than using missiles. WW2 showed that battleship guns are good artillery support and since taking them out the “replacements” are all missiles and bombs. It would be good if they could put these in destroyers to give troops a “call for fire” in short notice compared to planes or missiles that cost half a million per shot. So it would complement the existing weapon. Maybe later on smart rail gun munition can be developed but I think the basic kinetic artillery is already a good step.

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