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US Navy Fires Off Its New Weaponized Railgun

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The Navy has spent seven years testing out the components of a way-futuristic weapon: a shipboard cannon that blasts bullets over vast distances at hypersonic speeds using bursts of electricity. But so far, that weapon, known as the Electromagnetic Railgun, has been more of a lab experiment than an honest-to-God weapon. It didn’t even have basic gun-like features, like a barrel. Now, however, the Navy is unveiling the first actual railgun guns, which it’ll test for another five years, in the hope of winning over legislators who consider it a waste of time, money and electricity.

Previous versions of the railgun have been laboratory test models, stored in a hangar at Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia. They look like shipping containers or school buses put up on blocks, hooked up like Frankenstein’s monster to giant generators that pump dozens of megajoules of energy necessary to fire the bullet. All that has cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. And you couldn’t fit any of it onto a ship, and it wouldn’t actually be a real weapon if you did.

At least not until Jan. 30, when BAE Systems sent its first actual gun-shaped railgun to Dahlgren. Competitor General Atomics will send its own design there in April. Both designs have 12-meter barrels. “Now that looks like a real gun,” said Roger Ellis, the railgun chief for the Office of Naval Research, which has inaugurated the next phase of tests to determine the gun’s practicality — something many in Congress doubt.

The Navy released video of the first tests, viewable above, on Tuesday. The dramatic mini-inferno in the wake of the slug fired from the railgun is the result of “1 million amps flowing through” the gun, said test chief Tom Boucher, the hypersonic speed of the shot, and the actual aluminum of the bullet — “reactive in the atmosphere” — burning off.

It’s the next step in a process — an expensive one — the Navy hopes will lead to a whole new era of self defense for ships, and way, way long-range strikes from on deck by the early 2020s. The Navy’s current 5-inch deck guns top out at 13 kilometer ranges. By 2017, the Navy wants the railgun prototypes to fire several shots per minute without soaking up a ship’s juice.

The idea behind the Electromagnetic Railgun is to fire a bullet at hypersonic speeds using dozens of megajoules of electricity. The Navy wants it to guard the surface ships of the 2020s, unsubtly boasting to adversaries that messing with the ships will lead to bullets shooting across hundreds of miles of ocean in mere minutes. The Office of Naval Research says it will give sailors “a dramatically increased multimission capability,” like fire support for land strikes over long, long distances beyond the reach of enemy defenses, and defense against “cruise and ballistic missiles” that target ships. No wonder the railgun’s official motto is “Velocitas Eradico” — “Speed Kills.”

Lab tests have pleased the Navy, if not Congress. In December 2010, the Office of Naval Research fired a shot with 33 megajoules of energy, a world record, sending a 23-pound bullet 5500 feet in a single second. The Senate Armed Services Committee still found the science too impractical, and recommended killing the railgun, until a Navy congressional counterstrike revived the program.

Now that the Navy has an actual prototype railgun to shoot, the plan is to hook it up to sensors and cameras to test its performance at 20 and 33 megajoules’ worth of energy. Its goal is produce accurate shots from 50 to 100 nautical mile distances, which the Navy wants by 2017.

Even railgun advocates concede there are a host of other challenges the hypersonic weapon will have to overcome. Its barrel will have to withstand repeated fires without wearing out. (The Navy wants to up firing rates to 10 per minute.) It’s got to fire smart bullets without frying the guidance systems during a blast. (The Navy says both BAE and General Dynamics are starting to design “a next-generation thermally managed launcher.”) And it’s got to be affordable. (The Navy has spent $240 million on the railgun so far, and it expects to spend about as much through 2017 on tests — before buying a single one of the things.)

Another big problem: the current generation of Destroyers can’t produce the power to fire the railgun without diverting juice from the propulsion systems. One of the goals of the railguns over the next five years is to create workarounds, so the guns will be relevant to their intended ships. Those include “an intermediate energy store using energy-dense batteries, similar to [those on] hybrid cars,” Ellis told reporters on a Tuesday conference call. “That enables us to put the railgun on ships that don’t have larger power supplies.”

Which should underscore how the Navy really, really loves its railgun — enough to go to the mat with Congress about it and win. That’s not going to relent now that it actually has a real cannon to shoot.

by Spencer Ackerman

Wired Magazine Article

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The adaptation of this system on the MBTs would be interesting in terms of the smoke elimination in the fighting compartment, the lost of weight for the air extraction system, defaults seem to be the flash, they should have to reduce the initial velocity to avoid the shell crashes on the armor without exploding. Perhaps a system to succeed the MLRS on short ranges !

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...Now THAT'S pretty cool. :yes:

 

you actually COULD send the kitchen sink through that thing :lol:

 

 

 

 

 

SidDogg

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Modern tanks do not have complex ventilation systems. They use something known as a "bore evacuator". You might have seen this bulge on the gun tube on M1 tanks. What this does is holes in the gun tube vent propellent gas into the chamber created by the bulge. When the breechblock opens when the gun returns to battery after it recoils during firng, that opening on the breech end creats a suction that " evacuates" the residual gas from the tube. The use of railguns on tanks has been discussed for 30 years but the same problem exists on tanks as in ships. How do you generate enough electricity to maintain an effective rate of fire? A nuclear powered warship could do this with an efficient railgun system in the future but unless you want a nuclear reactor in every tank or ground combat system it would be impractical.

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There are a LOT of problems to be solved if you could just generate enough electricity.

 

The story reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein. "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?" Sometimes research seems silly and frivolous but you never know where it will go. See my sig quote.

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Modern tanks do not have complex ventilation systems. They use something known as a "bore evacuator". You might have seen this bulge on the gun tube on M1 tanks. What this does is holes in the gun tube vent propellent gas into the chamber created by the bulge. When the breechblock opens when the gun returns to battery after it recoils during firng, that opening on the breech end creats a suction that " evacuates" the residual gas from the tube. The use of railguns on tanks has been discussed for 30 years but the same problem exists on tanks as in ships. How do you generate enough electricity to maintain an effective rate of fire? A nuclear powered warship could do this with an efficient railgun system in the future but unless you want a nuclear reactor in every tank or ground combat system it would be impractical.

 

 

It seemed to me that a simple air system like a closed circuit rebreather was necessary in NBC conditions, probably a memory error ... It is true that the idea of a vehicle driven by the nuclear is unthinkable, as the wear rate of the tube who will be a problem even on ships.

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It seemed to me that a simple air system like a closed circuit rebreather was necessary in NBC conditions, probably a memory error ... It is true that the idea of a vehicle driven by the nuclear is unthinkable, as the wear rate of the tube who will be a problem even on ships.

 

 

Strato, you are correct about CBRN/NBC conditions. The M1 had what was known as a "gas particulate system". What this was was just a big gaskmask filter in the tank that all the crewstations could plug into. A small pump circulated air through the system. The M1A1 and A2 have an "NBC Overpressure System". Basically a pump and condenser system located in the left track sponson pressurizes the air inside the vehicle to create a higher pressure inside than out. That allows in theory for a crew to fight buttoned up (hatches shut) without their masks on. Normally it is used in conjunction with masks. The Overpressure System does have a secondary ventilation function from a gunnery standpoint. When the gunner indexes "COAX" for the coaxial M-240 machine gun, the overpressure system kicks on to push the fumes from the breech end of the machine gun out of the vehicle. Truth be told, most crews disconnect a certain cable which disables this function. Frankly because it is noisy and is a pain in the butt and coax fumes do smell kinda cool!

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Yeah, it will be a while before even turbine-powered tanks could power this thing. It's ironic that the ships best suited to power these guns are the carriers. :grin:

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 The US Navy should never have decomissioned the Virginia-class CGN's... they could have rebuilt their decks and interiors to fit these new weapons and they'd have the power to spare...

 

At least the Russians still have the Kirov... 

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Strato, you are correct about CBRN/NBC conditions. The M1 had what was known as a "gas particulate system". What this was was just a big gaskmask filter in the tank that all the crewstations could plug into. A small pump circulated air through the system. The M1A1 and A2 have an "NBC Overpressure System". Basically a pump and condenser system located in the left track sponson pressurizes the air inside the vehicle to create a higher pressure inside than out. That allows in theory for a crew to fight buttoned up (hatches shut) without their masks on. Normally it is used in conjunction with masks. The Overpressure System does have a secondary ventilation function from a gunnery standpoint. When the gunner indexes "COAX" for the coaxial M-240 machine gun, the overpressure system kicks on to push the fumes from the breech end of the machine gun out of the vehicle. Truth be told, most crews disconnect a certain cable which disables this function. Frankly because it is noisy and is a pain in the butt and coax fumes do smell kinda cool!

 

This is off topic, but read it reassures me, I thought for a moment as most French people I started to invent illogical things due to the memory. heat.gif

Otherwise, one can easily understand why the crew disconnected the system, between this butts story and the disagreeable sensation of pressure generated on the ears... they shurely make the best choice.

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They've retired cool, huge battleships that shoot bullets the size of buggies at long distances. why not just bring those back?

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Too much $$ to run. BBs are also slow and vulnerable compared to modern surface vessels, and while they could take more damage, modern equipment is more delicate. So what good is a BB that can still sail and fire its guns if all the gizmos are out?

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That's not a railgun...

 

This is a railgun!

 

doracol.jpg

 

You know, a gun that runs on rails! :lol:

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Why would you place a system like this on a large, vulnerable surface ship? Turn it into a module akin to the AGS that can fit in the tubes of a Trident sub, instead.

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Problem with modern subs is they have no keel, and therefore less stability on the surface. Newton's third law would likely cause the submarine to capsize upon firing the projectile.

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Why would you need to surface? Hold at periscope depth and extend the gun barrel like a mast to broach.

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Two words: salt water.

This type of weapon is extremely sensitive to corrosion, and submerging the barrels would the worst thing you can possibly do to it. Up on the deck of a large warship, at least the crew can clean the weapon if the railgun gets exposed to too much ocean spray. Maybe the Navy will come up with some ingenious workaround, but right now it sounds like they have their hands full just making sure the barrels won't overheat or break from the extreme force.

 

I hope they get it working one way or another, because railguns are totally Awesome. ™

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I wonder how would this work on a ship with AEGIS, IIRC when the Iowa Class was about to be updated it was determined that the SPY radar would be shockes by each salvo from the main battery.

 

Thinking about it, you could say a nuclear powered ship with AEGIS, a crap-load of VLS cells with TLAMs, SM3 and ESSM, railguns and say THELs as CIWS could be the ultimate batleship... but then the chinese would get a pinpoint accurate terminal guidance for their DF-21 ballistic antiship missiles and turn it into a white elephant.

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Ahh, BAE Systems, can build a rail gun, can't fit the same tech in a carrier to launch aircraft for less than £2 Billion....

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Ahh, BAE Systems, can build a rail gun, can't fit the same tech in a carrier to launch aircraft for less than £2 Billion....

 

Can´t or wont? Ah, military contractors, worse of capitalism and communism

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