On Wednesday February 4th, 2015 at the Navy’s Future Force Science and Technology Expo, the next generation in weapon systems was on display. Science fiction is becoming reality with General Atomics’ new Electromagnetic Railgun. Although it is still quite large, the gun has finally been engineered to a size that can be mounted onto a Navy vessel. Development of the EM Railgun began in 2005 when the goal was just to demonstrate proof-of-concept by achieving 32 mega-joule muzzle energy. Phase II of the program began in 2012 and focused efforts on demonstrating repeated fire capability by developing thermal management techniques for sustained firing.
The Railgun is expected to start sea trials aboard the USNS Millinocket in 2016. However, this will not be a permanent installation. The weapon is being considered for integration onto the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class Destroyer, DDG-1002 USS Lyndon B. Johnson. The Zumwalt-class destroyer is the obvious choice because the 155mm cannon enclosures will be able to house the new EM Railgun. In addition, the ship’s integrated power systems are capable of generating the power necessary to power the EM railgun. The ship generates 80 mega-watts of power through the use of two Rolls-Royce MT-30 gas turbine engines and two smaller RR450 Rolls-Royce engines.
The General Atomics Blitzer Electromagnetic Railgun launches a long-range projectile using electricity instead of chemical propellants. It works by storing electricity generated by the ship in the pulsed power system. Next, an electric pulse is sent to the gun which creates an electromagnetic field by sending high electrical currents between two conductive rails. The projectile is then accelerated down the rails to speeds over Mach 6 and launched. This rail gun is expected to triple the record for muzzle velocity within the next 2 years. The projectile is currently able to travel over 100 nautical miles. The goal set by the US Navy is a projectile capable of traveling over 200 nautical miles. The Railgun has twice the muzzle velocity than traditional projectiles. When the projectile fired by the Railgun reaches the horizon it is still traveling at a higher velocity than a traditional projectile’s muzzle velocity.
Because the Railgun does not use any chemical propellants or explosives, it offers greater safety when transporting and handling. In addition, it improves ship survivability, lowers the cost per kill, and offers all weather performance. With its increased velocity and extended range, the EM Railgun is a multi-mission weapon system. The system can be used to conduct precise naval surface fire support or land strikes as well as ship defense and surface warfare. All things considered, General Atomics EM Railgun is game changer in fighting wars.
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