Killer Drone Builder General Atomics Builds Killer Electromagnetic Rail Cannon

One of the more intriguing new technologies spotted at this week’s Navy League Sea-Air-Space Expo was General Atomics’ electromagnetic rail cannon. The company has been working for a number of years with the Office of Naval Research on a 200 nautical mile gun system. In a parallel effort, they’ve been developing a smaller, pulse-power technology demonstrator, called the “Blitzer,” for ship defense against anti-ship cruise missiles and small boat swarms.

Two million amps launch a guided projectile at twice the speed of a conventional gun, but at much lower cost than the usual surface-to-air missile systems outfitting most naval ships. General Atomics is working on a cannon that can launch an airburst round at a rate of one per second. Each round dispenses sub-projectiles, so its equivalent to firing 14,000 rounds a minute, which is a higher rate of fire than the Phalanx close-in weapons system, says Tom Hurn, General Atomics director of advanced weapons systems.

— Greg Grant

63 Comments on "Killer Drone Builder General Atomics Builds Killer Electromagnetic Rail Cannon"

  1. This…is going to be awesome. Will railguns beckon the return of Battleships? Hmmm, I personally think we should be moving onto space platforms, but that's a different story.

  2. This…is going to be awesome. Will railguns beckon the return of Battleships? Hmmm, I personally think we should be moving onto space platforms, but that's a different story.

  3. Arkady, this is the kind of weapon that Gates WOULD endorse. Why would you assume he would declare railguns outdated? Look at what he's done.

    FCS, it was cancelled. But what did he direct the Army to do: he saves the network which is unarguably THE most important part PLUS he says distribute it not JUST to some part of the units, but the ENTIRE army.

    Carriers – do we need this many? He's telling the Navy think of ANOTHER way to approach the mission. Increasing the number of platforms which decreases the potential for casualties AND increases the targeting problem for the enemy,…hmm that's a bad thing?

  4. Greg,

    Could you let us know about what kind of progress GA is making in regards to the railgun and what of their efforts to bring this to the army?

  5. More than twice the velocity, so I would assume something above 10,000 fps.

    From what I've read on the rail guns under development it is the barrels that are the real problem. I guess it is huge wear and tear on them, which seems odd if it is a magnetic gun, but that's what I read. The power issues are no big deal with capacitors, although time between shots could be an issue. Although even 4 or 5 shots a minute would be a vicious amount of damage given the velocities involved.

    The military is serious about these sorts of things for forward thinking. These systems, DEW systems and such. They are trying to plan ahead for when adversaries will have their own effective C-RAM systems. Railguns and DEW systems in particular, give you that insta strike capability to overcome C-RAM.

  6. Ummm… let me check.. Yup… I have a chubby

  7. Brian Mulholland | May 5, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    The voice-over talked about "command guidance" and phrased the argument for the weapon in terms of "horizon" distances. I infer that he's thinking of sea skimming missiles ….. to what, a horizon distance of 15 miles?

    We've been reading that the DDG-51 class doesn't have much more space in it for more electrical power. Is this type of system plausible in a son-of-DDG-51?

  8. Brian Mulholland | May 6, 2010 at 12:26 am | Reply

    The voice-over talked about "command guidance" and phrased the argument for the weapon in terms of "horizon" distances. I infer that he's thinking of sea skimming missiles ….. to what, a horizon distance of 15 miles?

    We've been reading that the DDG-51 class doesn't have much more space in it for more electrical power. Is this type of system plausible in a son-of-DDG-51?

  9. ArkadyRenko | May 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Reply

    We should cut this, according to Gates, we already have an overwhelming lead in the area of Naval weapons, so further research in these technologies, which are just products of outdated thinking, is unneeded.

  10. This…is going to be awesome. Will railguns beckon the return of Battleships? Hmmm, I personally think we should be moving onto space platforms, but that's a different story.

  11. Wow. Please, get and post more info on this.

    If they would make several smaller ones of these for ships, similar to CIWS, it could really help deal with small boat swarms, cruise missiles and other threats. I could even see it being effective as a SAM/AAA and anti-ABM platform for non-shipboard use.

  12. The real cost of this weapon will be in the projectiles. I don't have my sound on so I don't know if he talked about it, but having a precision projectile basically just takes the rocket motor out of a SAM, leaving the expensive electronics. If it is just going to be a time-fuzed frag projectile those would be pretty useless against maneuvering targets. If it has some sort of seeker and steering mechanism then it will also have to interface with AEGIS or its successor. Also don't forget the cost of the massive powerplant needed to fire the cannon and the monster capacitors needed to store and quickly release it. We need more info before I'm willing to say its a better solution that guided missiles.

  13. Wombat – Suggest with the time of flight and a frag warhead, the maneuverability of the target is not sch a big deal.

  14. Twice the velocity of a regular gun? That doesn't tell us much – regular "guns" can vary from 600fps to 4000fps. I know the actual velocity of the round is probably classified, but I would like to be able to compare it to something…

  15. More than twice the velocity, so I would assume something above 10,000 fps.

    From what I've read on the rail guns under development it is the barrels that are the real problem. I guess it is huge wear and tear on them, which seems odd if it is a magnetic gun, but that's what I read. The power issues are no big deal with capacitors, although time between shots could be an issue. Although even 4 or 5 shots a minute would be a vicious amount of damage given the velocities involved.

    The military is serious about these sorts of things for forward thinking. These systems, DEW systems and such. They are trying to plan ahead for when adversaries will have their own effective C-RAM systems. Railguns and DEW systems in particular, give you that insta strike capability to overcome C-RAM.

  16. I hope they shrink this tech down…Daddy needs a new railgun deer rifle!

  17. A Coil Gun/Gauss Gun would have a lot less barrel wear and tear. I’m not sure but they would probably also use less electricity.

  18. Byron Skinner | May 5, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Reply

    Good Evening Folks,

    The magnetic rail gun is being developed on the cheap. The last developmental payment in December if I recall was only for $27 million. This project is also running concurrently with developing the magnetic catapult for the USS Ford. The technologies for both projects are close, a two for one, if you like.

    GA also is a company that often puts it’s own money into such projects as the Predator, currently GA is funding a lot of the work on the Avenger in house, when the DoD showed no interest. A magnetic rail gun might be seen on the DDX.

    ALLONS,
    Byron Skinner

  19. john moore | May 6, 2010 at 2:57 am | Reply

    Just wondering with such a high power req could it be easier and better to use the new laser system being developed?

  20. Just another weapon system with no operational requirement and fat contractor margins.

  21. coolhand77 | May 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Reply

    Begs for the return of the CBN class, or Nuclear Battlecruisers. No lack of electrical power there.
    The reason there is wear on the rails is the armature between them has to contact them to complete the circuit. There may be a way to "grease the skids" as it were, but its way beyond what I know about rail guns.
    The projectile itself never touches the rails.

  22. Cool stuff!

    I know that BAE has already fired prototypes at well over 8000 fps. Their website has some limited info

    (it was also shown on "FutureWeapons" on the Discovery Channel)

  23. Whats the barrel wear? Yep they have yet to solve that problem with Rail Guns.

  24. coolhand77 | May 6, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Reply

    Also, the reason these are preferable to a gauss gun is that it takes timing and flipping magnetic fields to make one of those work, while a rail gun's firing sequence is much simpler…just dump 2.2 million amps into the rail.

  25. Brian Mulholland | May 7, 2010 at 1:05 am | Reply

    Well, it doesn't look like they have to head-space the barrel when you change it.

  26. Guided rail gun rounds do not make sense. A rail gun rounds is basically a solid metal slug. It has to be, 1.to respond to the magnetic fields, 2 to resist the extreme heat caused by going at mech 5+. You are not going to have space for sensors, and the shock mounting and EM resistance issues would make the round cost as much if not more then a missile.

    A dd-51 could not carry a rail gun without extensive modifications. It’s wiring scheme simply could not handle the load and there is no room to put the generating equipment, nor the extensive EM shielding required. Ironically the navy already has 4 ships the could be rather easily converted to carry rail guns… The iowa, the Missouri, the WIsconsin and the New Jersey.

  27. PhysicistCA | May 7, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Reply

    James – did you not even listen to the voice? The round does NOT touch the barrel, meaning it can be guided, the propulsion for the round comes from a discarding part at the back that is isolated from the main round, and falls off once out the barrel… and once moving there is not that much shock, in fact.

  28. Awesome weapon system, question though, wouldnt this wepon be perfect for the DD(X) with its new power system and reconfigurable design or am I missing something?

  29. I would like to see it at work out on the seas, say like the Pursian Gulf, like when the Revoloituionary Guard is out there playing war games with last century tech. I would like it to see it blast one of the newest missles Putin sold them right out of the sky (while the RG is filiming for propaganda)

  30. stephen russell | May 11, 2010 at 2:59 am | Reply

    Love to see mini rail guns from Arnold S movie Eraser for home defense, How Rad.

  31. This concept should be adapted to rocket launching into space, There is much too much rocketfuel waste on the shuttle and other rockets, We could get into space cheaper with less environmental impact.

  32. If I heard right, this could be used for shore bombardment? Essentially exploding high-speed buckshot over the target???

  33. Lol, bring back the battleships, imagine the U.S.S. Missouri with nine of these bad-boys complimenting it's Tomahawk launchers. Definitely breathe new life into a old gun platform.

  34. Erik Hughes | May 11, 2010 at 8:25 am | Reply

    Hmmm. I think we need a hovering craft that can shoot millions of laser beams that will destroy anything at a cost of hundreds of billions no matter how practical it is or if it will ever be used.
    If we can think it…it must be built! Welcome to the military's philosophy.
    And we wonder why there is no money for teachers in this country?
    Welcome to today's America.

  35. Let's hope this works better than their failed EMAL catapult system for the new Ford Class CVNs.

  36. Kenneth Scillieri | May 11, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Reply

    Maybe we should be the last in developing anything so our enemies can KILL US!!!

  37. sounds like another useless expenditure of time and money…outmoded in everyway, more effective uses of exsisting tech and strategy would be better.

  38. Flagrante Delicto | May 11, 2010 at 8:50 am | Reply

    14,000 rounds per minute? Just the thing we need on the Mexico border. At least we could get half of them.

  39. varminthunter | May 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Reply

    Can I get one on a Form 4?

  40. What we need is a dead battery gun, so all the dead batterires lying around from portable electronic devices could be used as ammo.

  41. Let's throw one of those on a stryker chassey and see how it holds up in Afghanistan.

  42. bethehammer | May 11, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Reply

    nice! a green weapon. no more chemical residue or propellant. and it can use the existing powerplant (especially on nuke powered ships) for energy. Kill the bad guy while being carbon neutral :-) My only question is the effects of such powerful magnetic fields on other shipboard systems and people. how are the fields contained within the weapon?

  43. FosterBDAV66 | May 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Reply

    Going from the voice over for this, with the talk about approximately six second to horizon. Figure that from ground level horizon is considered 50 miles. Going to be more like 60+ from a ship deck, but let's keep it simple, shall we?

    50miles/6seconds is (according to "Speed Units Converter" the web site I used) 8.3333 Miles per second. This translates to (at the horizon, where some energy has bled off) to nearly Mach 39.5.

    The energy in any projectile moving at that velocity is just amazing. A dispersal round that bursts in the path before the target weapon passes would destroy anything that contacted that cloud. It would bring down missiles, aircraft, and inflict terrible damage on any ship, simply based on the energy being transferred.

    Looking at the rail gun they had on display, it appears the barrel is made of composites, including carbon fiber sheets that are very strong. The design, to be most effective would force the delivery piece of the round to take the majority of the wear and tear, since they are one time use pieces. All that needs to happen is for it to last long enough to get it out of the barrel. Additionally, the only real contact points sound as if they would be the electrical conduit lines, two of them, that run the length of the barrel. These should be battle replaceable; meaning that they would be something that could be pulled and replaced within a very short space of time, battle wise. The full barrel would probably outlast the ship, honestly. But that's just looking at it from the POV of considering how such systems are purported to work.

    Expensive, yes. But if it works, and works well, it will be much less costly than a failed system that allows a ship to be taken out by an Exocet ASM. The main thing will be a platform upon which to base these. I personally like the idea of the IOWA BB ships being converted. Start with Iowa herself, since she was so severely damaged when the turret blew up in that horrid mishap. Since the munitions would be so much smaller you could convert most of her muntions mags into the electrical storage for firing the guns. They'd be encased in armored sections and thus better protected.

    There is one draw back to this idea, if you're talking about making it so that those beautiful, if outdated, 16 inch guns are replaced with rail guns just how useful are they going to be when you cannot move those turrets fast enough? They would be worthless, imo, for the purpose of taking out ASMs.

    Rail guns and even rail mortars are being worked on. The draw back is always the power issue. It will be some time before we see it downsized enough for land based units that have to move and maneuver. But for Naval applications, they are the next big thing.

  44. upgrading weapons can beat DU=Poison Dust weapons any day.
    DU knows no identity and defeats everyone.

  45. At the rate that the Commissar is dismantling our Republic, we may be lucky to get a Daisy Air Rifle approved for the military.

  46. What do you people who say we do not need this because we are technically advanced enough already NOT understand about "a guided projectile at twice the speed of a conventional gun, but at much lower cost than the usual surface-to-air missile systems".

    "

  47. Joe LittleBear | May 11, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Reply

    This is NOT a new concept….The Germans had this back in WW-2…. They also had the MP-44 which Klasnikoff copied to make his world famous AK-47.. Klashnikoff was a tank driver….so it would have been easy to have stashed a captured MP-44 somewhere inside his vehicle and smuggled it back to Russia when the tank was shipped back..

  48. Col sailndayz | May 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Reply

    What's with all the talk: "we don't need to focus here, we need to focus over there." Better yet, let's let each of our branches develop their best technology, ignoring no one method of battle. Remember when they took cannons off the fighters…. after all, we can now fight with air to air missles…. yeah sure. Remember when our first time in the sand was over, they demobilized our Military Police forces, who needs them? Well….. Stay the course, lend development to all, we need to be able to be the best.

  49. It looks to me like all this new development is not going to make any differance down the road. for the past 20 years most military movements have been radical gorilla in nature all over the world. and if we do not close the Mexico Border we will be over run with the radical movement, not just Mexicans but radicals posing as Mexicans. at this time the Raza Movement claims millions already in this country and growing every minute. so having been in Research and Development for 38 years I am here to tell you all this high tech will make no differance.

  50. Herman Hill | May 11, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Reply

    Oh Momma! Talking about shock, speed, and awe? Just imagine an armada equipped with just one of those things each! Who then will be able to run wit da BIG DOGS? But what about collateral damage?

  51. National Defense Magazine has had some coverage of these. The Navy ships are going to "electric propulsion systems", eliminating steam lines, and some of the hydraulics. That's where the power comes from, and that's why it doesn't carry over to the Army very well. The 200 mile range is for kinetic rounds and possibly launching Mach 5 scramjet technology. At that speed, these projectiles hit with the force of a locomotive. The airburst technology doesn't need guidance – it is basically a "picket fence" type of defense. If you've ever seen a video of the Phalanx gun in operation, it is just rapidly firing a swarm of projectiles to cut an incoming missile to shreds before it can hit the target. Airbursts could be fired very close to impact and shred the missile with kinetic energy – basically shrapnel.

  52. Iriqous Plisken | May 12, 2010 at 7:30 am | Reply

    The best part about this weapon is that it can't be detected on any conventional radar. It's frightening to think that this could be developed for nuclear capabilities. ICBMs as we know it are going to redefine modern warfare if the superpowers of the world come across these technologies. Come to think of it, this reminds me of a movie I saw once when I was a kid, I'm sure the idea is the same though.

  53. Iriquous: Says who? They'll show up alright, and will also show up on IR. What changes the equation is very low flight time and high velocity. At the most optimal numbers it will outrun the missiles that are the standard weapon used to target them.

    I think we're too ambitious in pushing rail gun technology to the limit. We can settle for a first generation deployment of a rail system that can fire a shell to about the same ranges (if not a bit more) than we can get at present. Eliminating propellant means freeing up more room on the ship for stuff, and also increases safety in the event of battle damage.

    Long term, a railgun for cannon (in the form of tank cannon or artillery) would mean tank rounds would either get lighter or more powerful, as propellant is no longer occupying volume. The application is probably a long way from tanks.

    A railgun system is not limited in cycling by the need to reliably eject a spent cartridge; so I imagine if you wanted to use it for a CIWS system you could aim for higher firing rates.

  54. Jack Mehofff | May 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Reply

    What good is this, when your ship is surrounded by 20+ Iranian armed small craft at 100 yards, and your ROE is to not fire until fire upon?

  55. I was perilferly involved in the at the early stages of its developemnt. Then, 25 years ago, the obstacles were the need for a huge electrical generation capacity, electric storage technology, and room for the size of the thing on board ship. It called out for a ship platform the size of an Ohio-class battleship, generating capacity of a Nimitz-class carrier, and a lot of smaller scale problems that all had to be met. I have not followed the program.It sounds like, from the commentary, that while progress has been made, the probems are much the same.

  56. when your ship is surrounded by 20+ Iranian armed small craft at 100 yards, and your ROE is to not fire until fire upon?

    A short range blast accross the bow would have 20+ Iranian armed small craft wondering when the virgins will arrive.

    Read more:http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2010/05/05/killer-drone-bu

  57. Walter_E_Wallis | May 14, 2010 at 8:00 am | Reply

    We need R&D in Rules of Engagement. Surrounding a warship with small boats, overflying in a dumb weapon approach pattern or overflying with active weapons radar must be defined as an attack requiring retaliation. No more sentries with empty guns – if you can’t trust them with a chambered round, don’t post them.

  58. Dear Technician’s; Why don’t some of your application’s ever seem to be used on peaceful machine’s? I don’t mean to sound naieve but could an engine (combustion) be made from electromanet’s that are made to move the same rate as a engine with a spark from gasoline? In other words could the magnets be at the end of the rods in the block be made to jump and separate at the same speed from a jolt of electricity making them separate, positive to positive? Then when the juice is shut off they draw back together? I hope this sounds easier to understand than it is to explain but it is a theory I have had for a long time but have never asked a person intelligent enough to consider it and answer intelligently! In Sweden a man and his son made a combustion engine with airpressure, something along those lines but with magnets?

  59. dennis merrick | May 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Reply

    Yeah somebody needs to figure out how to use this thing to shoot a big cork at the Oilspill ! Don't laugh BP hasn't come up with a plan that doesn't sound like a third grader thought it up!

  60. A Rail gun that shoots a projectile with the impact force of a locamotive?

    How long till we get 200mm hellbore guns like on a MkXXXIII Bolo?

  61. Stewart Davies | May 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Reply

    My problem is the cost of the entire program with such little return compaired to conventional guns. Conventional AT Gun 7+ Kg projectile at +1,600 MPS. It sheds velosity at ~50-60 MPS/KM. That video showed a ~45% loss of velocity over a ~20 Klick range? A conventional Tank Main gun has 848M/S left at twenty klicks. Or 16.33 seconds to >20 klicks. By the way these nominal figures are twenty years out of date and can be substantialt bettered by current equipment.

  62. I wonder if this rail gun will work against this new Chinese Carrier killer missle? Thing that make you go Himmm.

  63. If the polywell research the navy is doing continues to advance (should know in a year or so whether the wb8 can be scaled up to a working wb9) , the navy could have a workable 100MW fusion reactor that could be ship based in say 5 years.

    Power problem for energy weapons and railguns would be solved.

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