“We were launching hypersonic bricks at Mach 5, Mach 6”

Here’s an exclusive Defense Tech video giving you an update on General Atomics’ high-speed railgun project. Last summer, General Atomics and Boeing tested a high-speed sabot round to replace the “hypersonic bricks” (which tended to tumble out of control) that the company had been firing from the gun, says General Atomics’ Tom Hurn. The sabot round went seven kilometers downrange after punching through a 1/8-inch thick steel plate. General Atomics officials estimate that they could install the weapon on a DDG-51 class destroyer by the end of the decade, according to Hurn.

  • marcase

    Make it smaller and lighter, and put it on an Abrams…

    • Bill

      or an AC-130

      • Brody

        Or a smaller one on a Bradley-type.

        • joe

          Problem with both isn’t the size or weight – it’s principally the power. DDG-51 is favoured because it has the equivalent of a small municipal electricity plant on board.

          • moose

            But the current DDGs don’t have an integrated power system to properly tap that power generation. Railguns and DEWs are going to require IPS.

          • Maxtrue

            Incredible oversight not to have started a mini Thorium reactor project LONG ago. Power will soon become a limiting factor, not the weapon itself.

            In fact, this idiocy ranks right up at the top of the list given the world’s energy needs. Imagine however what would have happened if Telsa’s dream was used.

          • bbb

            If you hooked up an Abram’s turbine straight to a generator and drove the wheels with electric motors, I would think you’d have enough juice to drive at least a megajoule-class mass accelerator. Seeing as how one megajoule is the power of one car doing 100 MPH, and the Abrams has about 5-10 times the horsepower required to do that.

            I think it’s safe to say that MBT’s inside the next 50 years will have railguns.

    • Bill

      Then it won’t be as versatile and powerful as the Rheinmetall 120mm

  • juan234

    Can a DDG-51 even power this thing? Wasn’t the DDG-1000 gonna replace the DDG-51 because the DDG-1000 would have the spare power for lasers and railguns?

    • EJ257

      The weapon itself fires from energy stored on a bank of capacitors. It not running off a direct tap from the turbine generators. How long to recharge the capacitors between shots…that’s the question.

      • juan234

        But the DDG-1000 has the whole integrated power systems where electricity can be shunted around at will to whatever systems need it. That’s not true of the DDG-51. Most of the DDG-51 power generation is hard-wired for propulsion and can’t be used for other systems. That’s why the integrated power system of the DDG-1000 was supposed to be such a big deal.

        • brian

          Not really the problem, the energy reserves on a diesel or gas turbine destroyer are very shallow when compared to the needs of rail guns, lasers and new kinds of radars capable of detecting stealth aircraft.

          High energy weapons just won’t be practical until the DoD goes nuclear at the destroyer level, otherwise a couple of shots and you need to refuel.

        • sp8ce

          Since the DDG-1000 doesnt quite exist yet it makes sense to aim your first test at a platform that you can get your hands on.

          • dennisb

            They might cheat a bit. Instead of storing energy in capacitors they could store energy in a large rotating motor/generator.
            The electromagnetic catapults are going this way. Three motor/generators are spun up to six thousand RPM (they are huge), one at a time they turn the harnessed rotating force into electricity, launching aircraft.
            After one fires it is spun back up (ob a carrier they are going to use electricity to do this, on a destroyer they could use a aircraft engine coupled mechanically) while the other two fire.

    • RunningBear

      The DDG-51 has 4 LM-2500 gas turbines with 25MW each/ 100MW. The “new” DDG-51 Flight Three were to have a revised power scheme to allow alternate use of the gas turbines to generate electrical power as required for electrical/ electronics systems.

  • Jeff M

    Alright lets see what this thing can do to an outboard engine, put it side by side with the laser weapon…

  • Zach MB

    Not really that impressive compared to current KE weapons. The M829A2 Penetrator fired from the M1 does 1680m/s, or the General Dynamics KEW-A1 (APFSDS-T), does 1740m/s.

    Except for the increased ammo capacity, and safety, rail guns don’t make much sense as they stand now. Shrink the system, and double the KE, and maybe it makes it justifiable.

    • STemplar

      Those of course are deployed munitions in existing weapon systems. I’m sure they work considerably better than their pre-cursor experimental prototypes did as well.

    • halcyon

      If they could just double the rate of fire of current systems with no other changes that would be quite an improvement. Top that off with some kind of self-guided projectile and it would be a pretty big step even if there was no gain in KE.

    • blight

      No sabot today has a range of 7km…?

    • citanon

      Yes, but this sabot looks like it has more than 2x the mass of a tank sabot round.

      • blight

        However these rounds sound sub-optimal compared to sabot, especially if described as “bricks”.

      • halcyon

        If it has 2x the mass of a tank sabot then we are talking about a heck of a lot more energy delivered to the target.

        • citanon

          Actually 2x more, since KE scales linearly with mass….

          BUT, it’s not _just_ 2x heavier. This gun has 30 MJ muzzle energy, which is about 5x the KE of the 120 mm on the Abrams. So, probably the round is actually 5x heavier.

          • citanon

            Actually, the current Abrams main gun can do >10 MJ, so I guess it IS about 2x the mass.

    • PSU

      you do know that mach 5 is the slow testing speed for rail guns, if you have enough power this can go up to mach 10 and in the future even mach 20 , the difference between this and a normal weapon is that if you put more power into it the faster it will go , this is the limiting factor of this for now our power generation at the momment we just cant produce the electricity effectively enough to make it practical but give it 10-20 year when fusion generators start going commercial then this will blow conventional weapons away from use.

  • Tim

    Beautiful! Would be great if they could make it fire like a machine gun: Multiple rounds at a time on targets that move at high speed at least 70 km downrange.

    • Sajuuk

      One would need to design a system capable of rapidly reloading the same barrel while cooling it with tiny bursts of liquid nitrogen after every shot. Otherwise, a gatling system would have to be implemented that could rapidly transfer the capacitors over to each barrel long enough to engage the magnetic propulsion. Even then, it takes a LOT of energy to fire one shot; it would be far more cost effective to engage the magnets for a specific period of time, and rapidly shove each round into position as the last one violently departs to unstoppable plasma-propelled victory.

  • Hale

    By the end of the decade they might have a prototype that they can aim and fire for effect accurately, but I doubt that they’ll have anything mount it on at that point, the power consumption is just enormous and they really need to shrink those capacitors down to size.

  • Prodozul

    I have a question about the ammunition. When the projectile hits its inteded target does it explode or just go through it?

    • Jsmith

      It does not explode. The kinetic energy of the round itself is sufficient.

      • ziv

        JSmith, I wonder if it works as well against thin-skinned ships as it would against an armored vehicle. It is possible the dart would simply penetrate a corvette or littoral combat ship, there would be an incredible temperature spike in the cabins it passes through, but it might not be disastrous for the ship. Now if the dart tumbles after it hits the hull it might cause hella damage when it hits the second partition. This kind of sounds like a discussion of the m855’s shortcomings. Another issue is the angle of hull when the round hits it. If it is a 90 degree angle the chances are even higher that the penetrator won’t tumble and will simply pass right through.
        Regardless of whether the round tumbles or not, JS is right, the amount of kinetic energy released will make the cabins it penetrates a hell on earth, but the ship might survive relatively unscathed.

        • Maxtrue

          Target the ship just below the water line or aim for the section where the power plant lies. One advantage of using hyper velocity missile from above v laterally across sea level.

          One can imagine how a sub could surface and be a decent platform for such a rail system. Since rails make a loud bang, decoy “bang simulators” would make locating the sub more difficult by enemy sound sensors. Rails firing on ships would give away location…..extreme velocity does produce infra red trails in the sky, -not that you could hit these things with anything but DEW. (provided they are self guided or too close to react with a cloud of counter-fire.)

        • blight

          In any case, explosives detonated under the keel are still more devastating to a ship than direct-fire.

        • SJE

          You would also have a pressure wave ripping through the ship, damaging things as it went.

          Also, after flying at Mach 5, that baby is going to be HOT. If you hit fuel or ammunition, and then follow with a pressure wave of air, wouldn’t you get ignition/detonation?

          I would also assume that there would be tumbling, at least for larger ships. After initial penetration, it is going to hit multiple objects at different angles, slowing it down and releasing energy and bits of itself. The video of 5 in plate is nothing compared to all the different bulkheads, cabins, etc.

          • blight

            One could design the sabot so that when it impacts it would shatter into smaller shards, which would fly into the target separately and cause multiple damage paths.

            You’re right in that the projectiles would be hot, but it might not be enough to flash ignite anything. Fuel explosions are only really spectacular when the fuel is suspended into droplets and enriched with oxidant (either in solution or if the fuel is present in droplets). Otherwise it’ll be a small bang and not a FAE-style explosion.

            The pressure-wave might be interesting, in that it would cause damage to “ripple” away from the site of the impact. Stressing the hull might cause all sorts of damage, and if you were lucky and damaged engine machinery you could cripple a ship very quickly.

        • Tim

          It works in the same way a current Abrams sabot round does. The Abrams round penetrates both sides of a vehicle and the ballistic shockwave of the projectile creates a vacuum that literally sucks everything inside a vehicle through the exit point. Doesn’t matter if it’s armored or light skinned, anything inside turns into the mythical “pink mist.”

  • Blight

    hypersonic artillery might compete with rockets for range in ground combat…

  • Blorch Headblownov

    Even if you can ignore the power issues, good luck on keeping it combat ready. The electrical and structural launch components are going to oxidize and lose all ductility after a few cycles.

  • STemplar

    How about one of these and a defensive laser with some kind of retractable/shroud, on a nuclear sub? Plenty of electricity and how fun would it be to surface 100 miles off a coast, fire off a few minutes of hypersonic rounds at a target area? Incoming anti-ship missiles? Blast em with the laser or just submerge? Hmmmm, decisions decisions……

  • Dan M

    Rate of Fire?

    • zaph

      Nowadays?

      A shot every couple of weeks.

    • moose

      By the time they’re ready to mount this on a ship, several shots a minute.

      • SJE

        Perhaps. Its not only the heat, but the wear from the contact points that lets loose a cloud of fine particles.

  • blight

    In principle, what the interim future may bring about is a launch system coupled to a gliding mechanism: which means larger rounds that would be capable of performing glide missions. Fire the round at high trajectory, deploy wings, glide and guide to target, versus simply opting for ballistic trajectories.

    However, using 5″ guns for these kinds of things wouldn’t work out…

    • Maxtrue

      You would be surprised how small they will be able to make self-guided objects. Such mechanism however, must withstand the G-force. Not impossible in time.

    • Guest

      Do a Google search on ArcLight Navy, Darpa is looking at a way to boost a hypersonic glider with a 100+ lb payload using the SM-3/VLS system thereby giving anything with VLS tubes a global strike capability with ranges in excess of 2200nm.

  • Dfens

    “We were launching hypersonic bricks at Mach 5, Mach 6″

    Mexican food does that to me too.

    • SJE

      Need some fiber

      • blight

        Or better sterilization.

        • Dfens

          I think it’s just the spices. It never used to bother me. Old age sucks!

          • blight

            Intestines, why have you forsaken me?

  • Ringo

    Scaled up has anyone thought about pointing it straight up and putting things in to space? Maybe the g-force would scrap that idea?

    • Maxtrue

      Yes, but not straight up and no, but people would survive the trip. better idea is to use lower velocity rail to kick start scram engines. NASA’s on it, but Elon Musk has a more economical model for heavy lifting.

      • Maxtrue

        people wouldn’t survive the trip….I meant to say….

  • SJE

    There are technical difficulties in making the projectile anything other than a dumb round. The EM pulse running through the gun would play havoc with electronics and maybe a problem with explosives.

    Of course, if you have a 5kg round doing Mach 6, the KE is going to obliterate pretty much anything it hits.

  • blight

    EMP’s efficacy drops when electronics are offline. They need only be active after the launching stage, after all.

    • SJE

      True, but sufficiently strong EMPs can fry even when offline, and the projectile is in the middle of the EMP wave. Also, how do you trigger it to activate after launch?

      • blight

        Either a mechanical timer, or a ignition circuit made from gallium arsenide, or perhaps an RC system for timing.

        The other technical hurdle is electronics that can survive stupendous accelerations. I look at Copperhead as an example of how it was achieved at great cost, cost great enough to deter their use.

  • coolhand77

    Too bad they got rid of the nuclear powered Cruisers. Those would be a perfect test platform for this puppy. Plenty of power.

  • SJE

    Subs already launch tomahawks, which are conceptually similar to a UAV just with a warhead.

  • foo

    This brightcove crap doesn’t work. Grow up and put it on youtube.

  • Max

    Not trying to belittle the weapon, but 1/8″ of steel isn’t much. I’ve no doubt it is powerful, but they might have used 1″ or more as a more worthy obstacle.

  • mkf

    What video? I can’t see crap, even after enabling all javascript. Win7 x64, Firefox Nightly x86…

  • Bill in Tennessee

    Looking for a platform to mount it on, eh? How about my RAV-4? I’ll drive to your proving grounds this weekend.

  • They’ve had this for years. It’s old news. When they say we’ll have it in 10 years that’s saying we’ll tell you “we’ve already had it for years” in ten year. I’ve seen one made in someones back yard that will fire ball bearing fast enough to light a hay bail on fire. He use a labtop to turn magnits on one after another pulling the balls. Not the same way a tipical rail gun works but neat just the same. You just drop a hand full of bearing in and rata tat tat great balls of fire! If he can, DARPA can.

  • Billy

    Better start installing solar panels then.

  • RunningBear

    32 MJ (sufficient to support a 110 nmi mission) with muzzle velocities of 2.5 km/sec.

  • Guest

    Looks like the Stars Wars battle cruiser main guns….

    Going further….

    If made big enough, could be use against doomsday meteors…

    If made small enough, will replace handguns, rifles.. hypersonic bullets can punch through anything… snipers can shoot from 10 miles away with shock fronts clearing away the wind (calculations) and aims straight as laser. If smaller still – laser bullets maybe? Power to push then power to pull also- powerful lasers made to shape – light saber? A handgun that could take out a tank? Where there’s offense, there’s defense – would use the push away force around an object to protect against incoming threats – force fields…metal and non-metal rounds to counter….

    The start of anti-gravity – this tech small and controlled and maybe with maglev tech – no tyres needed – bad news for tyre companies

    Star Wars tech for real…

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