Navy Awards EM Railgun Contract

U.S. Navy Demonstrates World’s Most Powerful Electromagnetic RailgunThe Navy has awarded BAE Systems a contract to develop a next-generation launcher with higher rates of fire for its now-in-development Electromagnetic Railgun, service and industry officials explained.

The Office of Navy Research is currently developing an EM Railgun which uses massive “pulses” of electricity to propel a projectile or an explosive at distances greater than 100 nautical miles.

“You get much higher velocity by creating an electromagnetic force behind the projectile,” said Amir Chaboki, program manager for advanced systems, BAE.

The pulses from the weapon can achieve incredible speeds of Mach 6, Mach 7 or faster, thus striking long distances in a short period of time, he added.

An EM Railgun launcher is described as a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants, according to statements from the ONR.

“Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph,” the ONR website states.

ONR Launched the EM Railgun program in 2005. The program began with Phase I wherein the technology was demonstrated as a “proof-of-concept.”  The program is now moving well into Phase 2, an effort to refine and improve the technology and be able to sustain more rapid rates of fire.

The Navy has already demonstrated the ability to fire a single shot or “pulse” from the weapon at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va. The ONR’s current Phase II launcher contract is aimed at developing the ability fire 6 –to-10 pulses per minute, Chaboki explained.

BAE plans to have its first prototype versions of the launcher weapon ready by as early as next year, Chaboki said.

A Railgun works by creating a magnetic force between two power rails conducting large amounts of electricity, Chaboki explained.

“Schematically you have two power rails that conduct electricity. We send a pulse onto one rail then connect the two rails. Magnetic force then pushes the projectile,” he explained.

The EM Railgun needs large amounts of electrical power, some of which could be stored in batteries if the weapon were transported on a ship, he said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • hibeam

    EM Railgun below deck. Windmills on deck. Everybody happy.

  • blight_

    I find it interesting that the priority is rate-of-fire over reducing the power demands. I suppose this means that the power demand is deemed “acceptable” with whatever technology is in the pipeline…or, the power demand is /projected to be eventually acceptable based on BAE’s powerpoint about reduction of the power demand/; which means if BAE’s timetable slips, we could have invested significantly into rate-of-fire for railguns without addressing the power demands required in shipboard use.

    Concurrently, I imagine they are working on flywheels or super-capacitors, which would address the power demand on firing and the rate-of-fire question. That said, using direct mechanical energy from a diesel or a gas turbine to spool up a flywheel is an option.

    We’ll find out in a few years.

  • Thunder350

    The sooner the Navy gets this thing up and running, the sooner we can shoot giant transformers trying to access secret doomsday weapons hidden inside Egyptian pyramids.

    • Bruce Wayne
    • Justin

      Navy has been using a LONG time! EM propulsion is old tech, really….
      This is an improved platform for higher speeds and longer distances

  • jake

    1 small step towards photon torpedoes ;)

  • Ben

    Fantastic.

    I’d hate to have seen the railgun get the axe in favor of ship-borne lasers. These will prove to be much more useful when the tech matures.

  • Matt

    I’m interested to know if the curvature of the earth is greater than the ‘drop’ on the projectile? that would rule out ship to ship engagement at medium distance as the rounds would fly over head.

  • elportonative77

    So does this mean the General Atomics variant is a dud or canned?

    • David

      I think it was a technology demonstrator much like the x-47.

    • wpnexp

      General Atomics is likely going to at the game for a while. Better to have at least two companies in the game to keep the competition going. Also, I believe the Blitzer has some inherent use on the Army side too.

  • ohwilleke

    Why is there a huge amount of smoke and fire in a picture illustrating a story about a rail gun? Isn’t the whole point of a rail gun to dispense with hydrocarbon ignition at the launch stage?

    • ASF
    • ben

      more specifically, the erosion of the projectile and rails produces a metal vapor that is is at around 3000 degrees, hence the incandescence.

    • SJE

      its the clouds of awesomeness

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    So, we have the gun. What about, say, the energy source, the platform…………..?

    • Rob C.

      Zulwalt Class would be able to handle this monster. Other platforms may include the CVNs since their nuclear powered. Problem is the bottleneck Congress has made and inflated prices of the builders. So nothing new can be built. I doubt the Burkes can be modified any further hand stress this weapon going to produce.

      • wpnexp

        Actually, the power generation of the original DDG-51s is the problem from what I hear. Additional generators would have to be added, and the capacitors and batteries would take up a lot of space. Not sure if just removing the 127mm gun would make enought room. As the Block III will be a different design, it could be enlarged somewhat. Also, developing the ship using all-electric pwer systems would help, as power can be diverted to various systems as needed.

  • RAZORBACK

    Lets see the chinese version, i bet they must have stolen the blue prints from the BAE secure server by now and making there own version as we speak.

  • Stan

    I can certainly see the advantage of not having to store powder on the ship. Also having a high speed projectile for bombarding hardened shore targets or delivering a guided projectile to the target quickly is nice in assymmetric warfare. But what will this weapon enable the Navy to do in an engagement with the Chinese which while highly hypothetical is likely to not be assymmetric?

  • Muldoon

    1) How long must the rails be to impart the desired velocity?
    2) I can see banks of selectable super capacitors armed and ready for sequential discharge – then rate of fire becomes a factor of (a) how quickly the next projectile can be loaded, or (b) mandatory rail cool down…

    • pyrotak

      It doesn’t even need to be reloaded after ever shot, I bet they can design it so that it works similar to metal storm where you have multiple projectiles in the same tube (if they wanted to that is)

      -engineer

  • John Zimmer

    What’s the projectile made of?

  • Ricky

    Shou,d make tanks with rail guns now. Or try making it into a rifle of some sort.

    • SJE

      We need to get the basics to work first.

  • COchronic

    This might be a stupid question but what’s the possibility for a mis-fire? When they start to get up into the higher rate of fire the probability of over heating or a malfunction increases I could imagine the amount of destruction it’d cause if that energy were released on a ship

    • Tri-ring

      It depends on what you mean by “mis-fire”.
      It has no chemical explosives using electricity as propellent. The worst thing that I could think is the connectivity between rails are disrupted due to bad spacing in which an arc discharge will occur between the projectile and the rail.

      • hibeam

        There are no stupid questions. Only stupid people. Ask good questions to be safe.

    • SJE

      There are tremendous stresses on this system, which is why its so difficult. The early cannons were dangerous and tended to explode on the users (as in explode sideways) until we got good enough with metallurgy. With the rail gun, you have enormous current and EM forces: just think how much energy is required to accellerate something to Mach15 over a few meters. The amount of energy turns the air into plasma, which basically eats up anything. A few years ago you had to basically rebuild the gun after firing. I don’t know how far we have gone since then.
      Perhaps some advances in superconductors have occured.

  • rty

    When it comes to increasing rate of fire are we talking about:
    – multiple shots fired with a single charge?
    – smaller projectiles fired more frequently?

    As an aside, does anyone worry that we are so obsessed with the next-generation technology that we we are missing the current generation technology? Wouldn’t a bunch of missile cruisers help us out a lot more today than a high-tech gun that destroys itself a little bit every time we fire it?

    • blight_

      The count of VLS tubes per DDG is quite a bit of missile firepower, and I’d hope that railguns could be resupplied at sea; at least far better than trying to reload a VLS tube underway.

      • Ben

        Not to mention railgun shots are expected to be a whole hell of a lot cheaper than cruise missiles.

    • blight_

      “- multiple shots fired with a single charge?”

      Hooray for the return of the multiplex round!

      “- smaller projectiles fired more frequently? ”

      Which is basically the “MetalStorm trick”; fire a bunch of projectiles electrically, going as far as to stack caseless rounds in a barrel and ignite each one iteratively so quickly as to be able to post very high hypothetical rounds-per-minute numbers.

  • Belesari

    Considering modern GPS guided artillery takes a make of 15,000 g’s and these rounds will take something like 60,000 ‘gs and need a entirely different guidance system I don’t see this as a land attack weapon so much as a hell of a BMD weapon.

    Power is going to be a bitch though.

  • Dfens

    I’m glad they are paying for development of these guns — again. At this rate, in 30 or 40 years the US Navy might actually field a weapon. Of course, it’s not like the defense contractor will make a profit off of every single day they drag things out and jack up costs. Oh wait, yes, yes it is just like that. I’m sure they’re too stupid to notice. No, it seem to be only the US taxpayer that’s too stupid to notice how their money is being spent. The defense contractors seem to be well aware of how to maximize their profits. Who knew capitalism works?

  • hibeam

    In California we haved used this concept to develop very fast trains. Its like getting on an Airplane and then taxing all the way to your destination at over 100 miles an hour. Except its a train. And it costs way more. We invented this concept. Get your own.

  • oblatt1

    Another operationally useless wunderwaffen that is supposed to leapfrog our military into the future but really will just seal its fate. The real innovation is happening in russian and chinese missiles not these throwbacks to the battleship era.

  • BobK

    The Navy is having problems with maintance of their current fleet due to the force budget cuts, yet they have money to pay for this? Really?

    • Rob C.

      Depends on what state of the fleet will be by the time the technology ends up maturing. In some ways, development doesn’t mean its fleet ready.
      Maintenence is huge issue, sooner or later it will have to be addressed. No mater what the US political parties are fighting over. Hollowing of the US fleet nearly 40 years ago maybe forgotten to some, but it still in minds of others.

      EM Railgun is a game changer when its finally developed.

  • hibeam77

    Two Alka-Seltzer and a warm glass of Dr. Pepper. Same result.

  • nimrod

    waste of money. we should have more big guns on destroyers and less of this unproven crap. We need armor on our ships instead of these thin tin foil hulls of modern ships. And we need thousands of ships not mere 200’s.

    • Rob C.

      Quanity over quality? That may have worked in World War II era, but today ships can do alot more than those ships of the past. I agree US need more ships, but i rather seem them build right. Development of ships and their weapon systems are insanely more expensive in comparison to 1930s-1940s dollars when events leading to and into WW2 made development happen rapidly. US Fleet and other arms forces were under allot economic stress back then too. Recovering from the original Great Depression being one of them.

      Also, alot know how and means to replicate and make classic weapons like the Iowa Class Battleship’s 16 inch guns are barely possible today and insanely more expensive too. I remember reading when US Congress wanted see if was possible build NEW Battleships and found out it was in billions, in 1980’s dollars.

      • blight_

        Building a new capital ship is a stupendously expensive venture.

        If you have to choose between developing a new carrier program and new battleships…the choice is obvious.

        Don’t forget we had tons more shipyards back then than we do now. We are better served with COTS ships on the small end, and building destroyers and “cruisers” (question: cruiser with cruiser hull, or up-scaled destroyer hull?)

        Any of the WW2 admirals would’ve gladly traded the Lex for the striking power of a supercarrier. Let’s not overglorify WW2 too much…though in WW2 the Navy could have significant combat power in many places at once in the same general theatre, a capability we no longer quite have.

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Ahem, Pearl Harbor? I mean, that is probably the big thing. In a world where planes can knock out a ship from 100 miles, and subs can operate undetected, in great depths, how is a large battleship suppose to survive? Some might even put that argument to the carrier (though it striking power, in my opinion, makes it indispensable) as a large ship that is an easy target. CIWS and Missile launchers only go so far…..

        • Dfens

          Name one ship that is COTS. There are none. What we have is specially developed small ships that are built in quantities of ones and twos. Before we had heavily armored ships that were built by the hundreds. Today’s ships can be sunk with a .50 mounted on the deck of a pirate scow. The ships we used to have could take a pounding and still deliver.

          As for WW2, what’s wrong with learning lessons from the last war we won? You’d rather learn how not to do things from the wars we lost?

  • d. kellogg

    On key factor that seems consistently overlooked: since it is a projectile weapon that is NOT speed-of-light, it will be susceptible to aerodynamics and gravity.
    So to hit anything with useful accuracy, it will need onboard precision guidance and control mechanisms.

    It has taken considerable research, development, time, and money just to get reliable-enough guided projectiles for today’s chemical propellant guns that can withstand their launch stresses.
    But now all of a sudden, newest-and-best railgun technology emerges, and people are all “gee whiz” about it,
    forgetting the guns will STILL need launch-hardened guided shells to hit anything at considerably greater ranges than today’s propellant guns.
    What are those going to cost to even develop, let alone the per-round cost to field them?

  • hibeam

    Nice weapon but it looks to me like it could harm innocent civilians in Pakistan. So I have cancelled it. — Your Commander In Golf.

  • matt

    Understanding the tremendous effect of the impact at mach 4+, how much does that diminish with loss of speed? Talk of guidance and electronics is fun, but if the projectile has to slow to a certain point to be able to steer it, what do you have left in terms of kinetic energy? And as far as size, theres still a point of diminishing returns when it comes to payload in a projectile. If it can be guided it is going to be too slow to rely strictly on impact, it will need something inside to make it go boom.
    My solution…
    Build Navy ships with spots for tanks to be mounted. Let the tanks do the shooting, and when they get near land jettison for the ride up to the beach and on to victory!

    • Jeff

      I was in an Armor Battalion that did that during the Korean War. B Company, 1st/68th Armor. The only Armor or Cav Unit in the US Army with an Anchor on its crest.

  • Foamythedog

    I love the idea of shipboard flywheels- should make combat and evasive maneuvering interesting. Full left (or right) rudder, the ship turns, and the flywheel keeps going straight….right through the hull. Then again it might be cool in rough seas!

    • blight_

      I’ve not heard of flywheels in vibration-heavy environments…but there’s always a first?

    • Chuck

      The flywheels go on gymbals. Problem solved.

  • Rob C.

    The weapon still has away to go till it hits production. I hope they’ll be able to do it without losing the technology due to cyber theft. Chinese is managing to get rather similar weapons systems added to their arsenal or on their way their.

  • Tony C.

    The rail gun projectile traveling at high mach speed will deliver enough energy to explode on impact. There won’t be a need for an explosive warhead and this projectile could destroy the hull of an enemy warship on impact. The rail gun limitation is rate of fire, all else can be overcome with ships power generation.

  • Steve Z.

    Has anyone mentioned what the electro-magnetic pulses would have on the ships current electronics or the avionics in the aircraft, especially the navigation equipment!!!

  • Stu-Man_fu

    So how many billions are we trowing at this and paying for it by furloughing civilians?

  • David Drezner

    How will they power this? A one time chemical/electric system, or a nuclear power plant? The power requirements must be massive. With the same power you could probably power a pulse based laser system, which would mean we’d need a whole new class of railgun/laser platforms designed especially for electrical systems.

    I see a super-capacitor in their future, should we ever get one out of the laboratory.

    • Kevin Hale

      I think they are fielding electrical tech similar to super-capacitors + super conductive cables/wires. Also, it helps to know if the EM railgun has adapted to suit aerodynamic conditions to reduce drag as well as knowing how many alphas and charlies current sequences. Wonder what type of computer is determining targets and trajectories.

      As for energy storage, they might have fuel cell capacitor hybrids they can alternate in supplying and directing the weapon.

      This weapon seems more suited to base bombardment than most other weapons.

  • Brian B Mulholland

    My own inference, from the apparent importance assigned to rate of fire, is that the Navy is looking first at this system for major advances in point defense against incoming antiship missiles, including ballistic ones. Building a guided shell capable of surviving 60,000G launch accelerations is going to be difficult, but something that releases a shotshell of antimissile flechettes, or something similar, might be easier than building a munition meant to be guided after launch.

    David, what about the capacitors used in EMALS? We might not be that far away from that kind of power spike capacity.

  • Carl T. Steinmetz

    Much of what has been said here is the same things that were said about many advance in military tech. Having been in the Marine Corps for 20 years I found that advances in tech take time and money and do “Save Lives”! The Little-Boy is a great example. Yes, today people bitch about what it did to the people of Japan, but if we would have landed troops to take the main land it would have cost up to 1.5 million American lives and most likely have cost the Japanese 2-3 million dead and Many more injured.
    Yes it is expensive, but what is your son or daughter worth. As for more ships, well the truth is if you had 25-50 with the fire power of 2-3 rail guns you could cover most of the worlds hot spots, saving the need for aircraft and heavy ships to do the work. Look at it this way, the rounds (about 1000 pounds) from a 16 inch gun can take down a building at 25-30 miles and one shot (40-60 pounds) from a rail gun can do the job at 100 miles today and up to 400 miles in the near future. The stand off alone makes the ship safer, the light load means more can be carried on the ship and less chance of injuries with the explosive used to fire the 16 inch rounds.

  • Joe

    “Schematically you have two power rails that conduct electricity. We send a pulse onto one rail then connect the two rails. Magnetic force then pushes the projectile,” he explained.
    The EM Railgun needs large amounts of electrical power, some of which could be stored in batteries if the weapon were transported on a ship, he said.

    Nuclear power eliminates the need for batteries, and since some subs are powered that way why the hell can’t a few ships.

    The kinetic energy from one small projectile could sink a ship or devastate a bunker 50 or 60 feet below the ground surface. These weapons will set a new precedence in warfare.

  • All you have to do is drop a large heavy rock from orbit. Gravity will handle the rest massive explosion with no fallout.