Navy Rail Gun Showing Promise

U.S. Navy Demonstrates World’s Most Powerful Electromagnetic RailgunCrystal City, Va. — Navy developers are moving into a second phase of testing for an electromagnetic rail gun that Navy leaders hope to mount to surface ships in the future, service officials said Wednesday at the Navy Surface Warfare Association Annual Symposium.

The rail gun is a long-range, high-energy, multi-mission weapon able to fire high-velocity projectiles three times as far as most existing Navy guns.

“We’ve gone through prototype phase 1 and had two industry gun systems. We’re now on phase two which will give us multiple rounds per minute,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.

Klunder expressed enthusiasm that the rail gun successfully went 8-for-8 in a recent test firing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“It went exactly where we told it to go with good telemetry,” he explained.

The rail gun, which can hit ranges of 100 miles or more, uses electricity stored on the ship to generate a high-speed electromagnetic pulse sufficient to propel a kinetic energy warhead. The result is an inexpensive, high-impact and long-range offensive weapon, service officials said.

The Navy, which has been testing the rail gun at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., plans to integrate it aboard a ship by 2016, service officials said.

The 23-pound hyper-velocity projectile can be fired from a rail gun as well as from Navy 5-inch guns and even 155mm artillery weapons, Klunder added. The round currently has what’s called command guidance but may be engineered for self-guidance in the future.

In addition to range and lethality advantages, the rail gun is also much less expensive than other weapons in the Navy arsenal to operate — the rounds cost about $25,000 each, he added.

The gun is high-heat and high-energy so cooling technologies are required, Klunder said.

“There are multiple designs that we are evaluating. Obviously it is not just the gun but a lot of the systems that go behind that,” said Don McCormack, Surface Warfare Center Director.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at Military.com.

43 Comments on "Navy Rail Gun Showing Promise"

  1. I can't even hide my grin. The success of the rail gun so far is just way too exciting!

  2. If they can actually make this thing operational, it'll put the Navy back on top again. Right now we starting to lag behind the power curve with our current weapon mix.

  3. Please, Navy, you have to call this gun The Unmaker.

    So first of all I'm no expert in electro- or thermodynamics, unless playing Metal Gear: Solid counts, so these ideas are probably garbage, but stick with me…the death of creative thinking is the death of innovation.

    First, following historical tradition, wasn't water cooling one of the first solutions for overheating machineguns in WWI? It probably wouldn't be an ideal, efficient, or technically sound solution for a railgun (no idea how hot one gets), but you could pump seawater into an outer sleeve around the barrel, then pump the hot water back into the wake.

    Instead, if practical, run a coolant exchanger between the gun and the engines. Spitfires used a sort-of-similar technique to cool their engines (but not their guns)…coolant lines ran through their wing, and the ram air intake on the wing acted as a high-speed heat exchanger. …okay, that isn't similar at all, but a common coolant could at least save some money.

  4. Now when he says "… the rounds cost about $25,000 each" is he talking about the railgun slugs or conventional cartridges? Because in my mind, $25,000 per shot still isn't what I would call cheap.

    In either case, this is good news. Railguns are the future.

  5. The Navy has been working on the rail-gun weapon system for over 30 years, and they still haven't got the bugs worked out. The Navy needs to pull the plug on this program… that would be an appropriate budget cut, and frankly I personally do not like ANY military budget cuts – but the rail-gun project is worth abandoning.

  6. Auyong Ah Meng | January 17, 2014 at 2:35 am |

    I wonder how it will look like mounted on a tank…

    and how feasible it is on a tank / land-based chassis system…

    or even on a large air frame in the sky…maybe smaller rail guns? Or even in space killer sats…

    hmm..

  7. I assume with this , we will go back to requiring ships to have proper armour once again?

  8. Rail guns coming soon in a warship near you.

  9. wagonmasters2012 | January 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

    Seriously, if this thing were to take out Un, while he was stuffing his face at the weekly execution party, would anyone in N. Korea be sad about it?

  10. I see some progress one major flaw they just said its too darn hot to operate in combat conditions need several industrial freezers to run in. Years away but worth the research.

  11. Let's just pray the Chinese haven't stolen this technology too :(

  12. Reginald Arford | January 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm |
  13. Should be interesting to hear of the energy sources, regeneration speed for the next round and reliability of the energy source. A generator going down is a heck of a way for a miss-fire at a bad time.

  14. HOLY SHIT THEY GOT GUIDANCE WORKING ON A HYPER-VELOCITY ROUND!

    Ok, I'll calm down. =)

    Don't overlook the significance of what they said about the round guys. Previously there were real problems making guidance electronics that could survive the stresses of extremely rapid acceleration required to move a round from zero to >mach 5 in the distance of a gun barrel. Now it seems like the Navy has figured out how.

    This is almost as big a breakthrough as the rail gun itself and greatly increases the utility of rail guns. Great job to the Navy and who ever helped them figure this one out.

  15. I am sorry, do we still get excited by artillery? How quaintly turn of the century. The 20th century. Wake me when this thing can fire several rounds in a minute from a distance of 800-1000 miles to destroy a Chinese ASBM installation.

    There is a reason why DARPA is hard at work on hypersonic missiles. And they are at least as phallic as cannons.

  16. This gun sounds like it has an enormous electromagnetic signature. It's going to draw a lot of counterfire.

  17. I think that some people stil don't get why the US Navy want railguns.

    1 – COST: Shrinking defense budgets and how less cost per shot weapons give more bang for your bucks as a taxpeyer. For example: If the chinese fire ballistic misssiles missiles to a US navy carrier strike group. You know how much money cost defend it with an SM-3 local defense anti-ballistic missile? $10 millions each. A SM-6 point defense anti-ballistic missile? $4.3 millions each. I don't know how much cost a ballistic chinese DF-21 but I know that an supersonic Indo-Russian BrahMos cost $2.73 million each. Railgun ammunition may cost 0.1~0.5 million each.

    2 – FIREPOWER: in the age of sail the firepower of a warship was meassured by how many guns it can fire to an enemy, this was called broadside. In the age of missiles the firepoer is measured by counting how many VLS cells it can carry. An AEGIS Ticonderoga Class cruiser carry 122 cell VLS, an AEGIS Arleigh Burke Class destroyer carry 96 cell VLS, an AEGIS Alvaro de Bazan Class frigate carry 48 cell VLS. If you have a gun that can fire ammunition faster, higher and farther and the ammunition is smart guided ammunition, then instead of defensive SM-3 or SM-6 missiles you can load more offensive Tomahawks missiles in the ship's magazines. From my point of view land attack is a secondary role.

    I think that ss they are envisioned right now, Railguns are not a replacement for cruise missiles, they are a complement.

  18. Can't wait to eventually see this railgun tech send the Chinese navy down to the bottom of the ocean where it belongs!

  19. steve sumner | January 20, 2014 at 8:03 am |

    With the rail gun, there is no need to have gun powder to fire the projectile, nor explosive rounds. Magnets push (or pull) the round to mach 6 or 7. At that velocity, kinetic energy can be lethal to shipping or land targets.Our ships would not be quite as likely to have the powder magazines explode (like what the Arizona suffered at Pearl Dec 7 1941). Plus the rail gun is accurate at least 2 or 3 times the distance of standard naval guns.

  20. The rail gun when perfected, will give the US Navy incredible offensive capability. The shells are moving at speeds that can't be intercepted and it can't be easily jammed. The only other weapon system that has this capability is the Tomahawk, at a much greater cost per shot.

  21. Interesting that this "very cost effective' weapon fires rounds that cost $25k apiece…..

  22. Interesting that this "very cost effective' weapon fires rounds that cost $25k apiece…..

  23. The rail gun uses electricity stored on the ship.Where and how is this electricity produced ? What happens IF this electricity is interrupted in some way?

  24. I have to wonder just how much current this thing needs to send a 23 pound round 100 miles at hypersonic speeds. Will we be trading off gunpowder for gigantic (and heavy) power generators?

  25. It seems to me that if they were really interested in fielding this technology, they'd use conventional gunpowder to accelerate the projectiles up to Mach 2 and then let the electromagnets go from there. Plus, if they were actually interested on putting these rail guns on ships, the main objective of the research would be inert projectiles with the guided versions being studied after ships were being outfitted with these weapons. As it is, this is nothing but a perpetual money machine to ensure defense contractors continue to receive plenty of corporate welfare.

  26. For a moment I got confused and thought this weapon system was already being used in the Zumwalt class destroyers. I guess this one's different.

  27. Do you people have any idea what an interceptor missile capable of hitting a hyper-velocity incoming missile costs? $25K per round is cheap, even if multiple rounds are required.

  28. low earth orbit for 25K….

  29. intenseMike | January 21, 2014 at 6:41 pm |

    The old battleships could launch a projectile 40 miles. How far can this new technology go? Doesn't really matter anyway. China is going to build a Helium 3 fusion powered laser on the moon and zap us all.

  30. jeff harris | January 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm |

    It was a long time ago during the Korean War. I served on a heavy cruiser that had 8" guns (outdated even then!). I was told that each shell fired matched the cost of a new VW Beetle. We were impressed. Allowing for inflation over the years I think $25,000 bucks is dirt cheap and as the technology improves should be even cheaper.

  31. I am more interested in the new electro-mechanical catapult system on aircraft carriers. How are they working compared to the steam catapults?

  32. First, the rail gun is not new technology. It has been under development by Nazis, Russians and the Free World since the 1950's. What is new is this. The new Nuke reactors we are building can generate so much excess power continuously for 35-50 years and that is why the rail gun is finally coming into the realm of feasibility. Someone above mentioned they need rare earth metals but that is only for smaller accelerators trying to bring protons up the almost light speed. A rail gun brings a "shell" up to several thousand feet per second and sends it in a straight line. I don't buy the $25000 per shell statement either. That shell might be some sophisticated shell that does everything from taking out the trash to doing your taxes for you. Putting a shell on the ground with high explosives is not going to cost that much.

  33. What is interesting is what type of hull they would mount this on. They would mount more than one gun and it would require the present reactors in the Ford CVN-78.
    Maybe the Navy is turning full circle and will bring back the Battleship era. As this technology spreads next they will look at a defense which will require armoring ships like the good old days of the Battleship. I doubt they will bring back the Iowa's probably to costly but it looks like they might build some new Battleships in the future.
    The hole reason for this weapon is to give the Navy a shore bombardment capability. In the early 2000 the Navy got into a argument with Congress because Congress wanted to keep at least one Battleship but the Navy did not. I could see though the Navy could bring back one Iowa class as a test bed for the rail gun to design a newer ship. Unless they discover to rebuild the Iowa Class is cheaper then building a new Battleship.

  34. rail guns work on the same principle as your fridge magnet for holding the shopping list, the magentic force "pulls" the magnet against the fridge walls.
    Reverse the sizes, BIG magnet and very small piece of iron and you have the basic idea for the rail gun, the electromagnets (magnets which start working when submitted to an electrical current) are set up in a line, each one just switches on to "pull" the round, then switches off when the round has passed it and the next magnet takes over, put enough magnets in a line and you get a huge acelleration.
    Put them in several concentric lines around the path of the round and you will also have the round "floating" as the upper, the lower the right and the left magnetic forces are identical and trying to "pull" the round from all sides at once.

    So there is NO BARREL ! The round just travels suspended & pulled by the magnetic forces!
    The problem is cooling all those magnets (imagine cooling a huge line of transformators like the ones of your home areas power supply in a tight space) and doing so quickly because you do want to fire the gun again.
    Cooling electromagnets is trickier than cooling barrels, they are made of a lot of coils of cabling and highly sensitive electronics, they don´t cool like a piece of Steel, some units stay hotter, others cool quicklier… It´s more an electrical engineers problem than a gunsmiths….

  35. It would be easier to bring back the old Heavy Cruisers, than the Iowas. and those cruisers are big enough that they could possibly carry a power source enough for the ship and the weapon. and it already has the armored hull.
    well… that is if they haven't scrapped them all.

  36. Can it be used for deer hunting :)

  37. One application I could see is nuclear waste disposal – into space.

  38. mike harding | February 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm |

    Can someone please explain to me why on earth you are getting so excited about all this. – – You (USA) might have the head start on all this technology but you can bet your shiny military boots on the simple fact that the Soviets and Chinese will very very rapidly copy and maybe even develop in a superior way that technology as a counter defence/aggressive military weapon. – – –

    Unless the USA feels the need to win a 3rd World War pretty soon and take over everywhere – – then Id say this technology can only make the world a less pleasant place – – and so my powerful and good friends – – – I cannot see why you should rejoice so openly. – – – Terrorists can do one Hell of a lot more damage using a parcel knife and a mad Muslim than any one of these clever but generally impotent weapons.

    Yes All us in the UK would love to see what you all hope for – – but a flying projectile isn't going to achieve it. Sorry to burst your party balloon. The Barnman. (UK)

  39. The rail guns does have a serious weakness, (in the possible future) they will be the most affected by EMP Shockwave technology, as the emps block out anything related to electricity, so conventional manual aimed gunpowder guns would have an advantage there

  40. Why not perfect nuclear fusion and then use that as the power? Fusion reactors can be small, the reason fusion hasn't been perfected yet is because the government has so much money already invested in current infrastructure. It would be nice to have these babies on a smaller scale

  41. D. Williams | April 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm |

    The Navy ships have close range automatic lead spitting guns that create a "lead curtain" and very high tech multi-million dollar missles that are fire-and-forget. This looks to be a nice middle weapon. A lot of boom for the buck.
    I would investigate a simple robust ammonia cooling unit that also incorporates sodium metal, a very efficient heat transfer medium. The sodium draws the bulk of the heat to a cooling unit, heating seawater during the transfer to generate steam to provide the electrics needed to keep the system at the ready. If generates a LOT of heat, it is creating a viable product to produce energy.

  42. TINFOILHATS | April 12, 2014 at 9:38 am |

    Russians have missiles that travelfadter than the US’ best search radar.. The US is developing a weapon that can potentially not be tracked by any radar. Just hope for the US’ sake they dont have any whiteknighting spies that sell this info to the Russians. If that happens the US has lost its place as a super power and preemptively lost WW3

  43. Anonymous | May 28, 2014 at 9:07 am |

    What if they could scale this down into a rifle or a pistol? Just think about the advantages!

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