CNO: Railguns and Hellfires Make Ships More Lethal

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The Pentagon may not escape the crippling budget cuts on the horizon, but that isn’t stopping the Navy’s top admiral from talking up the sea service’s future weapon programs.

“We have got to better match our mission and tailor our platforms to the missions as to what they carry,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said recently at the Navy League 2014 Sea, Air and Space Exposition. “Our platforms have to be adaptable.”

Greenert showed a video of the electromagnetic railgun the Navy is testing. The service plans to fire the hyper-velocity weapon from a joint high speed vessel in 2016 as part of a broader effort to develop the long-range, high-energy weapon.

“We are beyond lab coats; we are into engineering now,” Greenert said. “We’ve got the power level figured out, we know what the projectile looks like and we are testing it.”

The railgun uses electrical energy to create a magnetic field and propel a 23-pound kinetic energy projectile at speeds up to 5,600 miles per hour, Navy officials maintain. The hyper-velocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary.

“It’s not only going at a tremendous high-speed; it will break up and deliver a pretty decent effect,” Greenert said. “It’s a lot of power.”

Navy vessels are “evolving in other ways,” Greenert said.

“We’ve got a missile going on board the Littoral Combat Ship,” he said. “It’s the Longbow Hellfire. It’s an interim fix; we are going to get a long-range missile eventually. We are making the Littoral Combat Ship more lethal.”

The Navy is also in the process of arming the patrol boats it has in the Arabian Gulf with a new missile system, Greenert said, adding that testing is going well.

““It works,” Greenert said. “They need to be more lethal. We need to put a missile on it.”

About the Author

Matt Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at Military.com. He can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.
  • Andy

    This is a great news, we need to add 2 of this this weapon to every single Destroyers

  • SFCPappy

    8213 feet per second. Now that’s moving down the road.

  • Dfens

    And just 6 months ago we weren’t going to see these on actual ships for a couple more decades. Obviously no politics at work here. 6 months ago our ships had more than enough weapons too. It’s so hard to keep up with the latest lie.

  • blight_

    The “Aerial Overmatch” module will attach an armed aerostat to every LCS. From a tether several thousand feet up, the Hellfire missiles with have decent range compared to weapons fired from sea level. The aerostat will also facilitate long-range target acquisition and mount a laser to blind prospective terrorists, who are going to Gitmo and have no rights to begin with.

    /satire

  • citanon

    Rail guns… FUCK YEAH!!!!

  • Marc Winger

    Don’t vote for Democrats if you want a continually weakened Navy.
    The new rail gun is nice & fine, but…

    • William_C1

      The Democrats are more concerned about buying votes than ensuring technological supremacy.

    • Greg

      Keep your political dribble to your self. Your comment has nothing to do with the article.

      • Well, it actually does if you want to see these weapons produced. If you haven’t noticed, politicians decide how to spend our money.

    • boraxo

      Don’t vote for Republicans if you want money wasted on toys like this. Technological superiority? Over whom – the North Koreans? The Iranians? We’re facing foes with far less technology, far less firepower, and far smaller forces than us.
      Real national security lies in being economically competitive – invest in education, infrastructure, and health. This $4 billion program won’t make us any safer.

  • Thomas

    I hope all of you will consider an unconventional thought enough to pass on the Idea. In the future we will need to keep our edge.. I propose placing on to two of these on the new carriers. No matter what we have as a screen our carriers will face a massive first wave attack. Using a rail gun on a carrier as a last layer of a defensive shield. Carriers have the best unlimited and robust power supplies. Rail guns small footprint and munitions that are basically inert.

    • rtsy

      Power requirements for Railguns are still through the roof. Current plans mount diesel engines big enough to drive a destroyer to power just one gun at multiple shots per minute.

      I bet the Army or Marines might be able to find a use for a fixed position cannon though.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    The capacitors used by EMALS might be useful in connection with railgun technology, but you’d probably need some time to charge them fully. A reactor on a ship with electric main-propulsion systems is one way, but multiturbine destroyer designs with the space for a couple of those capacitors might be another. Turbines can be fired up pretty quickly; if you detect an incoming cruise missile, the most likely initial use of this kind of system, a bridge crew might be able to hit a few buttons, bring a second turbine on line, and dump the building surge of current straight into a capacitor; depending on projectile weight, you might have a heck of a point defense system.

  • Thomas

    Utilization as a ABM defense against the DF-21 could be a major byproduct of the new weapons system. Look at the Aegis Ballistic Missile defense system in case adaptation two new needs. We have to think in ways that provide not only defense but deterrence in their efforts in area denial. I am convinced that a point defense system that consists of carrier escorts but also as I stated carriers with two rail guns on each of the new carrier class. Practical and sends a strong message. Having defensive weapons that can be basically ready for loading all the time but a essentially inert is a huge safety and time advantage.

  • citanon

    Forget for a moment installation on ships. Imagine these rail guns on static land installations.

    The strategic calculus for the Pacific, I think, just changed.

  • E_Khun

    Ok. Railgun. Cool and all. I’m all for it.

    But can someone please explain what it’s going to be used for? Shore bombardement, point defense? And what trajectory do these rounds use? I’d think shooting things in line of sight is pretty much covered already.

    If used as artillery. Since it relies on speed as it’s destructive component, won’t it bleed speed at longer ranges? I also guess it won’t be shooting guided rounds, it’ll fry all electronics. And what if I want to shoot something close by? (Like the bastard at the other side of town who’s burning tires up wind) I can’t shoot it slower because it’ll do less damage doesn’t it?

    • crich

      It has superiority over other systems with range and effect of impact due to velocity.

      • E_Khun

        That answers exactly none of my questions.

        Let’s start simple. What will be the target?

        • Dfens

          They can go as fast as Mach 8, where as a typical canon is limited to projectile speeds in the Mach 3 range, so you can imagine how much extra distance is possible with the rail gun. On the other hand, usually a rail gun relies on speed to do damage, so I think the effective range is probably inside 100 miles. The closer the target, the more damage they do. Again, this is because the speed is what causes the damage. The target can be anything, another ship, a shore battery, power or communications utilities. I suppose it could even be used against aircraft. Some of the projectiles are guided. There was a story here about that a few months back.

    • It can be used to attack troop positions, airfields, ships, cruise missiles in-bound, ballistic missiles in-bound (although getting a round made for that high speed intercept will be challenging), radar sites, command centers. The rail gun would likely require several rounds to take out a large indutrial building though. I expect larger targets might be attacked with an exploding round to spread the destructive force of round over a larger area. It would typically be launched in a ballistic arc (45 degrees angle at least). The round would also likely be used in a near vertical angle on impact ni the end game. GPS/INS guidance is most likely.

    • citanon

      The number one application of this gun is air defense.

      The primary advantage is that this gun replaces a Mach 4 $250,000 $1 million surface to air missile such as the Patriot PAC-3 with a $25,000 Mach 7 artillery shell that can be fired once every second. On a land installation, instead of having a magazine of 16 missiles, you can have something like 500 shells. The shells can be fired once every second.

      With that in mind, you now have a situation where:

      1. the US can potentially shoot down the warhead of a DF-21 ballistic missile at 1/100 the cost it took to produce that missile
      2. the air defense can shoot fast enough to stop even a saturation attack vs. any site at sea or on land
      3. the air defense magazine of a single CAG or an airbase like Guam, on its own, can have more than enough defensive firepower to exhaust all of the missiles in the Chinese inventory.

      _If_ they get this thing to perform as well as they want, it may change the game in the Pacific completely. If they get this to work vs. ICBMs (very big if), it will change the calculus of MAD.

  • Thomas

    In the future longer barrel more capacitors and a system to run it you can fire a larger shells or a shell farther. Think of the Iraq war with the old battleship firing 16″ shells and solders surrendering to a uav from the ship. This is a game changer for the pacific theater. This is that big stick. Use it wisely and don’t let interservice disputes or thinking it can only be placed on specific ships.

  • Jerry

    Simple application. Artillery. 5-7 round in different angles for the rounds to hit an area at the same time. The main reason rail gun are being pushed to basically to have a cheaper per round option than using missiles. WW2 showed that battleship guns are good artillery support and since taking them out the “replacements” are all missiles and bombs. It would be good if they could put these in destroyers to give troops a “call for fire” in short notice compared to planes or missiles that cost half a million per shot. So it would complement the existing weapon. Maybe later on smart rail gun munition can be developed but I think the basic kinetic artillery is already a good step.

  • D Militello

    During WW2 in the pacific, specifically the Battle of Lete Gulf, the Japanese large caliber guns completely passed through some of our thin walled destroyers and our light transport carriers before they could explode. At the speeds the rail gun munitions are traveling, is there any possibility that our shells will penetrate all the way through a ship without doing extensive damage. Making a small hole in a ship above the water line does not sink or disable a ship. The proof of the pudding is in the digestion, not the making of it. Can the extreme acceleration of the rail gun, be a problem to the explosive package or fuse? Let us make sure before we mount this on a ship.