BAE Proposes Rail Guns for Army’s Future Fighting Vehicle

RailgunBAE Systems officials said an electromagnetic rail gun firing a kinetic energy warhead could be a real option for the Army’s next generation Future Fighting Vehicle, which the service hopes to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Following the cancellation of the Ground Combat Vehicle, Army officials said they want the defense industry to offer a wide range of technologies before the Army decides whether to pursue the Future Fighting Vehicle, or an additional Bradley upgrade.

BAE Systems presented a host of possible technologies at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference last week. Among those was a model of the electromagnetic rail gun the company is developing for the Navy.

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.

BAE Systems officials said the rail gun would have to be scaled down if it were to be mounted on top of the turret of a Future Fighting Vehicle. However, the officials on the AUSA show floor were confident it was possible.

Video

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Uncle Bill

    It may be time for a new platform with fusion power, lasers and rail guns. Not necessarily a ground vehicle or ship. Perhaps a very large air vehicle or a walker.

    • blight_qwerty
    • jeffwlong

      Right now there is no such thing as a fusion power plant. Given enough funding we might shrink the current projection of 50 years to 10 or 15. Rail guns are just now available but I’ve yet to see a rapid fire version. The last I saw a point defense laser might be too slow for a ship facing an anti-ship missile closing in at 600 MPH. It will come but I am not sure it will be in my lifetime.

    • mareo3

      Not important but I think that a walker is a ground vehicle. Back to the topic, what you describe sounds to me like a Battlemech (AKA giant robot with really big guns) from the Scy Fi Battle tech franchise (board-games, Mechwarrior computer-games, novels, cartoon, etc…).

    • DKS

      Fusion Power! What a neat idea.
      Just last year the Tokamak complex developed by ITER started site excavations.
      This is where the worlds first fusion reactor will be build,
      By 2026 they hope to begin the fusion of deuterium-tritium.

    • Lord Vader

      Or a “Death Star”!

    • Rob C.

      I think of BattleTech and its Gauss Rifles when they talk about having vehicle able fire Rail Gun rounds. They’ll need significant power source to be able generate enough power without having logistic train of fuel trucks keep with demands of engine buring through it’s fuel power a even down grade version of a Railgun.

    • theheater

      Snaaaaaakkkkeeeeee.

    • Bernard

      Tanks are more efficient than walking robots. A fusion powered tank would be incredible, although a fusion powered Osprey style VTOL with armor, guns, and practical lift capacity would be better. Maybe in 100 years we’ll have that.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Rail guns throw off a lot of heat. Having one on a ship offers the possibility of cooling via ocean water and heat exchangers (not that I know if the railgun proposed for the Zumwalt does anything of the sort.) Handling that waste heat in a vehicle on land, especially in the deserts or tropics, offers no such possibility. Two decades into the future, perhaps.

    I wonder if a point-defense weapon for RAM, at a fixed base, might not be a better point of departure; and perhaps easier to implement than a laser system. As far as a fusion powerplant goes, well, maybe in fifty years.

    • Hooksdown

      Huh?

    • blight_qwerty

      In response to paragraph one: The ability to dissipate heat by air cooling is primarily a function of heat generated and the energy budget available. There’s always active refrigeration to cool the gun barrel itself but will create plenty of waste heat that will have to be air-cooled, probably with the assistance of heatsinks and fans to constantly blow fresh air. However, filtration systems will be required for use in the desert, and at high temperatures this solution begins to break down. If you’re lazy, connecting the coolant system used for the power source to the gun together may not be a bad idea, given that a failure of the power source means the railgun isn’t firing anyways.

      Paragraph 2: A smaller platform is always a tempting way to move ahead. That is the route they are taking by proposing a weapons system scaled to a Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        D’oh! The use of an engine cooling system didn’t even occur to me. That does suggest a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, as opposed to a turbine, does it not?

        • blight_asdf

          Pretty much any power-generating system needs cooling to prevent damage. Turbines and reciprocating engines require coolant. Often it is liquid, but occasionally air. I’m unsure how much heat a railgun will generate, but cooling the barrel is the eventual rate-of-fire limiting step. Artillery pieces are marketed as having impressive “burst rates”, but have much lower sustained rates of fire. The difference is likely due to heat. I imagine the railgun will be the same way.

  • SAMBO

    Why even show its in development? Why show the slug shape or any information for copying, this should be top secret should it not?

    • Dragon029

      People demand to know what their tax dollars go into; if everything like this was secret, then people would be asking more questions.

      Additionally, weapons like these aren’t meant to be secret weapons; these are meant to eventually become the main gun of all US naval warships; something like that is something you can’t hide.

      Plus, by advertising cool stuff like this, you encourage younger generations to come and work for the military and contractors developing these systems.

      • JohnQ

        In addition, proponents of weapons systems know that they need political and popular support in order to get proper funding. Showing it off helps with that.

    • LoseHill

      Please calm down. Did you really think that the security was breached here? This doesn’t show anything new that hasn’t been public knowledge for a long time now. It’s just another TV piece getting all over excited.

      If you watch it is actually quite careful in what it shows. Apart from the military guy it is all quite old footage. The blunt slug he handles is an early design that was purely about getting something to come out of the end of the barrel without accidentally welding itself onto the gun in the process. The pointy projectile is a later design, but there isn’t exactly anything surprising about discovering that a hypersonic projectile thing is pointy, so no military secrets there.

      What the editing doesn’t show in detail is the current version of the sabot (the casing that holds the pointy thing so that it fits the barrel). They show an old fashioned blunt projectile being loaded into the gun. It is then edited so that what comes out is the new pointy projectile, but you don’t get a detailed view of the sabot, just bits flying away.

  • steve

    I think it might actually be feasible. The technology in other fields has caught up, I think you could have a small caliber railgun on an IFV or AFV.

  • John Deere

    Well, it appears the energy problem has been cracked. Railguns were once the preserve of ships with their own extensive electricity generating capacity; either railguns have become ultra efficient or they’ve developed a compact energy production system. I suspect the latter might be the case if the news from Lockheed’s Skunkworks regarding fusion technology is reliable.

  • Seems the next tank would be a better candidate for this new technology. We have enough of a challenge trying to get a full infantry squad and all their equipment in a vehicle let alone incorporating this new technology.

    There’s just more room on a tank with a 3-4 man crew than an infantry carrier with 9-12.

    Sounds like BAE is just trying to take advantage of an opportunity (the Army doesn’t have a new tank program).

    • blight_qwerty

      BAE may also try to sell it as “scaling it down to a 30mm projectile means a smaller footprint, so we’d get it out to the troops faster”

    • Brian B. Mulholland

      BAE may feel that their work on the GCV, gives them an edge. Their proposal had, I think, a hybrid powertrain that might easily adapt to include a capacitor to provide the peak power needed for a railgun. But, qwerty’s comment being on my mind, this might be easier done with a system using a water-cooled internal combustion powerplant than a turbine.

    • gordx

      i heard that they’re trying to sell one to the arabs that fires shoes………:)

    • Thomas

      Compact is a relative term. The capacitor banks that power the guns are still large.

  • Hooksdown

    Now, THAT, folks, is what you call a real “shootin’ iron.”

  • blight_qwerty

    I imagine the field artillery would be a good place to test out railguns, given that the constraints of portability and robustness to battle damage are easier to meet when you are a little farther from the main fight.

    If the constraint is power systems, then building one onto the prime mover of a towed artillery piece may be an option. So long as Armed Service Committees know what the hell is going on (though they are easy to keep in blissful igorance) oversight requirements are met.

    • Stan

      Exactly. Bradley-type vehicles need slower area effect rounds for infantry support. Tanks also engage at relatively short ranges although in their case having a very high velocity kinetic kill round wound actually be useful for engaging enemy tanks at longer ranges with improved kill assurance. But I just don’t see a 155mm rail gun fitting in a tank. Maybe a smaller caliber able to fire both powder and EM rounds? Howitzer rail guns, now that’s something interesting. And again, maybe they could be combined with powder charges for improved performance assuming the extra oomph from the rail gun portion of the gun would be an improvement over just adding more powder or a rocket engine for the purpose of throwing rounds farther/faster.

      • blight_qwerty

        “Bradley-type vehicles need slower area effect rounds for infantry support.”

        Ooh, not going to touch that one. majr0d would probably be the one to touch that.

        The technology will likely be proven before it makes its way into MBT’s. I suspect a long development period, or early fielding in an anti-tank platform may be the way forward.

        Then again, if we really needed stronger anti-tank firepower we might’ve gone with 140mm after the upgrade to 120mm from 105. The big negative with the 140 was the weight of the projectile…would a railgun be capable of delivering the varied types of munitions at the appropriate rate of fire with a reasonable amount of rounds carried in the MBT? Can it be serviced in the field? Ominously, what happens when the power goes out? What are the failsafes to keep a rail-gun tank fighting when a conventional tank can slowly traverse with a hand crank, load by hand, and fire?

        • Stan

          Backup generator vehicle with several hundred yards of high temperature superconductor cable? As long as we are doing science fiction…

      • Stan – I don’t see how speed of the round has any impact on what weapons support Infantry. It’s like having a girl too pretty. Not possible.

        Infantry uses point and area weapons. The 25mm fires HE and Sabot. The Infantry engages targets ranging from troops in the open (area target) to vehicle and even point targets.

        • Stan

          What I was saying, perhaps a bit unartfully, was that the current idea of rail gun effectiveness revolves around the very high velocity its projectiles can achieve for the kinetic effect. Do you think this would be useful in an infantry support weapon such as a single barrel 25mm cannon? Maybe a machine gun or an anti-air arrangement…

          • I guess we agree more than disagree then.

            Weapons that rely on their kinetic energy to do damage while lethal have some limits when it comes to military use. Firing a tank sabot round will scare the crap out of an enemy squad but won’t cause many injuries unless the penetrator itself or something it hits actually hits someone in the open.

            Then there’s the requirement for accuracy and sighting systems. Even tank rounds have a couple of feet leeway when it comes to where the actual round hits at 1000 -2000+ meters. This is another reason its hard for a tank gunner to choose the exact spot to hit on an enemy tank e.g. the shot trap under a gun mantlet.

            So to get back to your question. It doesn’t seem a railgun will be of great benefit to infantry until they can miniaturize it and make it cheaper than conventional weapons. Another path would be to incorporate HE rounds into the kinetic warhead which isn’t why we are developing railguns.

            BTW, we typically don’t equip infantry units organically with specific air defense capability. That’s why we have air defense units we attach to infantry units if the threat exists.

      • blight_qwerty

        “Tanks also engage at relatively short ranges”

        Only because they are the best platforms on the planet for either striking from 2,500+ meters with impressive accuracy, or rolling over an objective and crushing roadblocks of cars under their tracks. The average of the two is “relatively short range”; that of the range required to support the infantry while remaining impervious to everything short of tandem-warhead ATGM’s, top-attack missiles and double-stacked anti-tank mines and large IED’s.

  • Ben

    Yeah, I’m not biting. Railguns are the future but this is too much, too fast. Sure, they could probably do it… after 10 years and 2 billion in additional R&D footed by the taxpayer.

    • Thomas

      Look up ITER Fusion reactor. It is being built right now. The coils that will contain the fusion process is the same that provided the field for the guns.

    • commenter

      This is exactly why most military projects run over budget and behind schedule.

      It’s high risk, unproven technology that would have to be soldier proofed and widely deployed. It’d have to be ruggedized for the wide range of conditions the military tests their hardware and have a high MTBF. Much harder problems that simply “making it work.” Deploying cutting edge tech adds a lot of risk to the programs and frequently excessive cost.

      • Dfens

        Yeah, that’s it. It has nothing to do with the fact that you morons pay us more to f up and drag the programs out as long as possible. It’s all that “unproven technology” like these damn rail guns that have been around for decades.

    • jon

      Rail guns would never be practical on small land vehicles where energy and space is limited. if it were a practical possibility then you would see it being implemented in pistols and rifles too. Which you will never see.

  • derp

    Either there have been MASSIVE breakthroughs in energy production and storage that no one is talking about or this is more of the defense industry blowing smoke up our backsides.

  • Mark

    Thank you for the video link. It worked great on my iPad.

  • C-Low

    I get a ship, if power can be found a mobile artillery piece, maybe even a MBT main weapon, but a IFV just makes no sense. A rail gun will not have the anti personnel capability of say a 40 chain gun nor the rapid fire capability. Makes no sense, unless some idiot has changed the IFV gun purpose from troop support to tank warfare.

    • A rail gun be it 25mm,35mm, or 40mm with kill any main battle tank past, present, or future. The rail gun’s speed with give it point shoot capability from 0 to infinity verse a tank. One hit will send metal shrapnel inside the tank and that’s if it doesn’t explode just from the impact. A rail gun based on any one of the above mention calibers should be able to take out anything on the ground and in the air.

      • Fordownr

        I would imaging a beehive or canister round could/would be developed for APERS (shivers at the thought)

  • Mastro

    Seems a bit ambitious since teh navy doesn’t have a big one yet.

  • My choice is to remain very open minded to any and all possible ways the rail gun technology can be used for the benefit of all branches of the military. The one use that just keeps popping in my head is anti-missile/ballistic defense with a prompt Global Strike Capability. Anyone remember the Star Wars movie were the rebels were abandoning the ICE Planet? Remember those big laser cannons they used to fire on the ships in space to open up an escape path for the rebel ships and fighters? I was along something like that size with generators powered by 2 or 4 nuclear reactors. Have like one of these land based in the four corners of the US mainland with options for Alaska and Hawaii. If the navy version can shoot a 23lb projectile 100 miles at Mach 6 or 7. imagine a rail gun 100 or 1000 times bigger than the naval version, land based, electricity supplied by Nuclear powered turbines, and shoots projectiles 100-500lbs with pin-point accuracy 500 miles into space in less than 10 minutes and hit targets anywhere on the planet in less than 30 minutes. Yes this is a wild idea but just think about how this would solve the problem with destroying incoming nukes while providing an offensive canter strike capability( multiple 100-500lb projectiles hits ground targets at Mach 7-8 or higher impact speeds. Kinetic kills. Just My thoughts.

    • blight_asdf

      Project Babylon was tried even in the time before railguns.

  • Muttling

    It’s a great technology, but power supply is a monster issue and I seriously doubt that we’re there for a system that can ride in a vehicle the size of a Bradley.

  • hibeam

    I don’t see this technology as mobile just yet. However I think it could in the near future lead to a rather dramatically less costly iron dome type system.

  • Chris

    “kinetic energy warhead”? Projectile, not warhead – ironic error since the whole point of a railgun is the PROJECTILE doesn’t need an active ‘warhead’.

    • Mike

      Yes “kinetic energy warhead” means that the damage is caused by the kinetic energy.
      The speed is what causes the damage, and there is in fact no active warhead.
      You can see the projectile in the movie is a solid block of metal.

  • jim

    I’m thinking rail gun is just the technology, you can make it fire what ever fits in the barrel at whatever speed you want. Should be programmable for various warheads, just using electricity instead of powder filled cases. Autoloading is easier, no empty cases to eject, and more options for projectiles. Why wouldn’t we put one on everything?

    • Fordownr

      EXACTLY!

    • blight_asdfjkl

      Isn’t the cartridge wall already combustible on 120mm ammunition? Takes care of much of the empty case issue.

  • oblatt22

    Of course putting a rail-gun on an IFV makes zero military sense. But that’s not what drives our procurement anymore. Fact is the next IFV is the only game in town and so it will need to be loaded with ans many expensive gimmicks as possible to generate enough return

    • Brian

      Actually, it makes perfect sense. Put a 25mm railgun in the turret, with dual feed like the Bradley has for the Bushmaster. Use a saboted KE round against tanks or other hard targets, and a frag/HE/ABM round for soft or area targets. Plus keep the co-axial M240 or something along those lines for use against troops or other lighter targets. Granted, that requires developing the capacitors small enough to fit in the turret but still able to hold enough of a charge to fire the railgun.

  • Engage

    Bolo MKI

  • Rob C.

    That’s going to be a large vehicle given how much power its going to take provide a platform that can generate enough power to a weapon able to do significant damage to a target. I’m all for it, if they manage to make it viable. If they use diesel emgine or turbine of some kind power this thing, its going need big fuel tank unless come up with away to manage power demands.

  • Greg

    I agree with the above comments about Artillery first. General Atomics agrees also. I probably shouldn’t post this here, but here it goes anyway. Works in air defense, counter battery and the artillery role. http://www.ga.com/railgun-systems

  • Thomas G

    TNT has a chemical explosive energy of 2.8MJ/kg. A kinetic round travelling at 2366m/s has a kinetic energy of 2.8MJ/kg (E=½mv2). Ordinary M1A1 30mm uranium tank darts travel around 1,500m/s and destroy armour better than explosive rounds. A 30mm railgun (similar to Bushmaster) shooting uranium at a mediocre 2000m/s would tear up any armour. The outside barrel diameter would be large due to the magnetic coils.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Engage …. yer dating yerself. ;)

  • Jim

    Suprised to hear the company who makes the stuff wants it on every piece of military weapon system? Let’s borrow some more money from China and put it on everything.

  • Mike

    If rail gun tech is in fact this good, I would like to use it to launch our satellites.

    • Christopher

      You could do more than that with them. It’s theoretically possible to launch manned space craft. However even a small craft wold require half a country worth of energy to power each launch with current technology.