Navy Wants to Shoot Smaller Rounds from Rail Guns

An artist rendering shows the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun installed aboard the joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3). (US Navy image)An artist rendering shows the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun installed aboard the joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3). (US Navy image)

Some interesting technology news came out of the Surface Navy Association symposium this week near Washington, D.C.

The sea service is exploring ways to shoot smaller rounds using electromagnetic rail gun technology. A rail gun is long-range weapon that fires a projectile using electricity instead of chemical propellants.

As my colleague Hope Hodge Seck reported:

An aggressive effort to make the U.S. Navy more lethal and efficient will include experiments with new uses for missiles and application of new rail gun technology to smaller weapons systems, the service’s director of surface warfare said Tuesday.

Among projects in the works for the Navy is the development of new gun rounds, including the possibility of a smaller version of the electromagnetic projectile launching technology used by the rail gun weapon now in development. The rail gun, which can hurl a projectile at well over 5,000 miles per hour, is being evaluated for possible mounting on a Zumwalt-class destroyer by the mid-2020s.

“When we take that projectile with the rail gun, why not make it small enough to put in a five-inch round … with a couple of hundred five-inch rounds that now can shoot something as far, almost as accurately as a rail gun?” [Read Adm. Peter] Fanta suggested.

Read the full story at Military.com.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • blight_

    As it is, my impression is that we are opting to use electromagnets to boost ranges well in excess of those provided by conventional systems. If we are interested in fielding rail guns sooner, we could opt to use more modest electromagnets, perhaps with equivalent or slightly better range than chemical systems we have now, and then let technological evolution flesh out the increase in range over time. An argument against this is historical precedent: the Standard Battleships did not receive changes to their main battery during the course of WW2, although changes were made to the secondary battery. The main battery a ship is equipped with is likely the main battery the ship will have for the remainder of its operational career.

    Edit: This would then suggest that whatever main battery we give the Zumwalt is going to be the one it gets for its career. Thus, it may be an incentive to “get it right the first time”.

  • ohwilleke

    Conceptually, this makes lots of sense. Technologically, a rail gun that delivers on the promise is still vaporware. I’ll take it more seriously when it a prototype can pass some field tests.

    More broadly, the notion of re-evaluating the armament on vessels that have a primarily logistics mission makes all kinds of sense. In particular, the HSV-3 is a good candidate to join the amphibious fleet in being outfitted with lasers and perhaps with having a Phalanx CIWS mounted upon it.

  • citanon

    I think the admiral meant taking the round developed for the rail gun and shooting it from a conventional 5 inch gun. Hence it’s really the guidance technology that’s getting used not the launch technology.

    • blight_

      The details of the rail-gun launched round haven’t been discussed in great detail (unless I missed something), but my impression is that that round would be based on that fired from the “legacy” AGS, which in turn is contributing to the LRLAP (in 155mm), which in turn is being explored in a 127mm (the 5″)

  • Sandy

    While the rail gun will be a great addition to taking out point targets inland, we still seem to be forgetting about “area suppression”, i.e. large kill radii for assembled troops/tanks/etc….our military has become too enamored of the surgical strike with respect to weapons. while Laser guided/GPS guided munition are cost effective and effective with respect to collaterall damage and the need for re-strike, we still need something like a 16 inch round that has a 100yd kill radius that is cheap. Tomahawks are far too expensive, and HELLFIREs are 100k apiece. A 16 inch round is still needed for it’s cost effectiveness – they also can be laser-guided or GPS-guided, if needed.

  • Riverine-SissyBoat

    Why bother? It’s not like they are willing to actually defend themselves and not be captured by a bunch of AK toting, tracksuit wearing buttplugs.

  • mcs

    The fantasy is that the brass would let one of their ever more expensive ships get close enough to anything hostile to reach it with any gun.

    Anti-ship missiles will become faster, smarter and longer ranged. Stand off distances for carrier groups will exceed effective attack radius.

    As soon a the re-entry, terminal control loop is closed for ICBM’s to make conventional war heads plausible, carriers become big fat targets for any enemy that maters, any place.

  • CC Clarke

    “As soon a the re-entry, terminal control loop is closed for ICBM’s to make conventional war heads plausible, carriers become big fat targets for any enemy that maters, any place.”

    It doesn’t matter what offensive systems are used against a carrier battle group, once directed energy systems are introduced, they will be obsolete. (They simply can’t outrun / out-maneuver a system that operates at the speed of light.) The EM Rail Gun will become a CIWS and shore bombardment supplement/replacement using plentiful, cheaper rounds.

    • blight_

      Should worry more about what beam weapons will do to aircraft…although there is a possibility that aircraft will be able to deliver a punch that hurts ships, and thus the aircraft will be a range extension over-the-horizon where ships cannot hit each other.

  • http://authorityontransportation.com/coachbuild.html Coach Builder

    At last they’ve took a very good decision. Salute to them!

  • Punisher_1

    The idea is to utilize the rail gun power / capacitors in a manner where the most damage can be done in the shortest amount of time. Instead of one five inch hole you could dial in a burst of 20, one in holes eliminating key areas of the target vessel rending it useless in a very short amount of time. Not so much as sinking the vessel it but eliminating all critical systems rendering it inoperable. A one inch projectile going 100% through the ship is just as useful. Now imagine 2 to 4 rail guns doing this on one ship backed by a computerized control system that specifically targets vital areas. Or the elimination of aircraft or small objects such as missiles.