Navy plans first live test of electromagnetic railgun on ship in 2016

April 8, 2014

The U.S. Navy announced today (Apr. 7, 2014) that it plans to install and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun (EM railgun) aboard a joint high-speed vessel in fiscal year 2016 — the first time an electromagnetic railgun will be demonstrated at sea and a significant advance in naval combat.

EM railgun technology uses an electromagnetic force, known as the Lorenz Force, to rapidly accelerate and launch a projectile between two conductive rails. This guided projectile is launched at such high velocities that it can achieve greater ranges (up to 110 nautical miles) than conventional guns, a Navy statement says.  It maintains enough kinetic energy that it doesn’t require any kind of high explosive payload when it reaches its target.

Railgun schematic (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

High-energy EM railguns are expected to be lethal and effective against multiple threats, including enemy warships, small boats, aircraft, missiles, and land-based targets.

“Against specific threats, the cost per engagement for EM railgun technology is orders of magnitude less expensive than comparable missile engagements,” the Navy statement says.

“The projectile itself is being designed to be common with some current powder guns, enabling the conservation of expensive missiles for use against more complex threats.”

“Energetic weapons, such as EM railguns, are the future of naval combat,” said Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, the chief of naval research. “The U.S. Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology.”

Since 2005, the Navy and its partners in industry and academia have been testing railgun technology at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. and at the Naval Research Lab, where the service has a number of prototype systems.

U.S. Navy rail gun breaks record: Office of Naval Research video of the January 31, 2008 test of the world’s most powerful electromagnetic rail gun at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dalhgren. Firing at a 10.64MJ energy level, the railgun achieved a muzzle velocity of 2,520 meters per second.