Navy's Railgun Is About to Get Faster and More Powerful

Office of Naval Research (ONR) Navy Rail Gun ready for salvo testing.

Office of Naval Research (ONR) Navy Rail Gun ready for salvo testing.

July 31, 2017 | Source: Popular Mechanics, popularmechanics.com, 25 July 2017, Kyle Mizokami

The U.S. Navy's experimental railgun is getting new upgrades to make it fire more powerful shots, and fire them faster. It's the latest bit of progress on this still-landlocked weapon, but when and where it actually would be installed on a warship is not clear.

Defensetech reports the Navy wants to push the Office of Naval Research's prototype railgun from a science experiment into useful weapon territory. The goal, according to Tom Beutner, head of Naval Air Warfare and Weapons for the ONR, is ten shots per minute at 32 megajoules. How much power is that? One way of looking at it is that a .22 bullet has 1,000 foot-pounds of force at the muzzle. A 32 megajoule railgun shot: 23,601,988 foot-pounds.

...we've been waiting years for the railgun to join the fleet, and part of the delay has been because the Navy is making the railgun more durable. The raw kinetic power unleashed in firing the railgun is rough on the weapon's parts. As PM wrote in 2009, the year the railgun was delivered to the Navy, "A few shots can dislodge the conducting rails—or even damage the barrel of the gun." That wasn't a weapon ready for prime time. Now, as Hope Hedge Sack reports, the Navy thinks it can get to the point where the launcher core, which previously wore out after tens of shots, could fire more than 400 shots and a barrel can last up to 1,000 rounds.

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