The USS Zumwalt, lead ship of a new class of advanced stealth destroyers, was commissioned on Saturday, October 15th with great fanfare. The knifelike ship, armed with two 155-millimeter guns and 80 vertical launch silos, has no shortage of firepower.
The Navy hopes to install a railgun in place of the one of the main guns of the third Zumwalt, USS Lyndon B. Johnson. The railgun prototype was scheduled to be tested aboard the USNS Trenton right around now, but there hasn't been any news on the tests. As the Zumwalt ships enter the fleet it raises the obvious question: When, if ever, will we see these futuristic weapons at sea?
Railguns use electricity and magnetism to accelerate projectiles along rails to extreme speeds. And like lasers, they are the kind of energy-intensive weapons that have always been on the cusp of development but have hit a number of unexpected hurdles on the way to operational status. When it comes to the railguns, the chief issue is their mammoth energy requirements.
The U.S. Navy's prototype railgun requires 25 megawatts to function properly. That's enough electricity to power 25,000 American homes. But the USS Zumwalt can generate 78 megawatts, which, after onboard systems and propulsion, leaves an excess 58 megawatts. So, if the U.S. Navy wanted to replace the Zumwalt's twin 155-millimeter long range guns, the power is there.