The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) recently announced that it has moved onto the second phase of testing for their surface ship mounted, electromagnetic rail gun.
Initiated in 2005, the Navy’s rail gun project has made major strides in the last few years; recently conducting a successful firing test that saw the supersonic weapon hit its target with 100% accuracy.
Designed as a long-range weapon, the ONR’s rail gun was designed to shoot projectiles up to 100 miles at speeds ranging from 7,442-8,851 km/h (4,500-5,500 mph). Using energy stored aboard a ship, the weapon would employ a high-energy electrical pulse to blast 14.5kg (23lb), high velocity rounds from 155mm canons aboard a naval vessel.
Although its performance specs are thoroughly impressive, the Navy is also interested in the weapon as a cost saving measure. According to Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, a rail gun round costs about $25,000, which is a pittance when you compare it to the $1.5M price tag of a Tomahawk cruise missile.
While the engineering behind the weapon’s electrical systems appears to be functional, more design work is needed to create cooling systems that will allow an extremely hot, high-energy rail gun to fire multiple rounds in rapid succession.
“We’ve gone through prototype phase 1 and had two industry gun systems. We’re now on phase two which will give us multiple rounds per minute,” said Klunder.
In the coming years the Navy has plans to develop the infrastructure and technology required to realize a fully functional rail gun. If all goes according to plan the first seaborne firing of the new high-energy, high caliber weapon could happen sometime in 2016, effectively extending the reach of US Navy weapons threefold.
Image Courtesy of the US Navy