Skip to comments.Video - The Next Great Military Weapon, The Rail Gun
Posted on 02/10/2009 7:43:39 AM PST by Notoriously Conservative
(video on site)
Aim one of these babies at Osama Bin Laden's cave, or goat farm, and blamo!!! Nothing but the stench of burnt beard and turban.
The weapon, which was successfully tested in October at the King George County base, fires nonexplosive projectiles at incredible speeds, using electricity rather than gun powder.
The technology could increase the striking range of U.S. Navy ships more than tenfold by the year 2020.
"It's pretty amazing capability, and it went off without a hitch," said Capt. Joseph McGettigan, commander of NSWC Dahlgren Division.
"The biggest thing is it's real--not just something on the drawing board," he said.
The railgun works by sending electric current along parallel rails, creating an electromagnetic force so powerful it can fire a projectile at tremendous speed.
Because the gun uses electricity and not gunpowder to fire projectiles, it's safer, eliminating the possibility of explosions on ships and vehicles equipped with it.
Instead, a powerful pulse generator is used.
The prototype fired at Dahlgren is only an 8-megajoule electromagnetic device, but the one to be used on Navy ships will generate a massive 64 megajoules. Current Navy guns generate about 9 megajoules of muzzle energy.
The railgun's 200 to 250 nautical-mile range will allow Navy ships to strike deep in enemy territory while staying out of reach of hostile forces.
saw a prototype of this on a PBS science show back when I was about 16. That was a very long time ago.
Ummmm......I want one.......
The Navy has been playing with the things for 25 years or more.
Set these up on smaller vessels and a lot more of them and you have a lot more versatility and power projection.
It’s been developing for a while. But the first truly successful shot was in 2006.
Okay, question: How does it impart the stabilizing spin to the projectile? I’m assuming it’s some sort of bullet shaped projectile, or does it have mini fins for stability?
I am not a military person, but if a shell explodes on contact with target, and our shells are designed to be launched from a muzzle with 9 MJ of energy, wouldn’t multiplying the muzzle energy by 5 have a risk of making the shell think it is experiencing impact when it is being launched from a rail gun? I am sure they will design new shells, but it seems like we may be approaching some kind of physiscal limit here.
No, the battlewagons are hopelessly obsolete. This railgun requires enormous amounts of power to operate, and any “platform” which mounts it will have to have a totally integrated power system to feed it energy. The DDX was supposed to be that platform, but it is now history.
DDG-1000 class Zumwalt is built to accept a railgun if it ever becomes practical, but high voltage, high current, quick impulse is NOT benign.
I wonder how long before they make ‘em handgun size.
Actually, the Navy has been playing around with railgun technology since 1946, when it examined captured German designs, which were ultimately considered unfeasible since they required their own city-scale power systems to just fire one shot.
Not benign, BUT far less volatile than chemical propellants, which are serious fire hazards during seaborn combat operations.
No, silly person, this is an “untried unproven technology” according to Lord Obama (piss be upon him).
So are the M-2 and the 1911A1, they just happen to be superior to anything that has been suggested as a replacement. The advantage of the Iowa hulls is that they actually exist
I remember when Congress tanked the funding for R&D on them at LANL decades ago, but the theories were (and remain) sound (it was part of SDI, I think).
One of the guys told me that theoretically, they felt could hit the moon with a one pound projectile if they could get enough controlled electricity to pulse through it w/o burning up the entire mesa.
The National Labs built various bench-scale prototypes that shoot plastic projectiles w/embedded copper conductors, but I don't know of they have gone much beyond that. If I remember correctly, the velocities are in the high explosive range (22k+ FPS), which is what makes them so devastating downrange. All that kinetic energy in a relatively tiny projectile. They take an enormous amount of stored power, very rapidly discharged from charged capacitors to work. Not real efficient, but.....???? There have been videos of those for years.
Maybe some other office (DARPA??) expanded the program to develop actual deployable units, but who knows? They do knock some nice holes in armor.
The Pentagon considered fielding self-propelled rail guns (in the mid-late 80’s I think), but the power requirements were so great that they would have to pull or drive around a like-sized power generation unit for each artillery piece. Kind of cuts down their mobility.
Maybe now, the advances in battery and capacitor technology/materials would make it practical.
The hulls might be there, but the engines and electronics required to operate a 21st century weapon system aren’t. The battle wagon age is over.
“I am not a military person, but if a shell explodes on contact with target, and our shells are designed to be launched from a muzzle with 9 MJ of energy, wouldnt multiplying the muzzle energy by 5 have a risk of making the shell think it is experiencing impact when it is being launched from a rail gun?”
The projectiles are inert, meaning they carry no explosive. The destructive effect is strictly from kinetic energy.
One big advantage of this is that gun magazines (where the shells are stored) will no longer explode violently if hit in battle.
It would be an interesting exercise to modernize one for this duty. But it would cost. I could see replacing the engineering plant with diesel/turbine electric generators (gonna need power generation anyway), and the drive units from mechanical to electrical (why maintain boilers to power the drive steam turbines.
And coming in at the size of a watermellon, a U.S. warship can store hundreds of them ("stored kills"), as opposed to current conventional rounds and especially cruise missiles, which require hazardous resupply at sea, or else a return to port.
Not quite handgun size, but close enough!
It’s not an explosive warhead. It relies on kinetic energy.
If you think that this weapon is interesting, Google for “rods from God” which is an older and, I think, more interesting concept.
In fact, the Navy has lost the capability of manufacturing 16-inch guns, which used to be done at the Naval Gun Factory at the Washington Navy Yard, long since turned into a minimall and fitness center.
1.34 X square root of the length of waterline will give you the hull speed!
OK, so the rail gun will work, but what about the impact on global warming? S/off
Lenth at waterline was about 825’. That gave the battleships a hull speed of aprox. 38.5 knots, 30+ knots at cruise.
phased-plasma weapons in the 40-watt range?
Why use them as a platform. The hull. Designed for speed and heavily armored. Sure we could probably build newer ones, but these already exist.
Don't worry though, it's just a thought exercise here, and even if the Navy were to want to try, The Three Stooges (Pelosi, Reid, Zero) would say no.
Its nickname is Big Burkha.
The railgun’s 200 to 250 nautical-mile range will allow Navy ships to strike deep in enemy territory while staying out of reach of hostile forces......
Can it avoid the hostile forces of Zero?
Got me! LOL!
(Where can I get one?)
Not really. It’s firing an unguided projectile at a target that is 200 miles away. Granted, it is an interesting method, but existing weapons do a better job.
It will lose velocity every second that it’s in flight, and the seconds of flight depend on the length of the bullet arc. A 200 mile shot requires a high arc, which will be much greater than 200 miles. Unless it leaves the muzzle at an ungodly velocity, it will hit the target with a velocity more due to gravity more than propellant.
A Patriot missile goes about 5,600 f.p.s., has a rocket motor, and is guided. Its range is 100 miles. I can’t see how an unguided bullet will accomplish much of anything, unless against hardened targets. Soft targets will have about four minutes to get out of the way
Didn't Arnold S star in a movie that used this technology? What was the name of the film????
They're not necessarily unguided---.
You bet. Retrofit them with nuclear reactors and replace the 16” main guns with rail guns. Since there is no explosive acceleration, the projectiles can contain GPS guidance and can be dropped in a bucket from 300 miles.
True, they could put fins on the projectile to guide it. But I still don’t see the exterior ballistics. Someone with better calculus kung fu could figure the trajectory, time of flight, and energy at impact. I think it will be very disappointing at long range.
Here are a few things that will make it sound better:
The shell is GPS-guided.
The 9 MJ gun can fire a 2 kg round at 3,000 m/s (almost 10,000 fps). The 64 MJ gun the Navy is looking for could fire a 14 kg round at the same velocity, a bigger one at lower velocity, or a smaller one faster.
The biggest advantages this would have is simplicity, safety, cost and numbers. Once you have the launch system taken care of, the projectile is a guided hunk of metal vs. maintaining rockets. Against regular rounds, there is no powder to worry about. Rounds will cost a LOT less than any missile, and a ship will be able to carry thousands of them without resupply. In mass production the cost would probably be in the low tens of thousands per guided round, probably hundreds for unguided.
It will lose some speed during flight, but still an impact will put maybe 60 megajoules into a target, the equivalent of about 14 kilos of TNT.
For ground attack at that range, this complements the Tomahawk, which only flies at 550 mph (20 minutes to that 200-mile target) but packs a bigger punch. You could spend almost six million dollars launching ten of them, then wait 20 minutes to target, or you could launch a few dozen of these and only wait four minutes. The choice of which to launch would depend on mission requirements.
The 16” shells fired by battleships had a muzzle velocity around 2,200 f.p.s. The one that hit H.M.S. Glorious at 29,465 yards took 90 seconds to get there. It averaged 880 f.p.s., which means it lost over 65% of its initial energy. 200 miles is 352,000 yards, and that's not including the height of the bullet arc. At some point, it will expend all the energy it had when it was launched. Then it will just fall.
Our laser-guided Copperhead and GPS-guided Excalibur howitzer rounds already undergo thousands of Gs of acceleration upon firing. Due to possible interference from cloud cover, the Copperhead's fins pop out at low terminal trajectory to do final guidance to the target. The Excalibur pops its fins at the top of the arc, giving it a much wider range of correction to the target, but less accuracy due to GPS (10m vs. pinpoint for the Copperhead). All the initial firing has to do for both is get the round close enough to the target so that it is within the ability of the terminal correction.
It would also have to have some hard core processors to remain on target considering its own velocity.
The Copperhead is over 20 years old. The Excalibur has been used successfully in combat.
Glorious at 29,465 yards took 90 seconds to get there. It averaged 880 f.p.s., which means it lost over 65% of its initial energy.
Count four times the speed with a much smaller shell, probably a small fraction of the frontal cross-section and thus much less wind resistance. It's hard to calculate what arc they'd fire it in since I have no idea of the terminal velocity of the shell.
Ballistic coefficient is a function of mass over diameter. Bigger bullets are more efficient. For example, the 69 grain Sierra MatchKing bullet for the 5.56mm has a BC around .305. The 200 grain .338 bullet BC is around .750. I’m told they are tremendous fun in the .338 Lapua. The 16” round is actually very efficient.
The Copperhead has a muzzle velocity around 1700 f.p.s. from a barrel about 20 feet long. I exaggerated when I said the rail gun might fight on the Nimitz, which is just over 1,000 feet long. In order to make it possible to aim the thing and install it on a ship, the barrel would be more like 50 feet long. You can see the difference. The Copperhead accelerates at around 4,500g. The rail gun, if we use a 50 foot launch platform, accelerates to 10,000 f.p.s. in .005 seconds. This is 62,000g.
Also, the Copperhead cost $40,000 in 1998. It has a 30 pound warhead. I expect that a special ship would have to be designed to deploy the rail gun. It would be a nuke, so power is not an issue. But it would have a crew and maintenance, so the cost would must include capital outlay and service. Meanwhile, we already have planes that can deliver weapons with similar destructive power and we have guys who get off on flying them and taking pictures of Achmed as he gets smoked. I rather enjoy those videos.
I just don’t see the need for this thing.
And how much do those planes cost, and for the Navy what about the $6 billion runway?
I generally don't like conversations like this because people tend to support their favorite platform. The truth is that all the systems should be complementary. You won't use a rail gun against troop formations, you need a cluster bomb or similarly loaded Tomahawk for that. You won't use this against an underground bunker, as we have bombs just for that. But if you've got a ship over the horizon, it's pretty cheap to send a few of these downrange instead of a Tomahawk, and they'll hit the target sooner than any other system in use today (like maybe before they launch their missiles).
That is unless we can bring back the Nike Sprint repurposed for surface-to-surface. Those were super-cool. Designed in the 60s, they had active homing radar and accelerated at 100g (15 seconds from launch to an altitude of 30,000m).
I grew up near a Nike base, so I have a soft spot for that particular missile. It was a Nike - Ajax installation. And it is long past its service life. But I like these:
Never been on the above, but the bottom one is fun to shoot.
One of these years, I’m going to go up to Knob Creek with a pile of cash so I can play with one of them. Cheers.
You're correct. The velocity on impact is going to be due to gravity. (But what a velocity!) Also, the projected fire rate for this generation of the weapon is quite low. From a Fox News article:
Garnett said specifications call for each railgun to be capable of firing four to six times a day, but he expects to reach a maximum of 10 times per day.
At the peak of its ballistic trajectory, the projectile will reach an altitude of 500,000 feet, or about 95 miles, actually exiting the Earth's atmosphere.
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