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United States : US NAVY announces electromagnetic railgun.

The US Navy has other ideas as it prepares to install a test prototype electromagnetic railgun on a on a Spearhead-class joint high speed vessel (JHSV) in 2016 as part of a program to develop the naval artillery of the future.

Modern missiles are miracles of range, accuracy and lethality, but they are incredibly complex and expensive with a single shot costing millions of dollars. Old-fashioned projectile weapons are cheaper, but less effective. They have shorter ranges, less accuracy, and still need dangerous-to-handle propellants to fire them.

The EM railgun comes in. It uses electromagnetic force to propel a warhead instead of a chemical propellant. The idea has been around since 1920s and the principle has been suggested and even experimented, but it s only been in recent years that the principle moved from proposition to practicality.

The EM railgun is an electric motor that s been folded out and laid flat. Like an electric motor, the railgun uses an alternating electromagnetic field to pull an armature. The armature is a sliding metal conductor that holds a projectile and is held between two conductive rails. Instead of whizzing around in a circle, the electromagnetic field shoots the armature along the length of the rails, building up to hypersonic speeds. When it reaches the end of the rail, the armature releases the projectile, which flies toward its target.

One particular advantage of the EM railgun is that it costs orders of magnitudes conventional missile systems. The railgun is shooting back at only a few thousand dollars per round. That means a lot more firepower available to commanders, and thus more flexibility in how to respond to threats, with the Navy saying that railguns would be effective against against enemy warships, small boats, aircraft, missiles and land-based targets.

The prototype EM railgun is the result of testing and the development by the US Navy and private companies since 2005 at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Phase I of the program concentrated on developing a 32 megajoule muzzle energy proof-of-concept weapon. Phase II concentrates on making the EM railgun fire 10-rounds per minute and being able to handle the heat and stresses of rapid firing.

The plan is to design projectiles for the railgun that will be compatible with powder guns, so a future deployment will be easier and allow missiles to be saved for major threats.

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Publication:Mena Report
Date:Apr 23, 2014
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