[UPDATED April 8 with more rail gun & laser detail from Rear Adm. Klunder]

NATIONAL HARBOUR: 23 pounds ain’t heavy. But it sure hurts when it hits you going at seven times the speed of sound.

That’s what a prototype Navy weapon called a “rail gun” can do, and it does it without a single gram of gunpowder or rocket fuel — just electricity. For many missions, a rail gun is better not just than current cannon but than the laser weapons the Navy is testing this summer in the Persian Gulf (I’ll explain why in a minute). And, after years in development and hundreds of test shots on land — see the video for a small sample of the destruction — the rail gun is finally going to go to sea.

“We’re beyond lab coats, we’re into engineering now,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, told the audience at the Navy League’s annual megaconference here, Sea-Air-Space 2014. “It’s going on a Joint High Speed Vessel in 2016.”

Just in time for the Navy’s biggest gathering of the year, the Sea-Air-Space conference, the Navy released this video and issued new details of the test plan. Both rail gun prototypes will be shown off to the public in San Diego this summer, aboard the new Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket. Then the Navy will install either the BAE Systems prototype or the General Atomics one — that hasn’t been decided — on Millinocket for at-sea test shots in 2016.

It’s a crawl-walk-run approach, however. The 2016 tests will only involve one shot at a time. Firing multiple rounds in a row will wait for another series of tests in 2018. Actually installing a rail gun permanently on a combat ship — Millinocket is a transport with a civilian crew — is even further in the future. Meanwhile, while one prototype or the other is doing the tests at sea, BAE is already working on a “Phase II” rail gun with such improvements as an automatic multi-loader for rapid fire and better heat control so rapid fire doesn’t melt the barrel. (General Atomics didn’t win a Phase II contract).

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have been impressed with the Navy’s tests and are exploring the idea of a land-based version of the rail gun for missile defense, a mission currently performed by expensive and often unreliable anti-missile missiles.

So why do rail guns matter, besides generating cool clickable video? Three words: impact, range, and reloads.

Impact. Accelerated electromagnetically down a set of rails — hence the name — that 23 pound projectile moving at Mach 7 has 32 megajoules of energy. The Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, likened the
impact to “a freight train going through the wall at a hundred miles an hour” in a recent phone call with reporters. It doesn’t have an explosive warhead, but then it hardly needs one. According to official Pentagon modeling, the sheer impact is enough to meet “every single mission” the Navy and Marine Corps have for naval gunfire, although some really tough targets may require multiple shots. With the right targeting system, the rail gun could shoot down incoming aircraft, cruse missiles, and even ballistic missiles. Lasers can do the anti-missile mission too, but they probably won’t have power for harder targets for many years to come.

[UPDATED: The Navy's working on a laser with five times the power of the one headed for field-testing in the Gulf, "[but] today, it’s more defensive in nature,” Klunder told me when I caught him after his public remarks at Sea-Air-Space on Tuesday: Since lasers fire at the speed of light and keep firing as long as they have electrical power, they’re well-suited at defeating waves of incoming enemy missiles or drones that would exhaust the ammo supply of current defensive systems, but they lack a rail-gun’s long-range punch.]

Range.The rail gun can hit targets “over a hundred miles” away, said Klunder. That’s farther than existing Naval guns and even the Navy’s standard anti-ship missile, the aging Harpoon. That’s farther than the 65 nautical mile minimum distance the Navy calculates its ships must stay away from shore to stay (mostly) out of range of land-based missiles.

Historically, a Marine Corps landing force goes ashore from ships drawn up just five miles offshore. In the future, Commandant Gen. James Amos said at Sea-Air-Space this morning, “it may well find itself sitting out a hundred-plus miles.”

A rail gun also shoots farther than lasers, because of simple physics: Even the most powerful laser will fire a straight line-of-sight shot that eventually goes off into space, while a rail gun can fire a solid shot in a ballistic trajectory against targets beyond the horizon. On the other hand, 100-plus miles is a fraction of the range of the Tomahawk cruise missile, the Navy’s standard weapon for hitting targets on land. We used to have an anti-ship Tomahawk but made the mistake of phasing it out in the 1990s, leaving a big gap in the Navy armory that megacontractor Lockheed Martin is now developing a new missile to fill. So the rail gun is not going to be the one-size-fits-all weapon of the future, just an important part of a mixed arsenal of complementary weapons.

[Updated: "There's ever, never a single golden BB or a silver bullet," Klunder told me Tuesday. "We may find that the future of your battleforce may indeed be a rail gun that gives greater distances" -- for both offense and defense -- "and maybe a laser system that gives you more mid- to close-in range [defense],” with missiles for specialized missions such as hitting targets beyond rail gun range. Imagine concentric circles around a US Navy ship: an inner ring covered by lasers, a middle ring by rail guns, and an outer ring by cruise missiles. But the Navy hopes to use a lot fewer missiles in the future.]

Reloads. Missiles are bulky and expensive, with price tags in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. A 23-pound slug of metal is, by comparison, shockingly light and cheap: about $25,000 per shot, according to Klunder. [Updated: Klunder said Tuesday at Sea-Air-Space that a laser shot is even cheaper -- 59 cents per zap -- but the laser does a different mission]. The Navy’s existing DDG-51 and DDG-1000 destroyers can carry about 80 to 96 major missiles in their Vertical Launch Systems. With the rail gun, the Navy can fit — and afford — “hundreds” of rounds per ship, said Klunder. That means a rail gun ship can hit more targets, from incoming missiles to enemy ships to bunkers deep inland, and it can stay in the fight longer.

What that future rail gun warship will be is an open question. JHSVs are transports: The Navy is using them as the testbed because they have a nice wide flight deck to stick the gun on and lots of cargo space to carry the electrical power and other systems. Interestingly,  one variant of the Navy’s controversial Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Independence class, is the JHSV’s big brother and has similar characteristics, since it’s designed with a huge flight deck and spare room for plug-and-play “modules” of equipment for different missions. LCS is also under fire for not having enough firepower, a major factor in an ongoing Pentagon review of whether the program should continue.

It’d be harder to retrofit the rail gun on an existing destroyer — a larger ship than LCS isn’t designed for plug-and-play — but it’s doable. In the long run, however, making full use of rail guns probably will require a new class of ship, one with much more electrical power. That’s a goal that will take even longer and even more money than the rail gun itself.

Updated Tuesday 1:45 pm with more information from Rear Adm. Klunder.

Comments

  • estuartj

    The issue with fitting an EMRG on an existing ship isn’t about space, but power. DDG-51s simply don’t make enough juice. DDG-1000s certainly due, and the USN is developing battery systems that can provide the older Destroyers with the surge power necessary, but that is an patchwork solution (at best), especially when the Flight III ships are already going to be pushing the envelope on space and power to accomodate the AMDR.
    Still, this will greatly expands the Surface-to-Surface magazine of the surface fleet, thus opening up more space for SM-2/3/6 missles greatly improving the AAW capability of the ships (and that doesn’t include the AAW potential of the EMRG itself).
    “Game changer” is thrown out a lot, and I think it’s over-used regarding EMRG and the laser systems currently being tested, but this does help tip the balance (especially the cost ratio) back toward the fleet’s defenders.

    • estuartj

      It’s also interesting that he talks about adding the EMRG to the LCS (a pipe dream IMO given the power requirements, and not backfitting the EMRG inplace fo the DDG-1000′s current gun system.

      • tw

        watching the launcher heave and surge I’m not sure an LCS has the structural integrity to withstand more than one or two launches.

        • estuartj

          “heave and surge”? I wouldn’t use those terms to describe the recoil we see on the video. I doubt that it would be an issue IF you somehow found the power to operate the EMRG from a LCS (current or “improved”).

  • Gary Church

    Another scheme to suck up tax dollars IMO. Instead of missiles they play with toy guns. Why would they spend (how much so far?) on this stupid idea when we do not have any missiles to match our potential adversaries?
    In this age of missiles and drones we waste billions on what basic physics tells us will not work very well at all. It is a good trick to make promises you cannot keep in the defense industry; you know you will make money and not even have to succeed. Just keep dragging it out year after year. This is the case with several other pipe dreams that have been sold to the gullible for decades. Star Wars, Fusion Reactors, National Aero-Space Plane (NASP) and now we have death rays and electric guns to join the list.
    In this age of drones and missiles we should be building…..drones and missiles.

    • estuartj

      I’m highly dubious of your understanding of “basic physics”, but it’s pointless to discuss this with you since your opinion was set before you read word one.

      • Gary Church

        Then don’t discuss it with me. I am good with that.

        • estuartj

          Done.

  • estuartj

    Lexington Insititute did a nice report on the advantages & issues related to developing Lasers (Direct Energy Weapons) for naval warfare. Certainly worth a read;

    http://www.lexingtoninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Maritime-Lasers1.pdf

    • Gary Church

      Unfortunately a couple coats of graphite paint and mylar reflective coating- and spinning the missile so the beam cannot concentrate on a single spot- makes the laser energy necessary to knock a missile down equivalent to a shot from the death star. But they continue to make money keeping that fact hidden from gullible energy weapon fans.

      • estuartj

        Are you paraphrasing the Chinese military press release from March? I’d love to see your source for that “death star” claim.
        There seems to be a consensus among the experts I’ve read that 250-500kWs would be effective against most aerial targets up to the ASCM with something close to a megawatt level being needed to defend against supersonic ASCM and ballistic missiles.

        • Gary Church

          No…..I have no idea what you are talking about and I am not paraphrasing anyone. My source for the death star claim is George Lucas. The “concensus among the experts” is advertising.

          • estuartj

            George Lucas, that’s great. Well, if you are kidding it is. God I hope you are kidding.

          • Gary Church

            It was kind of a pun on Reagan’s Star Wars and ballistic missile defense. Another gimmick designed to make alot of money for the defense industry.

            I actually have no problem with spending money on researching all this stuff. But when they decide to try and really make a killing and put some half-ass system into service; I start throwing the B.S. flag. Lasers are pretty wicked weapons for blinding sensors (and people) and might even be useful for destroying some kinds of drones and cheap boat type threats; but protective coatings are easy to come up with and against missiles they won’t work which means they are probably not worth the trouble.

            I don’t think the electric cannon is really worth the trouble. Like I said in another comment, it might be a valuable anti-missile weapon for a heavily armored platform designed to take hits already but other than that…..it is just another attempt to make money by making promises that cannot be kept.

          • estuartj

            I think you are overstating the defensive
            capabilities of protective coatings or a rotation, they will help vs lower power systems, but when you get up toward 500kW or a MW system there isn’t anything that’s going to stop it. Just like a oven mitt is great for your 300 degree stove, but not at all helpful in a steel mill.

            If you put aside your assertion that there is no effective air defense against ASCM, then the addition of the EMRG, even
            purely as a land/sea attack weapon, is a huge advantage, allowing a very cheap alternative to LACMs to attack targets within 150-200 or whatever the eventual effective range is, thus opening up more magazine space for SM-2/3/6 missiles.

          • Gary Church

            No, it is actually why engines and atom bombs work. Heat dissipation techniques and refractory materials have been around much longer than lasers. I doubt the electric cannon will scale up and a 23 pound projectile is meaningless once it slows down- and it slows down almost instantly.
            It is all about making money selling something that is not ready to risk peoples lives on yet. If these salesmen knew they would go to prison if their junk did not perform as advertised they would not be so quick to make promises they cannot keep.

          • estuartj

            Please give me some useful info to back those assertions up, I’m very interested in the challenges any DEW system would have to overcome, but just stating that it won’t work because of paint isn’t helpful to me or to the discussion.

          • estuartj

            Also, please explain the math on how an object travelling at 5,000mph slows down “Almost immediately”. I concur on it slowing, that is inevitable, but unless you are using different math then the deceleration over the proposed engagement range is negligible.

          • Gary Church

            If the engagement range is 100 miles then….you need to do your own math.

          • estuartj

            The land attack, maximum range is 100-150 miles, but you know we are talking about firing at missiles at close range, I take that to mean something short of 20 miles. Over that range you are going to maintain plenty of velocity to achieve intercept and the kinetic force to achieve the desired result on the target.

          • Gary Church

            Just stating that lasers will is no better and tasking someone with doing your research is pretty sad. No thanks.

          • estuartj

            So you’re saying you haven’t done any research to back up you claim. Good to know.

          • navalMissiles

            Come-on Gary. A gun with a muzzle velocity of Mach 7 will have plenty of energy left at 20 miles. The radar horizon is for most ships at 25-35nm and reaction time is paramount in missile defense. Why would this projectile behave any differently from a .308? It’s shape dictates drag and ultimately ballistic performance. Higher muzzle velocity means flatter trajectory and more range.

            That projectile will travel out to 20nm in roughly 15 seconds. The ESSM is half the speed + acceleration time. So in missile defence, it’s a far better choice. Terminal maneuvers are also hype in missiles. From the ships POV they travel in a straight line. Not so hard to hit.

          • Gary Church

            .308 rifle will not shoot 20 miles; you are all messed up and not worth my time.

          • estuartj

            He never said the .308 goes 20 miles, but a rifle round of similair shape holds it’s velocity quite well, no reason the same wouldn’t be true for a larger round starting at a much higher velocity.

          • estuartj
          • Gary Church

            Must be the Chinese version of Fox news.

    • J_kies

      A crying shame that a PhD in Polysci is great for political and marketing talking points but it leaves out so much in the areas of lethality (effectiveness); atmospheric propagation and the rude fact that historic data indicates that megawatt laser beam directors die in seconds under full flux.
      I would be curious to know how much the vendors paid Lexington to write that puff-piece.

  • Taxpayer71

    The challenge is to put the mach 7, 23-pound slug of metal on the target. Against a precisely located fixed target this sounds feasible. However, the challenge is much greater against a moving/maneuvering surface, air, or ballistic target. The combat system has to predict the location of the target at the time of arrival of the fired round.

    • estuartj

      This is where things get very interesting, working to the advantage of the shooter is that the muzzle velocity is somewhere north of 5,000mph, this reduces the amount of “lead” you need on your shot. In addion, from other reports I’ve read, the AAW round would be something similar to a shotgun shell where you have a small explosive device (about the power of a car airbag) that splits the EMRG round (timing that is another issue, especially as the mechanism you’re using was just accelerated at an outrageous number of G). The plasma blast from that much metal diffusing in the atmosphere should prove sufficient to disable or destroy even a hardened ASCM in a significantly large blast radius.

      • Gary Church

        “-destroy even a hardened ASCM in a significantly large blast radius.”

        Unfortunately not a significant enough blast to make any practical difference. It would take small nuclear weapons to produce blast effects sufficient to knock approaching missiles down.

        All hype.

        • estuartj

          You. Are. Full. Of. It. #nufsaid

          • Gary Church

            No…the blast radius of a bunch of metal pieces vaporizing due to air friction would be pretty small. I am not full of it. A shotgun type directional airburst of metal fragments would be more effective but against a swarm attack of anti-ship missiles would require so many guns with such a high rate of fire providing literally a dome of protection that it would not be practical. The missiles you explode close to the ship would provide cover for those following and leakers would get through. And it only takes one to knock out electric power.

            Now, something like a battleship with nothing but these guns might actually be able to survive to some degree. But we do not build battleships anymore. Take something like a 1300 foot container ship and fill the containers with composite armor slabs and surround your electric guns and generators with them and you might have something that could take some missiles hits and keep going.
            Just an idea.

          • estuartj

            Nope.

          • Gary Church

            Yup.

          • estuartj

            nuh uh.

        • Al Schrader

          I invented the rail rifle.

      • ycplum

        Technically, it wouldn’t be a plasma blast. It isn’t hot enough. However, you will have several very hot metal fragments with a large load of kinetic energy ripping up a missile. And assuming it is targeted properly, taking out the missile further out than any anti-missile missile anyone has.

    • Gary Church

      In space it would be a great weapon. Unfortunately we don’t have any space battleships. In air it is like driving a nail through wood and slows down so quick that it almost instantly becomes 23 pounds of metal not going very fast. Basic physics. The electricity required to run this system is immense. Better off with chemical propellents.
      It is a gimmick to impress the gullible with no understanding of simple physics and how weapons work. Cha-Ching!

      • Damoo

        Rail guns will be highly effective against manauvering targets. The solution is twofold:

        One, the rail gun round must be manauveravle. The goal will not be to hit a bullet with another bullet but to get the round close enough to the target.

        Two, the round must contain submunitions. Once the manauvering round is close enough to a target, the submunitions are released to create a shotgun effect. The submunitions should be made of dense metals like tungsten or depleted uranium.

        Everything I just wrote does not defy any laws of physics. Don’t be ridiculous.

        • Gary Church

          It is not maneuverable and it does not contain submunitions. It will not be “highly effective..” You are making stuff up so you are the one being “ridiculous.”

          • gary church 2

            The project is in phase II. There are still lots of things left to be done. The Navy imagines it to be maneuverable if you know anything. Hell, there are different blocks of SM-3′s because the technology to guide the missiles has changed. We can guide bombs, missiles, bullets and astronauts. I think we can manage a 23 pound hunk of steel.

          • Gary Church

            gary church 2?
            C’mon. That is pathetic.

            No…..actually you can’t “guide” 23 pounds of steel. You want to shoot something with electronics and moving parts out of that electric cannon it completely changes everything. It is NOT a missile. You just added another decade onto the project; congrats.

          • Damoo

            You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. The weapon is still experimental.

            I think you are conflating the “23 pounds of steel”. It’s not difficult to add manauvering fins and guidance electronics to a projectile. We already have projectiles that survive the tremendous shock of being launched from a gun. Please google the advanced gun system being built for the zumwalt class ships.

            Currently, it’s not manauveravle. The point is: it can be.

          • Gary Church

            You add fins and electronics to that little 23 pound dart and you still have a little 23 pound dart that is only going fast for the first mile or so for a huge amount of electricity expended.

            Show me the scaled up gun that can shoot your 5 inch naval shell at mach 7 and I will recant. Guided artillery shells have been around a long time and they are just not such a great deal compared to missiles when all things are considered. So you are the one who again is making stuff up.

          • estuartj

            Prepare to recant.

          • Gary Church

            I always prepared to admit I am wrong….unlike some people.

          • Gary Church 3

            Well go ahead, admit you’re wrong Gary.

          • Gary Church

            Uh…..I am not; in this case you are.

          • Damoo

            It’s ok. You’re just not very bright.

          • qcubed

            Never mind that the atmosphere thins out remarkably above 50000 feet, which is where ICBM’s will be raining down from, so yes, they will be highly effective.

          • Gary Church

            Uh-huh. Riiiiight. You might want to read the article again.

        • estuartj

          Submunitions implies explosives, which at these velocities you don’t need, but as I mentioned before a small dispersment charge (about the power of a car airbag according to the CNO) breaks apart the main round, the energy from that velocity then creates a thermal blast (very similair to the blast you see coming out behind the round when fired).
          Maneuvering the round in flight isn’t terribly hard, but making the guidance system to survive the excelleration is a challenge. It’s not going to be very maneuverable in close range though, you can’t adjust the flight path much at that velocity or risk having the round tumble. Fortunatly the same is true of the incoming missle, at about mach 3 on it’s sprint, and on a sea-level approach the missle can’t maneuver much or it loses aerodynamic viability, which is a nice way of saying it breaks apart under the G strain.

          • Gary Church

            Missiles can take far more G forces than manned aircraft. They now advertise terminal maneuvers at ten G’s and you can bet it is more since the smaller the airframe the more G tolerant it is easier to make. Gyro’s do not tumble anymore (laser gyro’s) and……that is just not a viable argument considering as you said the closer the missile gets the more the velocity of the gun round works against itself maneuvering for a kill. You shot yourself in the foot again.

          • Burt

            Damoo knows what he is talking about. 23 pounds of metal with a muzzle velocity of mach 7 will have huge energy. And i also think you are ridiculous. Jackass

          • JoeOvercoat

            That pretty much sums this sub-thread up. Thanks!

      • Damoo

        And your statement about atmospheric drag is true but misleading. The velocity of a round, 7 miles downrange, that was fired from a Mach 5 rail gun is still GREATER than than the muzzle velocity of a 155mm standard naval gun. A Mach 10 rail gun will greatly increase range (it won’t double it, hope you knew that) of interception of any potential cruise missile or ballistic missile. Again, this is simple physics. Do your math please.

        • Gary Church

          A “155mmn standard naval gun” is not a 23 pound piece of solid metal. You are trying to make up stuff and B.S. everyone and not even doing it very well.

          • Gary Church 4

            Admit it.

          • Gary Church

            Give it a rest.

          • Damoo

            Wow. Are you in 3rd grade?
            We are dealing with energies here man.
            Essentially, what I am saying, in the simplest possible way is that something that’s travelling very fast has a lot more energy than something travelling not as fast.

            A Mach 7 gun will fire it’s projectile at 7 times the speed of sound (a ton of energy). The projectile will retain this energy for longer because it is travelling considerably faster than standard naval deck guns. So it’s engagement envelope with a hostile missile will be much farther out.

            Google Kinetic Energy. It’s simply E=1/2mv^2. E is energy. M is mass and V is velocity (speed). Higher speed means higher energy.

            Nothing about this is complicated man. Why are you still arguing?

          • Gary Church

            Not complicated to you and you are the one googling and arguing so why are you asking me questons? Go ask another 3rd grader for the answer.

          • Jon

            Gary, a WW2 6″ (155mm) USN naval round typically weighed between 95-105lbs, traveled at 3000 fps, with a max range around 25,000 yards. A 6″ armor piercing (AP) round would be considered a 105 lbs chunk of solid metal with the possible exception of the nose cap (if any).

            As far as hitting a target…IIRC, in WW2 there are multiple instances of moving ships hitting other moving ships at ranges exceeding 25,000 yards. Consider the difference in projectile flight times, starting with an initial muzzle velocity of Mach 7 vs. 3000fps against the movement of the target. If we could get first salvo hits at extreme range in WW2 with 2700 lbs 16″ projectiles traveling 2500 fps using analog targeting computers…hits with a Mach 7 projectile using modern computers is cake.

            A mach 7+, 23 lbs projectile costing $25,000 is going to be a precision machined solid chunk of metal with the best aerodynamics possible, I’d speculate with a max diameter of 2-3″. As a comparison, think of the superior ballistic performance of a M829A3 120mm Abrams AP round vs. the ballistic performance of a standard HEAT round.

            Rail guns are here. Only questions are getting a usable barrel life, a usable rate of fire, and meeting the energy requirements. That, I don’t see happening any time soon.

          • Brice

            Nice post.

    • ycplum

      I have to give you props for recognizing the importance of detection and targetting. Too many amateurs simply focus on the speed and/or size of the round/missile.

  • Gary Church

    This whole rail gun/laser “game changer” theme appears to me to be a clever marketing scheme to try and keep the surface warfare community employed despite the missile threat making them obsolete. Knights against muskets, bayonets against Minie balls, horses against machine guns, battleships against bombs, and now surface combatants against anti-ship missiles.
    Adapt or be defeated and the weapons of choice at sea in the continuing evolution of arms are the diesel submarine launching long range anti-ship missiles. The computer chip and sensors have caught up to early less effective ship killer technology and now the surface combatant is no longer survivable. There is no magic death ray or supergun that is going to work against anti-ship missiles. There are no star trek force shields. Like the bullets fired from a gun you cannot use other bullets to deflect them. All you can do is shoot a bullet at the person with his finger on the other trigger. Ships cannot hide- they can only shoot at each other and that contest has now become the equivalent of ranks of revolutionary war soldiers blasting each other from a few yards away with muskets; the side that can give more fire or take more fire wins. The submarine is the equivalent of the rifleman in a foxhole; the next evolutionary step.

    • shloime

      re: shooting a bullet with another bullet, see “iron dome system”, etc.

      • estuartj

        In fareness the “bullet” in the case of a ASCM is 24ft long with a wingspan of 6-8ft. So the bullets here are really small airplanes.

        • estuartj

          Oh and these small airplanes are primarily made up of explosives and fuel, with some highly sensitive sensor and guidance electronics all encased in as light weight an encasement as possible.

        • Gary Church

          Not….not airplanes. Anti-ship missiles going as fast bullets. Stop making stuff up.

          • estuartj

            What am I making up? The size of the missiles? How fast they are going doesn’t affect the size of them.

    • El Cid

      Well said. The “demos” in the film were all against hardened targets. How could a device of this size, weight and power requirement be brought into the theater of battle? How could it be maneuvered? This looks very much like the Nazi supergun from WWII. A technical achievement with no practical application.

  • Eric J. Stoner

    Awesome technology, and I appreciate the great comments. I am wondering about reload and fire rate. You have to generate and store a lot of energy (which is then released very quickly) in order to fire a slug. How fast can they do that?

    • estuartj

      The target rate-of-fire is 6-10 rounds per minute. I’m dubious of how long a DDG-51 with surge storage batteries can maintain that rate of fire, even the flight III ships are only going to have 12MW of generation (and you still need to power the AMDR, cool the radar and electronics).

      The other big issue is the life of the barrel, it won’t do much good too have a gun aboard that’s only good for a few shots, now how many rounds can they get out of a EMRG barrel and how difficult will it be to swap out that barrel? These are key issues that have to be addressed before they begin fleet integration.

  • AMR1960

    Rail guns will remove the need to store explosive rounds in a ship’s magazine–One less worry for ship designers…

    • Gary Church

      I cannot argue against that; that is a big advantage. If all you are carrying is fuel to make electricity with then your ship will be far, far, more battle-worthy.
      Much harder to sink a ship armed only with these weapons.

  • Employed101

    EMP

    • shloime

      why?

  • Chernenko

    This would be great for a new class of cruiser to support amphibious operations. Could you imagine a modern equivalent to the Baltimore class cruiser. By the time it was built we would have block 3 laser ciws, triple rail gun turrets, and VLS.
    Cue Gary Church ……..

    • estuartj

      Doesn’t even need to be a cruiser/destroyer. If you can provide the power on a ‘phib…I’m sure Huntington Ingalls is already putting together of a model LPD with a EMRG or 2. Hell they are already hawking that hull for a ‘missile gunship” platform with a magazine of hundreds of SM-2/3/6s and the AMDR.

  • Wizzco.com

    I read Breaking Defense as I have a keen interest in the future defence policy of the major player in NATO. I find it particularly interesting to read the generally well informed observations on the topics. It is unfortunate that some people seem unable to disagree or present an opposing view without descending into ad hominem comments. I commend to the editor the policy for comments in Flying.

  • estuartj

    Power problem solved, apparently the Navy can make jet and ship fuel from seawater. There isnt’ much of description of the process, and of course the whole thing will take 10+ years (and that’s from the super excited scientist who’s been on the project basically forever) so MOUNTAIN of salt here, but worth a read;

    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140407/DEFREG02/304070027

    • Gary Church

      I don’t think they could do it on an aircraft carrier; it would be a ship about the size of an aircraft carrier with a chemical reactor/refinery in it powered by a nuclear reactor. Interesting idea but ships and aircraft use such a huge amount of fuel that……I hate always being the naysayer.

      • estuartj

        In this case I share your pessimism. I also think if this was doable on and economical scale the research would be done by the Department of Energy, not Defense.
        They are doing it at DoD in hopes of making it work based on operations necessity (ie price be damned), so it is a fair assumption that the cost is outrageous, but hell the navy is blowing billions buying biofuel now, so maybe they can at least beat that!

        • Gary Church

          It might be work. You are still wrong about tridents on the Virginia class though:)

    • shloime

      horsefeathers! what’s the power source? or haven’t you heard of the laws of thermodynamics?

      • estuartj

        I did the research and it’s actually very interesting. Interesting and Capable of Fueling a Destroyer at Operational Tempo are NOT the same thing of course. Here is a description of the process from The daily mail article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2599036/The-plane-powered-WATER-US-Navy-reveals-radical-new-game-changing-process-power-jets-boats-seawater.html)

        HOW TO MAKE JET FUEL FROM WATER
        The NRL process begins by extracting carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater. As seawater passes through a specially built cell, it is subjected to a small electric current. This causes the seawater to exchange hydrogen ions produced at the anode with sodium ions. As a result, the seawater is acidified. Meanwhile, at the cathode, the water is reduced to hydrogen gas and sodium hydroxide is formed. The end product is hydrogen and carbon dioxide gas, and the sodium hydroxide is added to the leftover seawater to neutralize its acidity. In the next step, the hydrogen and carbon dioxide are passed into a heated reaction chamber with an iron catalyst. The gases combine and form long-chained unsaturated hydrocarbons with methane as a by-product. The unsaturated hydrocarbons are then made to form longer hydrocarbon molecules containing six to nine carbon atoms. Using a nickel-supported catalyst, these are then converted into jet fuel.

        • Gary Church

          Yeah, it will work. It is just reforming hydrogen and carbon and they do it at refineries- this is just adding a couple more steps and alot of energy. It is pretty cool actually. Thanks for posting that.

          • estuartj

            If this can actually work to scale I could see the CVNs being equipped to continually convert seawater to ship and aviation fuel. They could then supply their own airwing and escorts, you’ll probalby need the power from that ship’s reactors to make it workable. They certainly built in a ton of extra available power on the Ford class CVNs

        • shloime

          that’s kinda what i was trying to get at – you need the nuclear reactor of an aircraft carrier to make fuel? that’s hardly “power problem solved”, it’s just converting energy from one form to another, with all kinds of inefficiencies, which just happens to fit into existing engine technology.

          that might work for the aircraft on board, or for manufacturing synthetic jet fuel after the world’s supply of oil runs out, but it doesn’t seem like a good way to provide fuel for destroyers, for instance. or for powering an electric rail gun.

  • shloime

    any new technology creates enthusiasm, but i wonder how well an amphibious assault would go, if the ships stayed safely 100+ miles off shore, and the marines had to be ferried for 3 or 4 hours, in rough seas, to the beachhead? they wouldn’t arrive in “pristine” condition, to put it mildly.

    • estuartj

      Even a short ride in an Amtrak now seriously reduces the fighting ability of the Marines inside. They don’t call ‘em Puke Cans for nothing.

  • ed

    It’s the weapon of the future. Most si-fi stories use them.

  • Brian

    It’s funny how stories (like this one) are showing up on AOL the day after they appear on Yahoo. Don’t you guys have Huffpost? Are they running out of steam?

    • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

      We had the story up well before HuffPost. AOL posts our material when they wish. Check us regularly and you won’t miss stuff like this.

  • Grunt

    Another advantage of the rail gun’s solid metal projectiles over explosive projectiles and powder propellant charges is safer ammunition magazines.

  • lickitysplit

    I would be interested to know should the target for any reason be missed what is the distance of the mach 7 slug? If it is likened to a freight train going through a wall at 100 miles an hour then certainly it will travel well over 100 miles. Hopefully these 23 pound “SLUGS OF METAL” have tracking devices. Otherwise the risk of unintended harm to non combatant ships, people or other though slim should be expected with this device. Personally speaking I know we need protection from our enemies but don’t we have enough weaponry already? I think instead of creating weapons perhaps we need to focus on our real enemy here at home. Front and center our rising 17 trillion dollar deficit. While it may be said that THE GOVERNMENT cannot go broke the people who created the OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE can. We cannot afford these weapons let alone the interest on 17 trillion dollars. And the silly thing is there is no end to the creation of more powerful weapons each year. And the question begs to be answered when is enough enough? We cannot continue indefinitely creating weapons for the purpose of destruction which is in effect what THE POWERS THAT BE (WORLD POWERS) will do to all of us in this world should a world war ever start since Russia has weapons China has weapons and other countries with their weapons. It’s a no win situation. We have enough weapons right now to blow the world up.

  • Frank

    Man and his war toys … but we may need them when the ETs finally invade.

  • Ed

    Guidance system? Sounds like this is missing.

    • shloime

      there ain’t none – this is a gun, not a missile.

  • lfresident

    “23 pound projectile moving at March 7″
    There’s nothing like spell check.

    • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

      I’m betting spell check was the problem but I should have spotted it. Fixed now. Thank you.

    • qcubed

      It better move faster, It’s already April 8th.

    • JoeOvercoat

      Dang, and here is April. Yup, you cannot beat spell cheque.

  • Al Schrader

    I invented the rail rifle. I wont tell you how it works. Just the coctail napkin sketch is worth a billion dollars.

  • KeiMechiso

    $25,000.00 is a lot to pay for a metal slug bullet. When will the government stop paying retail. Targeting system be dammed. How is the gun going to compensate for wind drift and humidity the same as a sniper with a rifle.

    • shloime

      i’m not a ballistics expert, but i seem to recall that higher muzzle velocity increases accuracy. (a 20 mph crosswind has a lot less effect on a projectile at mach 7 – doing the vector addition of 20 and 5300 doesn’t add up to very much.)

  • shloime

    there seems to be some similarity between this and the electric catapult technology on the gerald ford.

    i wonder if this is intentional or just a coincidence?

  • Marco_Rubio_Owns

    Just in time for Gerald Ford to enter service.

  • Gary Church

    Like fusion reactors and the superconductor revolution- just look how those technologies have changed the world:(