An old standard from the canon of sci-fi weaponry has finally entered the world of reality. This week, the United States Navy has been showcasing its latest long-range weapon system, an electromagnetic railgun. The $250 million program is currently in testing and scheduled for service in 2018.
To be mounted on surface ships, the EM railgun uses a massive pulse of electricity to create an electromagnetic field between two conducting rails that is strong enough to fire a 23 lb, 1 ½ ft long metal projectile across a distance of 100 miles at a velocity of mach 7.5, or 5,600 miles per hour.
Incredibly, there are no explosives used in this system. The muzzle flash you see is the air friction caused by the speed of the round that creates a spontaneous combustion of air. The projectiles are capable of assaulting ground or sea-based targets, and are also capable of taking down airborne targets such as planes or cruise missiles.
One of the best selling points of this program is its relatively inexpensive cost; at $25,000 per round, arming the railgun is a small fraction of the cost of traditional cruise missiles. Additionally, the railgun does not pose as great a risk to sailors as would handling conventional high explosives.
Currently, developers still need to increase the railgun’s rate of fire, which stands at 10 rounds per minute, and incorporate an advanced cooling system. With its extended range, exceptional speed, and comparatively inexpensive rounds, the EM railgun will be a game changer in the way war is fought at sea.