Railgun to be displayed by Navy in San Diego
In July of 2014, in San Diego, the most technologically advanced weapon in the world will be put on display by the Navy. The high-tech gun will be exhibited on the USNS Millinocket, a Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) which began service last month.
Following a two-year period of inactive display on the ship, the railgun will take its maiden voyage of actual deployment in 2016. The Navy selected the JHSV Millinocket due to the broadness of the flight deck, providing the large area the railgun requires. The gun assembly includes a mount, a sophisticated power supply, two rails, and the sliding armature. The ship is a catamaran, normally not involved in combat, and used to move personnel and cargo to and from a war zone.
The railgun is a tube that propels solid masses using high levels of electricity to create an electromagnetic effect. The wires that run up one rail and down the other create a strong magnetic field that accelerates the payload of “ammunition” to hypersonic speeds.
The U.S. Navy has considered the railgun number one on its wish list of futuristic weaponry for decades, but the technology to design and build the gun has only become available recently.The Navy’s railgun program was started in 2005. More than 200 million dollars was pumped into the development for the first six years, and at least that much will be spent from 2012 and 2017.
General Atomics and BAE Systems, both San Diego-based companies, have manufactured two prototypes, one of which will be tested in 2016. By 2017, retrofitting the railgun onto destroyers and other combat-active Navy vessels will begin. Presently, destroyers and cruiser are fitted with around 100 firing tubes that launch conventional missiles, such as Tomahawks.
Since the railgun is built to accelerate projectiles as fast as 5,600 miles per hour, no added explosives are necessary. This is because the kinetic energy of the “bullet” is very high due to its enormous velocity. Additionally, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars a missile costs, the railgun projectiles are relatively inexpensive at $25,000 each.