PORTLAND, Ore. An electromagnetic catapult, or railgun, is on track for deployment on U.S. warships around 2012, according to the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
A railgun, which uses electricity to magnetically accelerate munitions down a track, shoots metal projectiles that hit targets at supersonic speed. They can also cause more damage than a high-explosive without collateral destruction. With GPS-enabled targeting accuracy of 15 feet, when shot from warships up to 275 miles away, the non-explosive railgun projectiles could also protect Navy personnel without requiring dangerous explosives onboard.
In the Navy's latest test made history with the world's fastest muzzle velocity of 5,637 miles per hour--generating a record 10.6 megajoules of energy (1 joule = 1 watt-second). The test was performed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (Dahlgren Va.).
In 2009, ONR will decide whether to award contracts for deployment to BAE Systems PLC (Farnborough, U.K.) or General Atomics Technologies Inc. (San Diego) for the railgun. Boeing Co. (Chicago) and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory (Cambridge, Mass.) are vying for the projectile contract.
If the Navy decides to deploy the railgun, it plans to have a final design in place for approval by 2012. Initial prototypes will probably shoot a single projectile, but plans for rapid-fire versions are already on the drawing board.
The final design specification calls for a muzzle velocity of 5,760 mph for a weapon that is capable of launching a projectile in a parabolic ballistic path 94 miles high. It must strike targets within six minutes at 3,840 mph.
Initial tests showed that targets can be obliterated by the kinetic force of the impact with pinpoint accuracy without shrapnel, which is the most common cause of collateral damage when using high-explosive munitions.