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back to article US Navy coughs $34.5m for hyper-kill railgun that DOESN'T self-destruct

BAE Systems has been handed a $34.5m contract to design a new version of a potentially game-changing weapon of the future. The US Office of Naval Research gave BAE the cash to build a new railgun prototype which is capable of firing up to 10 shots a minute, while staying cool enough that it doesn't blow up like previous designs …

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Excellent - it's BAE

Anyone want to hazard how much it's going to cost before they finally realise it doesn't work?

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Happy

Re: Excellent - it's BAE

"Anyone want to hazard how much it's going to cost before they finally realise it doesn't work?"

How much you want to bet that information will be withheld in the name of national security?

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Re: Excellent - it's BAE

According to Mark Thomas, we as taxpayers already subsidise every BAE employee to the tune of ~£13k/year, so I doubt this will tip that balance. Not sure how current those figures are, mind.

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Re: Excellent - it's BAE

Our strategy is to bluff our enemies to death. A few $billion is a small price to pay for the ability to work voodoo magic.

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Facepalm

Re: Excellent - it's BAE

Ha! Shows what you know.

When it doesn't work, we'll build it anyway and install it everywhere!

Otherwise the terrorists win, or something...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Excellent - it's BAE

BAE = Billions Above Estimate

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jai
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Game changing?

I dunno about game changing. I always preferred the wide area splash damage of the red rocket launcher in Q3A to the railgun. Always too difficult to hit the target when moving at speed - plus, you can't rocket jump with the rail gun, you just end up gib'ng yourself if you accidentally shoot your own foot...

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Re: Game changing?

everyone knows that rail arena was where the big boys played. Although rockets on Q3DM17 were always funny.

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Thumb Up

Re: Game changing?

The rail gun was king in Q2 though (Which was "my" game) :)

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This post has been deleted by its author

Re: Game changing?

all hitscan weapons are easily botted, and require only good aim

now rockets on the other hand, that takes some real skills, aim, prediction and movement :)

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I loved railgun in Q2...nothing like jumping off a ledge and nailing someone off in the distance while you're falling.

Of course it was also fun in the early days of high-speed DSL--20ms ping times and minimal congestion were sweet.

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Revolutionise what?

...revolutionize naval warfare...

Naval warfare, such as fighting Somalian pirates?

I'm not so naive to believe naval warfare (more than deploying aircraft to remote places) is only a thing of the past. But I haven't seen much serious naval warfare lately.

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Mushroom

Re: Revolutionise what?

Just you wait; PRISM is due to uncover the location of the Al-Qaeda Navy any day now

(right after the NSA is done choosing the coolest fly-in transitions for their PowerPoint slides)

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Ru

Re: Revolutionise what?

But I haven't seen much serious naval warfare lately.

No, but there's been plenty of sabre rattling regarding the straits of Hormuz, and then there's the whole Taiwan thing, too. The US's ability to project force is heavily dependant on its carrier battlegroups, and it is clearly prepared to spend crazy money to keep that ability.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

With a 200-mile range, I'm thinking shore bombardment. Easier than shelling logistically, and none of the risks of flying bombers.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

Useful for ship to ship, but more likely to replace trying to drop bunker busters from carrier borne aircraft and ship launched cruise missiles. Very useful for taking out enemy radar and SAM installation etc. Without risking your pilots. Or costing you too much,

Faster, cheaper, no effective means to intercept (yet) etc.

Anyone know what the effective accuracy is over 200 miles? Taking into account wind etc.

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Mushroom

Re: Revolutionise what?

Back to the good old days of "Natives restless. Send Gunboat."

Anyone living within 200 miles of the sea had better get ready to bend over for Uncle Sam.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

if there was only naval warfare available, russia would be on the top with their supercavitating shkval torpedoes. how do you defend against 370km/h torpedo when yours only go 80km/h, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel :)

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Re: Revolutionise what?

Simple - you buy a GERMAN supercavitating torpedo that actually can change course (Barracuda) and the problem is solved. Like the US buying the mature Gepard AAA turret instead of developing their own AAA tank...

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Re: Revolutionise what?

can you actually buy it? because last i read it was only rd and wasnt used in service anywhere (usa tried to develop these but it went nowhere, even after stealing some of the russian designs :)). shkval can change course too and its been in service for decades, newer versions rumored to go 560km/h

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Re: Revolutionise what?

Lol, pity it hasn't thought of the submersible carrier yet. Now there's a project that could keep the military fed for decades, even without fighting. Well, supposing we ever fix the economy (about that...).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Revolutionise what?

@Ru has it. Ignore all the shore bombardment or (traditional) ship on ship bollocks.

The rail gun is being developed as a counter for the Chinese kinetic carrier-killer.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

Back when we recommisioned the battleships in the 1980's, they were playing around with 16" shells that consisted of an 8" warhead with rocket assist as the payload, and it was supposed to have this kind of range which is really interesting. Anyway, terminal guidance was supposed to use a laser designator in the hands of a US Navy SEAL team or from a drone, or even aircraft if you were really hard up. Basically an 8" version of a Copperhead shell. Nice to see the idea get some play again even if it'll probably cost (literally) tons of money.

Betcha they install it first on the LCS's (Littoral Combat Ships). Look real cool up on the foc's'le.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

It's been done. Japan and France have used them. The planes are tiny, and used folding wings to fit into the bay. They weren't used for combat, but reconnaissance. Obsoleted by improvements in radar and sonar tech.

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Mushroom

Re: Revolutionise what?

"I'm not so naive to believe naval warfare (more than deploying aircraft to remote places) is only a thing of the past. But I haven't seen much serious naval warfare lately."

You've seen plenty of naval warfare lately, think bombardment of Libya, the pounding of Baghdad amongst others. Even land-locked Afghanistan was hit from the sea directly back in 2001.

The whole dreadnaught thing is nonsense of course - the more armor you put in front of one of these the bigger the internal shockwave and spalling.

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Ru
Black Helicopters

Re: Revolutionise what?

if there was only naval warfare available, russia would be on the top with their supercavitating shkval torpedoes

Interestingly, the Iranians appear to have reverse-engineered the Shkval and made their own. No idea if it actually works, of course.

The important thing to note is that the Shkval was designed as a defensive system, and has a relatively short range... ~12km or so. That's pretty close to a carrier battlegroup that'll have a screen of antiair and antisubmarine stuff out around it to a reasonably large distance... it would be tricky to get close enough to make a kill with a Shkval without being spotted.

By comparison, the Sunburn/Moskit missile has a 120km range, and doesn't require a submarine force to launch it from.

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Boffin

Re: Revolutionise what?

We don't need submersible carriers. We already have the solution.

Pykrete!

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MJI
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Re: Revolutionise what?

Good job we have the best subs

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Re: how do you defend against 370km/h torpedo

That's what the water-cooled railguns below the waterline are for.

Now where are my sharks with their frickin laser beams?

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Re: Revolutionise what?

Ah, yes. Pyke, The Unknown Genius - think that was the name of the book

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Re: Revolutionise what?

The difference is in the velocity. The projectile is moving far faster than any other canon, and so it is a kinetic weapon having no need for expensive and dangerous explosive projectiles. The projectile is travelling at least 2,300 m/s or about a mile and a half per second. This gives it a huge advantage in deployment. Time of flight for a 180 mile shot is just 2 minutes. Even the permanent air cover fighters that all carriers deploy could not possibly cover a 180 mile radius area and respond so quickly. So the rail gun is much more advantageous as a quickly deployed defensive weapon. There are already plenty of good options for offensive weapons.

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Re: Revolutionise what?

"no need for expensive and dangerous explosive projectiles"

Depends what the target is. A conventional shell with proximity fuse could destroy a target that you didn't hit - this is the likely scenario given the range, however with a railgun a soft-bodied target might simply be holed and without any significant mass to deliver the kinetic energy to it would be like a rifle-bullet hitting tissue paper unless it hit something heavy or vital.

Anyone know what the likely velocity is at ~300kms ??

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Air friction and Battleships

Straightline flight of a railgun projectile at sea-level (well it is being fired from a ship) will result in a cloud of molten metal a couple of clicks from the railgun's muzzle. The projectile is already bloody hot from the millions of amps passed through it as it accelerates between the rails, the air friction from travelling at Mach 7 would finish the job. Even if by some miracle it did survive it would lose a lot of its velocity due to the aforementioned air friction so it would still take a lot more than 2 minutes to go 200 kilometres.

The battleship solution is to fire a shell from a gun in a high parabolic arc so most of its trajectory is in thin air and it will retain most of its initial speed and not melt or overheat on the way. That takes even longer to get to target, of course; a 15" shell from a British WWII battleship could take 90 seconds to cover 30 kilometres with a muzzle velocity of about 750 m/s, just over Mach 2. Firing railgun projectiles in the same high ballistic arc would double or triple their time-to-target.

Like battleship shells railgun projectiles don't have terminal guidance so with wind drift, irregularities in the firing system etc. the circular error at the target 200 km away would probably be a few hundred metres. If the target is a vehicle like a tank it may not even be in the same country when the projectile arrives. If the aim is to hit a stationary building or structure then it's rare that it has to be destroyed right now and a Tomahawk or two will do the job nicely -- see the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in the recent past to show just how precise that sort of targetting can be done.

Railguns might, just might be useful for close-in defence of major warships, able to hit to a line-of-sight threat before it comes in too close but scaling them down to something the size of a Phalanx is not going to be easy.

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Happy

Re: Revolutionise what?

"Lol, pity it hasn't thought of the submersible carrier yet. Now there's a project that could keep the military fed for decades, even without fighting. Well, supposing we ever fix the economy (about that...)."

Has actually been tried.

In the 30 at least one sub was built with a (small) aircraft hangar. It leaked. Not a good thing in a sub.

In the 1950s at least one sub was built for (IIRC) the Regulas cruise missile, which having fixed wings needed a bit of a takeoff run to get it up to flight speed.

A true aircraft carrier sub would be obscenely expensive.

So perfect BAE project.

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Vic
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Re: Revolutionise what?

> In the 30 at least one sub was built with a (small) aircraft hangar.

HMS M2 was launched in 1919. She sank in 1932. It is believed that the hangar door was opened before she was fully clear of the water.

She iles in about 35m of water just off Portland. A nice dive the last time I was there...

Vic.

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How effective are they...

against a clapped out old fishing boat, with a bust engine,packed with refugees (including lots of children), wallowing in the swell and drifting in towards the side of the new dreadnought?

Oh, did I mention the hold full of explosives...?

Ah, the joys of asymetric warfare

Doesn't the US Government have enough ways of killing people yet?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How effective are they...

If you engage from over the horizon, your government has plausible deniability that anyone knew about the civilians on the target vessel.

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Re: How effective are they...

At least my tinfoil hat has a radar signature

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Unhappy

Re: How effective are they...

"Doesn't the US Government have enough ways of killing people yet?"

It's the military.

There are never enough ways to kill people or vehicles (and of course the ones you most want are never around when you need them)

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Facepalm

Re: How effective are they...

"with refugees (including lots of children)"

Fire off with a Think-Of-The-Children argument immediately. Yes, that really makes you out as a critical thinking who doesn't bleet along with the rest of the groupthink herd. Not.

"Doesn't the US Government have enough ways of killing people yet?"

I'm pretty sure quite a number of idiots with zero foresight have said pretty much the same throughout history when someone invented the sword (whats wrong with a rock?) or gunpowder (whats wrong with a sword?) or the air force (whats wrong with the navy?). Congrats on joining such an august line of fools.

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Re: If you engage from over the horizon,

If you have that kind of over the horizon capability, nobody believes you when terrorist blow up their own people and blame it on you.

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Re: How effective are they...

Did we mention the skiffs and other small boats that come standard on most Navy warships, including carriers? After the Cole incident, SOP is to inspect ANY watercraft coming within a radius. Your bomb boat would be spotted from a distance and approached by small craft long before it got close.

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M7S
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Cooling

Are the large amounts of seawater, which IIRC from school have a large heat capacity, that one presumes will be available to ship mounted weapons any use or is there a good reason why not?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cooling

The sea might be a nice heatsink, if you can get over the detrimental effects of salt water on machinery and a need to keep important bits of the ship sealed against NBC threats.

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fix

Re: Cooling

Salt water should not be a problem.

You don't pump the sea-water directly through the weapon, you would use some other liquid that transfers heat well and doesn't cause corrosion, and pump that through a nice big heat sink, say the hull ?

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Re: Cooling

I would imagine not - weapons tend to be designed in a modular fashion both for maintenance and the ability to retro-fit. The lifespan of a vessel (multi-decade) is much greater than the lifespan of its individual systems.

I therefore suspect that any design will have to be pretty self contained and not require extensive modifications to the platform its mounted on.

very few weapon systems are designed on the basis that you build the platform around them - the only one I can think of easily is ICBM nuke submarines.

Plus, I doubt you'd want to be using your hull as a heat sink (lovely big IR signature against a cold background)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cooling

The sea is somewhat useful as a heatsink, but the problem is the timescales the heat is generated over - the heat of a railgun firing is generated in milliseconds, mostly in the rails themselves. The problem is keeping the rails from vaporizing, melting, or even just deforming before you can get the heat out of them into something else.

And the temperatures are much higher than the temperatures of burning gunpowder.

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Re: Cooling

@fix,

All you are doing is moving the corrosion somewhere else.

Then, as has been stated, creating the issue that the ship needs to be designed around the weapon and not the other way around, allowing installation on existing vessels.

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