back to article US Navy in new electromagnetic railgun milestone

US Navy boffins are chuffed to announce that they have managed to fire their thousandth shot from a test electromagnetic railgun, addressing one of the most serious weaknesses of such weapons: that they tend to damage or wreck themselves after only a few shots. "A railgun weapons system must be able to launch hundreds of …

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  1. Northern Fop
    Alert

    Wow

    How the devil did they manage to get a tracking shot of something doing many, many times the speed of sound from that close up? Impressive stuff.

    1. AdamT

      Very careful synchonisation...

      Love the motto though: "Velocitas Eradico". Speed erases? Speed removes?

      1. falsedan

        Speed kills.

    2. Heironymous Coward
      Holmes

      two words

      1000 tries

      1. Ben 42
        Headmaster

        re: two words

        Technically that's three words, or one word and one number. ;-)

  2. NoOnions
    Terminator

    Strogg popping over for tea?

    As long as they've developed a hand-held version, for when the Strogg pop in for a friendly chat, I'll be a happy chappy.

  3. Dick Emery
    Mushroom

    But...

    ...no portable version? We're Doomed I tell thee! Doomed!

  4. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    Sir

    So why did I see an exhaust plume coming out of the back of that projectile?

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Debris, presumably

      Bits of the projectile, bits of the railgun itself, probably mostly vapourised.

    2. ian 22

      Plume

      That plume is bits of the railgun and projectile. In short, the plume is a measure of the gun's life span. Less plume, more firings.

  5. OrsonX
    IT Angle

    Hyperkinetics

    A sci-fi wet dream!

    It would be interesting to know exactly what the technical hurdles to the development of both large (ship) and hand-held railguns are?

    Anybody know?

  6. Jayce and the Wheeled Chairs
    Alien

    One day...

    Could this tech one day be a modern day version of project HARP and "shoot" satellites in to orbit?

    1. auburnman
      Mushroom

      Doubtful

      Delicate scientific measurement / communications equipment and horrific kinetic violence don't really mix. Unless there's a staggering leap in progress that allows us to cheaply make kit that could take that kind of damage. Even then it would be unpopular as it wouldn't be able to take anything living, and other countries might be nervous about its potential as a superweapon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not doubtful

        Ballistic shock is already a parameter in a lot of military electronics purchasing. (For the firing of items containing the electronics from very large guns, presumably). Mind you I've yet to see a specification that requires more than conventional guns (even big ones) would produce.

  7. Dave Taflin
    Paris Hilton

    You still need a large capacitor

    The article suggests space savings over conventional munitions. Maybe, but bear in mind that you need to store up however many megajoules for each shot, and that takes a pretty sizable capacitor. And speaking of Paris...

  8. Remy Redert

    @Sir Runcible Spoon

    That is no mere exhaust plume, that is a cloud of rapidly expanding plasma, created where the air inside the railgun is pushed aside by the projectile and turned into plasma by the enormous electrical energy required to propel said projectile.

    This heating in turn causes the very air itself to combust, oxidising the nitrogen in the air. Then there's the minute amounts of material being torn off the railgun's rail and the projectile itself in the process of firing and after exiting the barrel, you get a considerable shockwave from the supersonic projectile throwing up dust.

  9. Hungry Sean
    Mushroom

    I shot an arrow in the air. . .

    So what happens when one of the successors to this bad boy is pointed at something overhead and misses? Remind me not to be within 500 miles. . .

    1. Yag

      in fact...

      As the energy is delivered kinetically, then...

      - the projectile will go a very long way.

      - it will slow down, losing most of its energy

      - then fall to the ground like a log...

      The risks depend of the actual size of the projectile, but it won't be that bad...

      1. Hungry Sean

        not so sure

        Have you checked out the various articles/mythbusters about shooting a rifle not quite exactly vertically? Also note that they expect that at 100 miles the projectile will still be travelling around mach 5.

      2. Chemist

        but it won't be that bad...

        So being hit by a heavy, pointy, metal object at terminal velocity is OK ?

  10. KrisMac

    The Cynic in me says..

    ...just because they claim to have fired 1000 shots does not mean they have not worn out 1000 railguns in the process...

    Politicial Double Speech is alive and well and living in the US Military

  11. Mike Kamermans
    Meh

    free up space?

    Sure "This would potentially free up space aboard ships, and make them safer and more resistant to combat damage" should read "This would potentially allow ships to pack more bang per buck by using the space currently reserved for ammunition assistives for more ammunition, and more engines for generating the juice required to fire these weapons."

    There is space or weight saving in the military. Just opportunities to pack more things where previously impossible.

  12. Mips
    Childcatcher

    It makes me wonder...

    ...with all that smoke and fire from the sabat if the smaller AA versions could be developed into a plasma gun. That plus the EM pulse from the thing might wipe out any aircraft without actually having to hit it.

    Of course you would not want to fly your own aircraft anywhere in the vicinity, but what the hell.

  13. James Micallef Silver badge
    Terminator

    Aiming?

    From what I understand from the mechanics of this, it fires a big lump of metal with no steering capability. How can they achieve any sort of accuracy over 500 miles? Even with muzzle energies and projectile weights finely tuned to milliJoules and microgrammes, they'll need a real fancy targeting system to compensate for the bobbing of the ship on the water, wind deviation etc.

    And even then, I doubt it still would be accurate enough to take out a specific target (a la Transformers 2). More likely it could reliably hit larger targets such as fairly big buildings (50m?)

    1. Jared Hunt
      Holmes

      Big buildings, or perhaps...

      ...a ship? 50m+ is a tiddler by warship standards. Besides, there have been mechanisms in place on ships to compensate for bobbing in the water since at least the First World War and probably even before then. Wind deviation might be an issue, I don't know, but we aren't talking about golf balls here. These slugs are going to be pretty dense so will be pretty resistant to being blown about by wind.

      1. Dave 15

        Spin stabilisation

        I would guess from the tone of the video and article - lots of spin :)

    2. falsedan

      Smart projectiles; also battleships have enormous inertia and tend not to significantly bob.

  14. Graham Bartlett

    @James Micallef

    They may not need to. At 500 miles you may well be firing at an entire fleet, or a city. Put enough projectiles in the air, you're going to get some hits.

    And whilst the current version has no steering on the projectile, it doesn't mean that future versions won't add it. Sure it'd be a technical challenge to get the electronics to survive that kind of acceleration, but it's not impossible.

    1. Chemist

      At 500 miles range ..

      It's going to need some mechanism to steer it just to keep to the earth's curvature unless the ballistic arc just happens to match.

      OK if it hits something solid like a building or tank but a thin-walled, unarmoured warship - it will punch a hole clean through unless it hits something with significant resistance/mass.

  15. Delbert

    Enough to boil a very big kettle

    Looking at the cabling attached to the gun it poses the question just how much energy does it require to discharge? and secondly where is that going to from onboard a ship somehow I don't think duracell batteries are quite big enough. Moving projectiles is always a question of stored energy so far I cannot see and alternative to chemical energy that is effective.

  16. PlacidCasual

    I'm not sure how fast ICBM warheads travels but MIRV's I assume must have some steering capability at high speeds so the technology might already be there.

    I guess for bringing down fighters/missiles you will only need incredibly small projectiles because the impact at high velocity is doing all the damage. Imagine one of these bad boys on every destroyers clearing the skies of anything their radar can detect.

    As to energy storage are people familiar with some of the mechnical KERS systems considered for F1 cars. They have small discs spinning at 10,000's rpm in a vacuum the energy is transmitted electrically in and out. I guess with solid state switching and ranks of them in parallel you could store some pretty impressive energy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flywheel_energy_storage

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