back to article BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army

BAE Systems, which has been working with the US Navy on its futuristic railgun weapon project, has suggested the Mach 7 electromagnetic metal-slinger could be useful for the next generation of the US Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Brit company made the comments at the Association of the US Army annual conference, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong platform?

    As I understand it, railguns are being touted for anti-ship missile defense. A ship has the mass to support such a system. A Bradley does not, and any missiles coming at it will be fairly small and not require a railgun for knockout.

    So, what's this Bradley with the railgun supposed to use it for? Isn't this what main battle tanks are for, heavy hitting?

    And what kind of wimpy railgun are we going to get on such a light vehicle? Will it open my beer bottle at 50 paces?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Wrong platform?

      I could see it being used in a mobile platform, if the railgun and the power system could be compact enough for an MBT. But the Bradley is more for personnel movement, fighting light armor, scouting, etc. It's not a heavy hitter like an MBT. There is a TOW missile launcher on it for use against armor and structures. The gun system isn't a heavy hitter but again, light armor, personnel, etc. Maybe that's the goal or specialized air defence?

      But... given it's BAE, I wonder how much this thing would cost and if it would ever work.

      Railguns in the Naval world are not just for air defense as they're looking at ship-to-ship also. Not sure where this will lead there.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wrong platform?

      If the projectile is the size of a pea travelling at 7 times the speed of sound at sea level, 2400m/sec it might just sting.

      Though towing a power pack the size of a house might be disadvantage.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wrong platform?

      Just like the 1970-1980's Star Wars project, lots of money will be spent before they realise that it's not practical to miniaturise one for a tank.

      Still, the promise of possibility will keep the company in investment for a few more years.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wrong platform?

      "So, what's this Bradley with the railgun supposed to use it for? Isn't this what main battle tanks are for, heavy hitting?"

      I would guess that one of the primary advantages is that due to its short time in flight a rail gun projectile should be far less subject to atmospheric and gravity, and require less correction against fast moving targets. Which might translate to far greater accuracy, with out the risk of jamming or other interference that guided weapons may be increasingly subject to in future wars.

      And with drones becoming off-the-shelf technology, you have the prospect of Western forces being ranged against small, nimble, disposable weapons even in "dirt wars", and against relatively small supersonic drones in combat against mid-tech countries. Missiles will struggle with smaller drones particularly at lower levels, and drawing a bead with a slow kinetic weapon will be difficult.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: Wrong platform?

        The other advantage (and arguably, actual primary one) is the lack of explosives. There are no rockets to count and protect, just small nuclear reactor one would need for a modern ship anyway, and a big pile of metal parts.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. GitMeMyShootinIrons
      Pint

      Re: Wrong platform?

      "Will it open my beer bottle at 50 paces?"

      I'd buy that for a dollar!

    6. Elmer Phud

      Re: Wrong platform?

      "So, what's this Bradley with the railgun supposed to use it for? Isn't this what main battle tanks are for, heavy hitting?"

      Just think of it as one big fuck-off Uzi.

      On wheels.

      Or a rather efficient crowd-dispersal vehicle.

      1. Hairy Spod

        Re: Wrong platform?

        Note that it said Bradley replacement not Bradley.

        I can see the advantages, link it with the mobile sized fusion reactor that Lockheed are proposing and you can rattle off a lot of small yet heavier hitting ordnance and not have the associated risks of carrying explosives or explosive fuel. Its a combination that would bring a lot of logistical advantages too.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wrong platform?

          "and not have the associated risks of carrying explosives or explosive fuel"

          You think that the risks of incoming fire to either a truck sized nuke or fusion reactor would be any more preferrable to chemical propellants?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wrong platform?

          > link it with the mobile sized fusion reactor that Lockheed are proposing

          Aha, so it's really a pie-in-the-sky gun?

          1. Swarthy Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Wrong platform?

            "Aha, so it's really a pie-in-the-sky gun?"
            I guess if the pie-tin was iron/steel, you could use it to put a pie in the sky. Although maintaining attitude might be a bit tricky, It would definitely show that BAe are just clowning around.

        3. Dave Bell

          Re: Wrong platform?

          I don't think the Lockheed project is going to be small enough for a tank.

          But Mach 7 is about twice the muzzle velocity of the M242 25mm cannot on the Bradley. The big question is what sort of power it will need.

        4. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Wrong platform?

          Note that the Bradley replaced the M113 and the M114 and also the M901. The replacement for the Bradley will be just that.. a replacement vehicle with the same mission(s). Perhaps different performance values (armor, armament, crew size) but there are some basic requirements for this class that the MBT's can't fulfill... swimming, speed, size, etc.

      2. Vociferous

        Re: Wrong platform?

        > Just think of it as one big fuck-off Uzi

        The Phalanx CIWS is a big fuck-off Uzi, AFAIK rail guns are more like big fuck-off sniper rifles.

    7. Vociferous

      Re: Wrong platform?

      "railguns are being touted for anti-ship missile defense"

      Seriously? To me it seems like a weapon firing a ten kilo chunk of metal at mach 7, capable of punching through three successive reinforced concrete walls, with an effective range of 100 miles, but with a slow rate of fire, is not an ideal weapon to use against low-flying hypersonic missiles.

      To me that's a weapon to sink ships and blow up bunkers, possibly also tanks and bunkers.

    8. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Frank Rysanek

    the one thing I don't get...

    How do you fire this, without nuking your own onboard electronics?

    1. cray74

      Re: the one thing I don't get...

      Because not all magnetic pulses are created equal. It's a railgun, not a nuke.

      Further, the US does call out some EMP resistance requirements in its military hardware (at least before it started adopting so much commercial hardware). A Faraday cage here, a surge protector there, and you're good. Probably.

      1. zen1

        Re: the one thing I don't get...

        Maybe I'm wrong but I thought Faraday cages were useful when protecting something from electrical energy, but ineffective for magnetic fields.

  3. Ian Emery Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Crew members with fillings need not apply.

    Would I be correct in thinking a Bradley would need something along the lines of a "Nail Rail" gun??

    Shades of Gordan R Dickinson's needle guns.

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I for one

    Don't welcome our over the horizon rail gunners attacking our town.

    Suddenly the Dreadnought is back.

    But a rail gun on a truck? Perhaps to shoot drones and incoming missiles? More Nail gun than Rail gun?

  5. auburnman

    I think the main purpose of this project is as a money funnel flowing from the military to BAE. God forbid a General have time to think and realise the best thing for the army would be to demand more of the missiles that have done the job for years at a cheaper price.

    1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Numbers

      A missile can take down ONE attacker. If the enemy attacks with a wave of drones then the available supply of missiles will be exhausted very quickly leaving the vehicle with no protection.

      However I am not at all sure that a railgun is much good for anti drone defence. Unlike manned aircraft, drones can fly very close to the ground so they would be masked from any vehicle mounted point defence weapon until the last few seconds. For a point defence weapon to target and destroy an attacking drone in the available time it needs to be lightweight and agile. An array of pulsed lasers is probably a better bet (or possibly MetalStorm type rapid firing guns).

      Overhead defence drones (Fighters !!) will probably be the best bet to deal with attacking drones (Bombers !!) as with the advantage of height (say 50m) they will be able to see attacking drones before they reach the target vehicle.

      A railgun makes more sense as an offensive weapon. If you can fire a depleted uranium slug at mach 7 then it could penetrate tank armour from beyond the range of the tank's main gun

      1. auburnman

        Re: Numbers

        "A missile can take down ONE attacker. If the enemy attacks with a wave of drones then the available supply of missiles will be exhausted very quickly leaving the vehicle with no protection."

        That's currently one more than a not yet existing railgun that will be highly unlikely to effectively scale to APC level. Even if a ground vehicle railgun did come into being, it would still suffer from the same ammo limitations. Okay railgun slugs would take less space than missiles, but now you need something in the vehicle to power the accelerator.

        Also if the railgun projectile is to be launched at speeds that make it worth using a railgun instead of an old school decent calibre cannon, the air disruption at launch would likely pose a serious threat to nearby infantry if not the vehicle itself.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: Numbers

          Maybe. Maybe not. Depends where all the numbers come in. Which you can only figure out from testing.

          So can we have our $10 billion for this year? We'll let you know how much we need next year in 360 days.

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Imagine rail mounted ones?

    Can I have my patent now please?

    Oh Wait....

    Bummer, been done already.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BL_18_inch_railway_howitzer

    The 'Boche Buster' has a nice ring to it.

  7. MJI Silver badge

    How are they going to fit it to his bicycle?

    And what use will he have for it?

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: How are they going to fit it to his bicycle?

      Screw your bicycle. What about the Frikkin' SHARKS?

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: How are they going to fit it to his bicycle?

        Sir Bradley rides bicycles not sharks!

  8. Esskay
    Mushroom

    Can't wait to see photonicInduction get his hands on one of these

    1. Haku

      He's probably already made his own railgun or two in his time. However he now has a new 20,000 Watt Power Supply...

  9. david willis

    Rail Guns..

    I remember playing with smaller versions of this thing at high school in the early 80's (It was an all boys school. With that much testosterone rail guns and the local all girls high school were appropriate distractions) - Ours would put a 3inch nail through a couple of telephone directories (it was a wooden plank with a load of solenoids on it). We had the same projectile stability issues (cept with us the nail would get stuck in the solenoids). Advantages - potentially rate of fire, but most important (in the case of ours) - no wear on the barrel mechanism - most gun barrels in releasing all that powder and spinning the projectile get really hot and distort, or just simply wear out. Our railgun got warm (when it didn't jam) but suffered no other wear. And yes you could fire anything metal that would fit in the solenoid. Watching the video it would appear that the hypersonic railgun projuces a massive amount of heat to move a large (and unstable) mass - although I wouldnt want to be on the receiving end of the mass I would be interested in see what kind of wear occurs in the barrel. TBF the idea of a much smaller mass ( a needle gun) is a much more sensible idea - however such a weapon (with say fracturing flechettes) would no doubt get banned as an inhumane weapon.

    1. Stretch

      Re: Rail Guns..

      Regarding the heat production: https://what-if.xkcd.com/1/

      Seems to me the railgun needs a spiral rail, a porous/perforated sabot and a shaped projectile.

      And the best use on a small vehicle would seem to be anti-air/anti-missile- a cloud of Mach 7 ball bearings would seem very effective. I would mount multiple low power rails on a gatling assembly and use it like a point defense gun.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Rail Guns..

        Are you putting a Vulcan gunner on that Gatling Railgun?

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Rail Guns..

      @david willis, what you are describing is a coil gun, not a rail gun. Rail guns don't have barrels, granted, but they do have rails, thus the name. Also, to address Mark 85's remark that "Railguns in the Naval world are not just for air defense as they're looking at ship-to-ship also," I believe the stated goals of the current USN project are to develop a weapon that is capable of firing a sub-orbital guided projectile that has a range in the order of 100 miles. The obvious advantages beyond that are that there are no explosives to deal with in such a system, and it should be far less expensive to operate, running in the $10Ks range rather than $100K-$1M range compared with missiles.

      I wouldn't put this down as a Star Wars-like project. A lot of what that was about was propaganda to get the SU to spend more on defense than they could afford. While we might be headed down the same road ourselves, this is seems to be a real, attainable system.

      Oh, and the videos of the tests of this tech - frikkin awesome!

  10. Kharkov
    Boffin

    Think Nailgun, not Railgun

    Think light railgun for soft targets, with a missile launcher for the heavy stuff.

    Tanks, helicopters & putting holes in thick cover are covered by the missiles while people, light vehicles & thin cover get shredded by the Nailgun. In fact, with a millimeter-band radar, or a datalink tying into one, you've got a point-defence gun for handheld, infantry-fired anti-vehicle missiles.

    Although as I recall, with this type of weapon, it's heat dissipation that's the real problem...

  11. Osgard Leach
    Pint

    Terrific, delighted. I've often felt that what humanity really needs, at this critical stage of our evolution, is a colossal hypersonic cannon.

    Super-cooled fluids all round.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "what humanity really needs, at this critical stage of our evolution, is a colossal hypersonic cannon"

      I wouldn't worry, this continues the trend to fewer and fewer unfeasibly expensive weapons. The procurement cuts to (say) the F22 programme show what happens. Originally USAF had a "kiddy in the sweetshop" procurement plan, that called for 750 jets, which was progressively cut back as costs rose, until only 188 were built, with cost per aircraft climbing from under $150m to over $400m. This unsustainable cost escalation and reduction in hardware has been seen in all services, in all Western countries, and as a result fewer weapons get bought, but governments still incur vast increases in public debt, and their capacity to indulge themselves in hobby wars decreases.

      Our colonial cousins still have enough poke to keep interfering in foreigners affairs, but the UK, with it's twenty ship navy, seven combat squadron air force, and increasingly part time army show how this pans out. Our armed services could probably defend us against a Danish attack, for example, but we'd struggle with anybody bigger.

      From a logical perspective if the politicians don't have the resources to fight anybody, then they won't be able to, but as we've seen time and again our leaders are more than happy to start purposeless wars which our military are ill equipped for. Luckily we don't have a Nimrod fleet any more, so we won't be embarassed by Russian submarines in our territorial waters as we won't know they're there.

      So, pacifists everywhere should be supporting rail gun development, exo-skeletons, laser cannons and all the other madcap ideas of military suppliers as the best hope for global peace.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Coat

        defend us against a Danish attack

        Sounds like a sticky situation.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: cost per aircraft climbing from under $150m to over $400m.

        But part of the question there is what is the wording in the contracts for cost cutbacks? The manufacturers are all going to have fixed capital equipment costs regardless of how many planes they make. That still has to be recovered. You do that by upping your per-plane cost or just flat out having a cost to cancel built into the contract. Still it does look like they managed to "save" one third over the original projection.

        Yeah I know. Friend of mine works in R&D for the military and I hear all kinds of horror stories about the competency of the people making the machines of war. But even so the problem of covering the capital investment stands.

  12. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    BAE a 'Brit' company?

    I was under the impression that it was now majority owned by our transatlantic neighbours, hence the various corruption investigations when it fell under US law...

    1. auburnman
      Trollface

      Re: BAE a 'Brit' company?

      I think they are typicallly only 'BRITISH' when they do bad, i.e. how the US politicians were lining up to bollock 'BRITISH Petroleum' after the Gulf spill. Kind of like how Andy Murray is Scottish when he crashes out of tournaments.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: lining up to bollock 'BRITISH Petroleum' after the Gulf spill.

        Well the "bollock" part might have been deference to them being British, but the outcome would have been the same regardless. BP actually fared better than Exxon did in their gulf spill, and Exxon was a nominally US company. I've always been amused by the fact that if the catastrophe would have happened a few days later, the administration would have had all kinds of egg on its face as BP was about to be given a Presidential safety/environmental protection award of some sort.

    2. Tom 13

      @ Loyal Commenter

      Look on the bright side. At least this time we bought a piece of it first. We could have just launched the investigation because of trade interference or some such.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blasters > Rails

    The Bradley is a close range brawler, blasters are much better for this; high DPS and high tracking.

    1. Vic

      Re: Blasters > Rails

      blasters are much better for this

      Nah. Blasters are clumsy and random. What we need is an elegant weapon for a more civilized age

      </TheseAreNotTheQuotesYou'reLookingFor>

      Vic.

    2. Ashton Black

      Re: Blasters > Rails

      Eve reference? Have an upvote!

  14. DNTP

    "Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the newly upgunned Bradley-R, the first armored vehicle ever deployed with a literal railgun. Yes, I know who makes the railgun, and to be clear, if I catch anyone, ANYONE at all, fondling the railgun and calling it 'my bae', will be instantly reassigned to logistics. Or signals. DO I make myself clear."

  15. 100113.1537

    One of the problems with mobile artillery is the amount of ammunition they can carry. I don't remember the numbers exactly, but I though that the MBTs these days only have room for about 20 shells. For anti-missile defenses, you have to weight up how many defensive munitions you will pack and when this takes away from offensive capability.

    The advantage of a rail gun is the increased number of projectiles you can carry, balanced against the weight of the power supply. I don't know where this equation comes out, but it is worth while at least doing the maths.

    If I was in a metal can I think I would be happier with non-explosive munitions as well!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " the MBTs these days only have room for about 20 shells"

      Can you think of any scenario where a Western MBT would encounter enough targets to use 20 shells? The most pressing concern with MBTs is that we haven't found anybody to fight with them in the past fifty odd years. Entire generations of Western MBT's have come and gone without firing a single shell in anger, and even in the various Gulf Wars, by the time Western tanks arrived their opponents were pushing up the daisies from a smoking hole courtesy of the flyboys.

      I say we should have a war, by prior agreement, with a friendly country to keep both sides hands in, show the youngsters of today what a proper war with tanks is, but keep the duration short to avoid any later accusations of senseless slaughter. Have the Swiss act as referees and score keepers, hold it somewhere that doesn't matter (Belgium has always been popular in this respect), maybe Britain versus Germany for a period of two months, and the loser has to pay for the beers afterwards. What's not to like?

      1. Ian Emery Silver badge
        Coat

        Not quite true; there were a few mass "Armour on Armour", encounters.

        Perhaps I need to get out more.

        (gets coat).

      2. Richard Scratcher

        the MBTs these days only have room for about 20 shells

        Shhh! Keep it down. Are you trying to get us all killed?

        "I know what you're thinking, did he fire twenty shells or only nineteen? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself..."

      3. Tim Jenkins

        "What's not to like?"

        Germany winning on penalties. That's what...

      4. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad
        Trollface

        @Ledswinger

        Better yet - declare war on the Switzerland. And when they come over, surrender quickly.

        That would have several perks. They'd trample over the France, twice. Debates about being or not being in EU would be over. Mayhap they'd bother to fix the railway system, out of sheer compassion or something. Pretty sure there could be more.

        Although it may not go entirely peacefully - question of having the best beer and the best chocolate may well merit a vicious battle or two.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Ledswinger

          "Although it may not go entirely peacefully - question of having the best beer and the best chocolate may well merit a vicious battle or two."

          I raise a glass to you, sir!

      5. JustNiz

        I'm amazed we haven't plonked a few MBTs down in Iraq just for some semi-modern battle experience and just to see how they really work out these days.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      If I was in a metal can I think I would be happier with non-explosive munitions as well!

      You'd prefer the nuclear reactor?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    yes please. more weapons. faster weapons. better weapons. deadlier weapons. kill kill kill.

  17. chris lively

    I hope the try to put a rail gun on that platform. Not because I think it will actually be used ( it won't ), rather id like to see a rather obscene amount of money put into two avenues of research: nuclear reactors and electro magnetics. If we can get reactor sizes down and safer then everyone benefits from decreased costs.

    Nuke reactors are incredibly expensive right now. To put one in a tank, would mean it has to get cheaper and be very safe. Sure, we will spend $400m on a plane, but I no one would consider that amount of money for a single tank. As far as safety, we wouldn't want a shell to turn one into a mini sun, so they'd have to withstand battlefield conditions (be blown to hell) without going critical.

    So, please make this. I'd like a mini-nuke powering my house or flying car.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      ^^This!

      Most sensible comment of the thread!

  18. Hurn

    Power Supply

    Take a powerful, lightweight (relatively speaking), gas turbine out of an MBT and hook it up to a large generator (technically, an alternator).

    Power the wheels (or treads) within individual motors (which can also act as braking generators).

    Time to fire the rail gun? Keep the gas powered genny running, hit the brakes to generate additional surge power, and funnel it all to the rail gun.

    Once fired, stop breaking and redirect power back to the propulsion motors.

    All you need, now, is for the fuel truck convoy to not take a wrong turn.

    1. Zmodem

      Re: Power Supply

      the whole world has working perpetual generators using wind turbine dynamo`s which are 99% efficient

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CMOeAlQYGs

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bradley because it's a big hollow box

    The railgun version may use up all that troop-carrying volume with gas turbine, homopolar generator, and what not. Could end up as something reminiscent of the WWII tank destroyer, but I don't know if that kind of role has much value today.

    A railgun is most useful against a target that is heavy and stiff enough to push back and turn the KE promptly into thermal energy, like a tank or the earth. It would wreck a drone, of course, but why would you bother.

    1. Zmodem

      Re: Bradley because it's a big hollow box

      if you are going to use a 1Mw wind turbine dynamo, you would have a instant kill 3 miles away instead of having to wait 15 seconds for your target to have moved

  20. Chris G Silver badge
    Pint

    No Barrel

    Having a rail makes me think that on a battlefield covered in bits of ferrous scrap, one should not run out of ammo. All the time you have fuel and a couple of squaddies out there with a hacksaw sizing up bits of wreckage, you can keep on irritating the enemy with bits of Mach 7 metal whizzing about.

    Of course a really busy rail gun tank (RGT?) is going to need a heat sink the size of a house and will have a noticeable IR signature unless they find a way of rapidly recycling the heat energy efficiently to keep all that waste heat from inviting a missile strike or cooking the lads in the tank.

    A beer to cool down.

  21. Lapun Mankimasta

    Sounds like the Kadinka-Donka machine

    There was a rich and not altogether intelligent young man getting bored with his life of excessive privilege. One day while driving at random through the Peruvian Andes, he noticed a sign by the side of the road. It said "Kadinka-Donka Machines Our Speciality".

    So he went along the little side road the sign pointed down, until he came to a small factory with "Kadinka-Donka Machine Manufacturer" on the roof.

    "I've seen the sign," he explained to the proprietor, "but I've never heard of Kadinka-Donka Machines before, and I don't have one. I'd like to order one."

    "Fine. If you could make a down payment of about three million, we'll get to work. Come and see us in a couple of years time."

    In a couple of years he was back. The proprietor had a tale of woe. "Our costs had risen, and money has suffered inflation, we need an extra ten million. Come back in another couple of years."

    In another couple of years he was back. Again, it was explained that components had vanished, availability of certain things, etc, etc, etc. So he put down another twenty million, and went away.

    http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Rec/rec.arts.sf.science/2005-11/msg00176.html

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Backfire, the new Stuxnet

    1.Hack into <arms_developer> and steal the software.

    2. Prior to any engagement get your drone to drop USB sticks near the enemy or get locals to sell them as "porn sticks".

    3.Daft <mobile_railgun> driver inserts the USB stick and corrupts the OS.

    4. When the railgun is used it slowly moves the projectile to the end of the "barrel" and accelerates it backwards at high speed with disastrous effect.

    5. Profit

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not A Good Idea

    Tank v Tank yes, but not much good if you need to fire high explosives, does that mean a secondary weapon like the old stop gap Grant/Lee tanks of WW2 before the Sherman turned up.

  24. JustNiz

    >> steel balls can provide hours of fun for the home experimenter.

    ...Might be fun but it doesn't sound very comfortable.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dahlgren, not Dahlgreen

    Named after the inventor / Admiral https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Dahlgren

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