Military Embedded Systems

Electromagnetic Railgun's prototype launcher starts testing


February 08, 2012

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

ARLINGTON, Va. Officials working on the Electromagnetic Railgun program at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have begun testing the prototype launcher for the railgun at a facility in Dahlgren, Va.

The Electromagnetic Railgun launcher is essentially a long-range weapon that fires projectiles via electricity instead of chemical propellants, according to an ONR release. Within the system magnetic fields generated by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at speeds of 4,500 to 5,600 miles per hour.

The Electromagnetic Railgun's increased velocity and extended range enables sailors to conduct naval surface fire support, or land strikes; cruise missile and ballistic missile defense; as well as surface warfare to deter enemy vessels. Navy officials say they are targeting a 50- to 100-nautical mile initial capability with expansion as far as 220 nautical miles.

The program is part of the ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, which previously used government laboratory-based launchers for testing and developing railgun technology.

The first industry-built launcher is a 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator made by BAE Systems. One megajoule of energy is equivalent to a 1-ton car traveling at 100 miles per hour. according to the ONR release

The prototype demonstrator will integrate advanced composites and the improved barrel life performance that resulted from development efforts on laboratory systems located at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and NSWC-Dahlgren. The laboratory demonstrator based at NSWC-Dahlgren set a world record when it fired a 33-megajoule shot in late 2010.

The industry demonstrator begins test firing later month as the Electromagnetic Railgun program prepares for the arrival of a second prototype launcher built by General Atomics.

The next phase of the Electromagnetic Railgun program consists of developing automatic projectile loading systems and thermal management systems to enable increased firing rates of the railgun.

ONR officials awarded $10 million contracts through the Naval Sea Systems Command to Raytheon, BAE Systems, and General Atomics to develop a pulsed power system for launching projectiles in rapid succession. These contracts kicked off a five-year program to achieve a firing rate of six to 10 rounds per minute.


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