23 pounds ain’t heavy. But it sure hurts when it hits you going at seven times the speed of sound, over 3,300 miles per hour.
That’s what a prototype Navy weapon called a “rail gun” can do, and it does it without a single gram of gunpowder or rocket fuel, just electricity.
After years in development and hundreds of test shots on land, the rail gun is finally going to go to sea.
“We’re beyond lab coats, we’re into engineering now,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, told the audience at the Navy League’s annual megaconference here, Sea-Air-Space 2014. “It’s going on a Joint High Speed Vessel in 2016.”
Rail gun prototypes will be shown off to the public in San Diego this summer, aboard the new Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket. Then the Navy will install either the BAE Systems prototype or the General Atomics one, that hasn’t been decided, on Millinocket for at-sea test shots in 2016.
It’s a crawl-walk-run approach, however. The 2016 tests will only involve one shot at a time. Firing multiple rounds in a row will wait for another series of tests in 2018. Meanwhile, while one prototype or the other is doing the tests at sea, BAE is already working on a “Phase II” rail gun with such improvements as an automatic multi-loader for rapid fire and better heat control so rapid fire doesn’t melt the barrel.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have been impressed with the Navy’s tests and are exploring the idea of a land-based version of the rail gun for missile defense, a mission currently performed by expensive anti-missile systems.
Mach 7 rail guns have a current range of 110 miles and and can deliver a 23 pound weapon at 3,300 miles per hour. Brings new meaning to the term ‘speed kills”.