Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Navy fires up fully-weaponized railgun prototype

By Evan Ackerman

(DVICE) At the end of last month, the Navy got an early Valentine's Day present in the form of a prototype fully-weaponized naval railgun. And on Tuesday, it released a video of its first shot, which we're officially filing under "things not to get in the way of."

This prototype weapon, developed by BAE Systems, fires inert aluminum slugs out of a 40-foot barrel using nothing but megajoules of raw electricity. The giant gout of flame you see in the picture above comes from a combination of about a million amps of energy, the hypersonic speed of the round, and the aluminum in the bullet reacting with the atmosphere. The ultimate goal here is to fire 10 rounds per minute with 32 megajoules of energy each, sending them between 50 and 100 miles downrange with flawless GPS-guided accuracy, at a speed that's so high that when the rounds hit their target, they'll be carrying the equivalent amount of destructive force as a Volkswagen Beetle traveling at 100 mph.

32 times over.

In the video of the test below, you'll notice that the payload (the "bullet") is decidedly not streamlined. We know that Boeing has been developing some mean-looking streamlined railgun rounds, but apparently the Navy doesn't want to use them in these tests for fear of accidentally losing control of one and hitting the White House or something, instead opting for brick-like rounds that don't go nearly as far.

In April, General Atomics will deliver a prototype of their railgun design, "Blitzer," to the Navy so that it'll have two of these monsters to play around with. And by 2017, which is another way of saying a quarter of a billion dollars from now, the Navy might actually be ready to start thinking about deployment.

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